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The offense is broken beyond Mac Jones, and more takeaways from the Patriots’ loss to the Saints

Cleaning out the notebook from the Patriots’ 34-0 defeat on Sunday.

New Orleans Saints v New England Patriots Photo by Winslow Townson/Getty Images

For a second straight week, the New England Patriots have been blown out. This latest defeat came on Sunday at the hands of the visiting New Orleans Saints — a 34-0 beatdown that registers as the worst home loss of the Bill Belichick era.

We will have in-depth analysis throughout the day and week, but for now here are some quick-hit thoughts on the Patriots’ fourth loss of the year.

1. The offense is broken beyond Mac Jones: A lot of attention coming out of this game is on quarterback Mac Jones, who was pulled from a blowout loss for the second straight week. However, as head coach Bill Belichick said after the game the third-year passer is not the team’s only issue.

We will talk about the offensive play-calling and offensive line in particular in a second, and there are also issues with injuries, receiving talent, and what appears to be a general lack of confidence right now. Being down more than one score seems like an insurmountable deficit for this team, and third down — the Patriots went 1-for-14 against New Orleans — a death knell for any offensive possession.

For wide receiver Kendrick Bourne, the issue lies with execution.

“Just not executing,” he told reporters in the locker room after the game. “We are not making plays, we are not making the plays that need to be made. We have got to get first downs, move the ball downfield, and just finish drives.”

Running back Ezekiel Elliott, meanwhile, views the team’s turnover issues as the biggest problem.

“I think number one, just not taking care of the football,” he said. “It’s tough to win a football game with three turnovers.”

The Patriots gave the ball away three more times against New Orleans, and now have 10 takeaways on the year. With their defense also only taking the ball away just twice in five games, the resulting -8 turnover differential ranks 30th in the league.

“We’ll get back and look at the film from this week, but ball security is something that we preach here 24/7,” said quarterback Bailey Zappe. “That’s the number one thing, so I think that is the biggest thing that once we look back at the last five weeks, look back at this game, and getting back here tomorrow the coaches will talk about ball security.”

While a lot of the problems go back to Mac Jones, he is not the only culprit. Bill Belichick and the coaching staff also deserve their fair share of the blame, as do the other players on the roster.

It’s a collective breakdown right now.

2. The first drive play-calling was curious: It is no secret that the Patriots a) want to be a balanced team capable of running and throwing the ball effectively, and b) entered the game in some dire need of momentum on the offensive side of the ball. From that perspective, the play-calling on the first possession raises some questions.

After gaining eight yards on a Rhamondre Stevenson carry to open the series, Bill O’Brien called a play-action shot to Kendrick Bourne that fell incomplete followed by another unsuccessful deep target to tight end Hunter Henry. Instead of stringing positive plays together after a solid gain on first down, the unit went three-and-out — setting the tone for the rest of the day.

O’Brien not calling on the run game again in manageable second and third down situations, or at least going for some relative layups in the passing game, was a curious call.

3. Offensive line continuity remains a major issue: The Patriots enter the game with the same starting five along the offensive line as the previous week for the first time all year. However, that continuity was not meant to last: right guard Michael Onwenu suffered an ankle injury in the second quarter that kept him out of the remainder of the game.

With the team already down left guard Cole Strange (knee) and the right tackle position continuing to be a major problem, the O-line is a major issue.

“We’ve just got to find some continuity,” said center David Andrews. “Moving people around, we’ve really just got to get a set group, work together and play.”

4. The Patriots are on course for a top-5 draft pick: There is still a long way to go in the 2023 regular season, but as things stand right now the Patriots are en route to a top-5 selection in next year’s draft. One of six teams with a 1-4 record, they are currently in fifth place behind only the 0-5 Carolina Panthers (whose pick has been traded to Chicago), and 1-4 Chicago Bears, Denver Broncos and Minnesota Vikings.

5. Bill Belichick waived the white flag in the early third quarter: The Patriots gave up a field goal early in the third quarter to fall behind 24-0. At least theoretically, there was still some time to start mounting the unlikeliest of comebacks.

Any questions about New England’s ability to do that were answered definitively on a 4th-and-3 in the third quarter. Despite the offense sitting at the New Orleans 40-yard line, Bill Belichick opted to punt the ball away rather than trying a conversion.

After the game, he was asked if there was any consideration trying to pick up the first down on offense.

“Until we’re better on third and fourth down, I don’t think so,” he said.


6. The fourth shutout of the Bill Belichick era: The Patriots failing to score any points is nothing new, even under Bill Belichick. They also were held scoreless on three other occasions:

  • 2003 Week 1: 0-31 against the Buffalo Bills
  • 2006 Week 14: 0-21 against the Miami Dolphins
  • 2016 Week 4: 0-16 against the Buffalo Bills

Two of those teams — the 2003 and 2016 squads — went on to win the Super Bowl. A similar turnaround this year seems improbable.

7. New England ranks near the bottom of the league in point differential now: Getting blown out by 35 and 34 points in back-to-back weeks hurts your scoring differential, and the Patriots now sit at -76 on the year — second-worst in the NFL behind only the New York Giants’ -91. The team finished on the negative side only twice under Belichick, in 2020 (-27) and in 2000 (-62).

8. A quote from A Football Life comes to mind...: The Patriots’ lackluster performance brought back memories of the NFL Films documentary A Football Life, chronicling head coach Bill Belichick during the team’s 2009 season. The year was a disappointing one by dynasty standards, and saw a team that never seemed to live up to its potential.

At one point in the show, Belichick was filmed discussing a 38-17 loss to the Saints with quarterback Tom Brady. The remarks ring true today as well.

“We got a long way to go,” he said. “We just have no mental toughness ... We can’t play the game the way we need to play it. And it’s not them either, it’s totally us. Just totally us. We have to find a way here to be a tougher team when we get on the road. ... I just can’t get this team to play the way we need to play. I just can’t do it. It’s so f--king frustrating.”

Brady responded by saying that the Patriots are doing it in spurts but not for a whole four quarter.

“And the tougher it gets, the less likely we are to do it,” Belichick responds.

Obviously, every season is different, but it is hard not to see some parallels between that 2009 squad and the one struggling to a 1-4 start in 2023.

9. ...and another from The Brady 6: Speaking of quotes from documentaries about the Patriots, another from former San Francisco 49ers head coach Steve Mariucci also is worth pointing to. Mariucci said it about the team’s unsuccessful 2000 third-round draft pick Giovanni Carmazzi, but it partially also can be applied to Mac Jones.

“When you get out onto the field and another team wants to knock your head off, they’ve got to be able to handle that mentally and emotionally,” Mariucci said. “And some do, some will love it, and some — that makes them very nervous, and they lose some confidence. To this day, I believe that Gio, he got off on the wrong foot against the Patriots in the preseason game, and I think some doubt crept in.”

Jones showed the ability to withstand the pressure early in his career, but this season and especially over the last two games it appears that some doubt has indeed crept in. His pick-six in the first quarter — a play that seemingly saw him try to salvage a bad situation on a 3rd-and-6 — is an example of that.

With pressure in his phase and the team in dire need of something positive, his internal clock appeared to be sped up and instead of taking a sack and living another drive he attempted a pass that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown. It was Jones’ third turnover returned for a score in the last two weeks.

10. A trip to Las Vegas awaits: The Patriots will take their act on the road this coming week, visiting the Las Vegas Raiders. The team of head coach Josh McDaniels is off to a disappointing start as well but given the way New England has performed recently, this too looks like it could be a tough battle.

Of course, turning the ship around at Allegiant Stadium — where the Patriots lost on a last-second lateral gone wrong last season — would be a nice story. But the club’s ability to do that is very much in question at this point.