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Sunday Patriots Notes: Difficult season tests team leadership

Notes and thoughts on the Patriots and the NFL on Nov. 19.

Buffalo Bills v New England Patriots Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images

The New England Patriots will not participate in Week 11: coming off a trip to Germany, they will instead enjoy a bye week. It is a much-needed break for a team that struggled over the fist half of its season — going just 2-8 while encountering multiple issues related to performance, health and discipline.

There is a second half of the season left to at least end the year in a somewhat positive manner, but things are certainly not looking good. And with that said, let’s dive straight into this week’s Sunday Patriots Notes.

1. Difficult season tests the Patriots’ leadership: The Patriots’ season, as noted above, has been a challenge for everyone involved. The results have been disappointing, the team’s depth has been tested all over the roster, there are questions about the quarterback position, and team discipline has been a problem in light of a quasi-suspension for J.C. Jackson and fellow cornerback Jack Jones getting released in large part due to off-field issues.

All of that combined puts pressure not just on the team as a whole, but also its leadership. Steering the ship through those turbulent waters is not an easy task as captain Matthew Slater pointed out.

“It’s easy to be a frontrunner and lead when things are going well, and to encourage, and build up, and lift up, and work hard when things are going well,” he told reporters this week. “But when they’re not, I think it really tests your character and it tests your conviction. I think the things that I say, I believe in and want to live out.

“They’ve been challenging to do this year — staying positive, continuing to encourage — but I’m learning what that looks like under these types of circumstances, and I think it’s going to serve me well in the future as a husband, as a father. Because that’s how life is, right? Nobody’s life goes exactly how they envision it, their twists and turns. So, it’s been good.”

Slater has not been part of a season quite like this one, and neither have other long-time Patriots. Nonetheless, head coach Bill Belichick believes that these veterans have been able to successfully lead the troops, whether they be captains or not.

“I think all of those guys have done a great job,” he said. “Certainly, the guys that you mentioned, and a lot of other guys, even some of the other guys, like [Matthew] Judon, who hasn’t been playing. You go right down the list there — Jon Jones, you just honestly keep going, [Joe] Cardona, there’s a lot of them.

“Look, everybody is working hard. I know we’ve been close. We just haven’t been able to finish enough and make the plays that we needed to make here in critical situations at the end of the game to win. Everybody’s committed to working hard to change that. We’ve put ourselves in that position multiple times here, but we just haven’t had the results that we’re looking for, and we’re going to work hard to get those results.”

2. Deatrich Wise Jr. speaks on the challenges of being a pro football player: The two main stories of the past week for the Patriots are the status of starting quarterback Mac Jones, and the aforementioned release of cornerback Jack Jones. Both have been under quite a bit of scrutiny this season, albeit for different reasons — a definitive challenge.

For team captain Deatrich Wise Jr., that pressure whether coming from inside the team or applied externally is just one of the many reasons why being a football player is harder than it looks.

“To let everybody know, it’s very intense to be an NFL player,” he said. “Everybody sees the glamour and how much you make, and what you do under the lights, but there’s a lot of pressure that comes with being an NFL player — mental pressure, physical pressure, going out there hurt, trying to balance your emotional state, your home life, your personal state.

“If you’re a leader on a team, you’re trying to balance what it is to be a leader, trying to fit the role that the team has for you. So, there are a lot of things that go on in an NFL player’s mindset, and also life. And at the same time, there’s a lot of outside things that go on that are too long to list.”

Wise Jr. added that the Patriots are trying to turn the locker room into a “safe haven” for players, regardless their roles, backgrounds or personal lives.

“We don’t really know what goes on outside of the locker room doors,” he said. “We’re talking about the outside looking in. So, when people come into this place, this place is a safe haven for a lot of people.

“This place is a place that people can actually get away and focus on their passions, focus on what they actually love to do. That’s why when we come in here, this is the best, I think, for of therapy, in a sense. Guys are laughing, guys are coming together. We have support systems; we get to talk at the lunch table; we get to work out, which is my therapy.”

3. Bye week an ideal time for some much-needed self reflection: With their first 10 games of the season in the books, the Patriots now have time to take a much-needed breather — and to reflect on the half-season that was. Obviously, it was mostly a disappointing one, but for linebackerJahlani Tavai the team still needs to be able to look back critically.

“That would be a good thing for us, just so we understand where we are,” he said. “All we know is we can only go up from here on out, so it’s on each individual to look in the mirror and just understand that we have to find a way out. It’s going to take all of us. So, I’m looking forward when we all come back from this bye. Hopefully, we’re all refreshed and ready to get back into action.”

Tavai, who plans to make a trip to Disney World during the bye, getting away from the game for a couple of days is no less important, though.

“We’ve had 17 weeks that were just non-stop playing ball,” he said. “So, having one week where we can just unwind, be ourselves off the field, is pretty good.”

4. Patriots have a 4.8 percent chance to draft No. 1 overall: Starting the year 2-8, the Patriots are among the worst teams in football after 10 weeks. This, in turn, has put them in a position to not just get a top selection in next year’s draft, but possible the top pick overall. However, the odds for that to happen are not necessarily in the team’s favor according to a new analysis shared by ESPN analyst Seth Walder:

5. Patriots’ point differential the worst in three decades: New England’s season so far has been bad, but if there is one number to really show how bad it is this: -97. That is the team’s point differential — points scored minus points given up — through 10 games. Only the New York Giants’ -148 ranks worse than that.

From a historic perspective, things are not great either. The Patriots’ -97 is their worst after 10 games since the 1992 season. That year, they were at -119 and ended up going 2-14 behind a -158 point differential at the end of the season — one that ended with a total organizational overhaul that included hiring Bill Parcells as head coach and drafting Drew Bledsoe first overall.

6. Pair of Patriots fined for Week 10 actions: The Patriots’ Week 10 loss to the Indianapolis Colts was especially disappointing for linebackers Jahlani Tavai and Mack Wilson. The two were fined $10,463 and $8,861, respectively, for unnecessary roughness by the league afterwards.

Did the plays in question warrant those fines? Judge for yourself:

7. Mac Jones’ fails to offset negative plays with explosive ones: Patriots quarterback Mac Jones has struggled this season. And while he is not directly at fault for every single one of the team’s issues on the offensive side of the ball, he has failed to hold up his end of the bargain.

A main problem for the former first-round draft pick has been negative plays, and a new analysis by NFL analyst Steve Patton shows that he ranks near the bottom of the league in that category: his 10.1 percent rate — a combination of interception-worthy passes, sacks and fumbles — ranks 23rd in the NFL.

As opposed to some other players in his vicinity such as the Dallas Cowboys’ Dak Prescott (22nd; 10.1%) or the San Francisco 49ers’ Brock Purdy (20th; 9.8-5), however, he has not been able to make up for those issues through explosive plays. Basically, Jones is playing a risk-averse style of quarterback but still not able to sufficiently take care of the football.

8. Jack Jones speaks about this departure from New England: The aforementioned Jack Jones was released by the Patriots earlier this week, but did not take long to find a new home: the Las Vegas Raiders picked him up on waivers, one of two teams putting in a claim.

Shortly thereafter, he met with the media for the first time — and the elephant in the room was also addressed: his departure from New England. For the 2022 fourth-round draft pick, it all stems from the fact that he was no ideal fit for the team.

“I would say it wasn’t the best fit,” Jones told reporters in Las Vegas. “I can’t really speak too much about it, just because I’m not on the coaching staff. I can’t call it. Just wasn’t the best fit, but I’m glad to be here.”

Even though the fit might have not been there in Jones’ eyes, he still was disappointed by the eventual divorce from the team that invested in him last year.

“That was the team that drafted me, that gave me an opportunity,” he said. “When you get drafted, it’s your mindset you’re going to spend the next four years there. But unfortunately, that didn’t happen.”

Jones has had a tumultuous stint with the Patriots. He was suspended by the team to end his rookie year, was arrested on later-dropped gun charges during the offseason, and was benched by the team for reportedly missing team curfew ahead of a Week 9 game against the Washington Commanders.

That latest infraction apparently was one too many. Amid a slide in playing time and concerns about his reliability, Jones was released.

9. Patriots fans think Mac Jones will remain the Patriots’ starting QB: When he was benched late during the Patriots’ 10-6 loss to the Colts, it appeared like an official death knell for the Mac Jones era. That being said, he still looked like the team’s QB1 during the lone practice of the bye week.

So, will he remain the starter? That remains to be seen. As the results of the latest SB Nation Reacts survey shows, however, fans believe he will.

Please sign up here to participate in future surveys.

Here comes the “however,” though: while 63 percent of participants think Jones will be under center to start the upcoming Week 12 game agains the Giants, only 16 percent want him there. A majority of Patriots fans — 36 percent, to be exact — would prefer undrafted rookie Malik Cunningham to be given a shot when the team returns from its bye.

10. Setting up the week ahead: The Patriots’ coaches already returned to Gillette Stadium on Sunday, and the players will do the same one day later. The team will then return to the practice fields on Tuesday for their first session of the week, followed by additional practices Wednesday through Friday and a walkthrough on Saturday.

They will then depart for New York with a 1 p.m. ET game against the Giants on Sunday, Nov. 26.

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