For years the Patriots feasted on teams with bad coaching, players who didn't execute, and who were simply not on their level. As December 2022 begins, I can now comfortably say that this New England Patriots team, largely due to the coaching, are now one of those teams. A directionless, rudderless, hopeless franchise. Give the Buffalo Bills all the credit they deserve, they were the better team on Thursday night no question, but just about every Patriots loss this year has been a referendum on them. Thursday night was no different. Lifeless offense, not getting stops in critical spots, and simply leaving points off the board.
The Bill Belichick Nepotism Experince™ by handing the offensive line and play-calling duties over to Matt Patricia has potentially set this franchise back years by doing so. Outside of Rhamondre Stevenson, this offense has zero juice and Mac Jones is nowhere near the same player as a year ago. Now at 6-6 with the final three games of the season being against the Bengals, Dolphins, and Bills, the Patriots' path to the postseason is nonexistent.
Throwing in the Towel
Not often that you can say the New England Patriots quit, but they essentially did just that in the fourth quarter. Not with the call to let the Bills kneel the clock down, which at that point didn't matter, but the punt earlier in the quarter. Instead of going for it on 4th&7 down 17 points with 12 minutes left at midfield, they opted to literally and metaphorically punt the game away. When asked, Bill Belichick gave a mumbled answer, but clearly said "to stay in the game" at the end of the answer. Hard to justify that given the score and situation if I'm being honest.
Perhaps even worse than that was the call to go for a field goal on the final offensive drive of the game instead of going out on your shield. That's what loser organizations do to save face with all due respect. The Pittsburgh Steelers did it here in the 2019 home opener simply to avoid being shut out down 33. The Jets did as well in the 2016 regular-season finale.
Jones to the House
Believe it or not, the Patriots had a lead in this game for a little bit, thanks to Marcus Jones. The hero from the Jets game was thrown in on offense for a handful of snaps on Thursday and went for a 46-yard house call on his first touch. Definitely a massive indictment on the offense when that was the only touchdown of the night (more on that later), but I wouldn't mind seeing Marcus get in on offense in spurts moving forward. Between his years at U. of Houston and Troy, he picked up 15 career catches for 137 yards and a touchdown, so this isn't new to him.
Good But Not Good Enough
Said it in the game preview, but Josh Allen and the Bills were going to get points on the board no matter how the Patriots played. Despite being on the field for nearly 40 minutes, the defense was certainly better than they were against the Bills last year, but have some room for improvement. Devin Singletary and James Cook surprisingly both had some good running nights, Stefon Diggs was virtually unguardable, and crucial stops just weren't there. Of course, Josh Allen was superhuman as well in spots, even on a touchdown that was called back for holding. Despite all of that, the Patriots did hold the Bills to just seven second-half points which feels like a minor win. Shoutout to Josh Uche for a two-sack performance and a strip sack to boot.
"We're All Trying to Find the Guy Who Did This"
Not much to really say on the Matt Patricia front. Mainly because the same problems simply occur by default now. Horrendous third down play calling (10/37 these last three games), horrendous red zone play calling (0/6 these last three games), and doing everything but telling the opposition what he is going to do. It felt like the Bills were abundantly clear of what the Patriots were going for, especially on third down, and several beat reporters brought that up to both players and Belichick himself. Kendrick Bourne went as far as saying that "We" need to scheme things better on third down in the locker room.
A specific couple of problems in this game were the alarming lack of urgency in the fourth quarter down multiple scores, as well as the final drive of the first half, specifically the clock management. Starting out with the latter, they burned multiple timeouts to ultimately gain two yards from the Bills' 35-yard line, before Nick Folk inexplicably clanged a 48-yard field goal off the crossbar right down the middle. As it relates to the lack of urgency down the stretch, going 17 plays and nearly six minutes off the game clock when you're already down 17 is a catastrophic failure.
The single most frustrating thing about this is that Patricia gets to avoid facing the music on a technicality of him not being the named offensive coordinator. This was intentional by Belichick so that the Lions still have to pay him the remaining money on his old head coaching contract, which wouldn't be the case if he got a true coordinator job elsewhere. Ultimately I can respect Belichick taking care of 'his guys' but this cannot continue past this season. I was more than willing to give it a chance, but this experiment has been a colossal failure.
Up Next: Call of Duty Desert Warfare
Twice in the last three years, the Patriots draw two Monday Night Football games in a season and take on the Arizona Cardinals out at State Farm Stadium in a week and a half. About 13 and a half months ago, this team led by Kyler Murray was considered one of the favorites to come out of the NFC with a 7-0 start. Since then, they've lost 14 of their last 22 regular season games, and six of their last eight. Yeah, not what you would call an ideal situation.
Murray, in most statistics, is on pace for his worst year as of professional as well. Just months after signing a five-year 230.5 million dollar extension in July. In fairness to him, the Cardinals have completely neglected to give Murray an above-average offensive line since he was drafted at No. 1 overall. But to switch gears, there is a super obscure statistic with Murray given his ties to eSports' Faze Clan. After the release date of the last four Call of Duty games (MW2, Vanguard, Black Ops Cold War, Modern Warfare 2019) he and the Cardinals have gone 10-21. Before the release date of those four games, they have gone 18-11-1 since he was drafted. Again, this a super obscure statistic, but a Giants fan on the NFL's Reddit to find a link between his play, and Call of Duty Double XP weekends and found a drop off in performance earlier this year.
The Patriots have only ever seen Murray once before, back in 2020 in Foxborough, and the Cardinals blew that game at the very end. This go around they have some new faces and talent, even if the record suggests otherwise. Take J.J. Watt for example, who is still going strong for over a decade in the league. Budda Baker meanwhile is one of the best secondary players you will find anywhere in football. Not to mention Hollywood Brown and Zach Ertz as well, who are great compliments to DeAndre Hopkins. Patriots should have their hands full out west under the lights.
Final Score: Buffalo Bills 24, New England Patriots 10
Gaffney's Three Stars:
1st Star – Marcus Jones (2 Catches for 51 Yards, TD)
2nd Star – Josh Uche (2 Sacks, 1 Forced Fumble)
3rd Star – Devin McCourty (200th Career NFL Game)