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The Patriots' Season Ends in Mistake Ridden and Frustration Heavy Fashion

Not a completely stunning turn of events, but for the second time in three seasons, the New England Patriots have failed to make the postseason. What was surprising was that the offense came to play, putting up 23 points and three touchdowns from Mac Jones, despite three picks (two via deflections). The defense was just as solid in this one despite allowing three touchdowns themselves. Two key turnovers kept them in this one far longer than they should have been. That's because once again, at the worst possible time, the Patriots' special teams was horrendous.

Special Teams Disasterclass

All cynicism aside for a moment, you couldn't script the opening dozen seconds of that game better for the Bills. Straight out of a movie kind of stuff for Nyhiem Hynes. This Patriots special team's unit had been ironclad in the return prevention department for quite some time now before the season, and here they've allowed three returns this season alone. I say three because Hines took a second kick to the house from 101 yards out in the third quarter. Myles Byrant had him dead to rights but somehow didn't make the tackle as the last line of defense. Afterward, Nick Folk squibbed a kick out of bounds to prevent Hines from touching the ball, which was just as bad.

Based on this season, I have a hard time seeing Cam Achord coming back for the 2023 season. Especially considering Joe Judge can always just slot in as the special teams' coordinator once again. I would also expect the Patriots to be in the market for both a kicker and punter this off-season. I can't see Jake Bailey's situation resolving well at this point, and Nick Folk is set to turn 39 during the back half of next season. The Patriots are also going to likely need someone to take up the leadership mantle in that phase of the game should Matthew Slater retire. Brendan Schooler perhaps?

Mac Showed Up

The one thing the Patriots needed today was a good game out of Mac Jones, and they got that. The interception to Tre'Davious White I would put on him but I'd imagine the other two aren't counted for PFF's turnover-worthy play metric. Outside of that, I'll take 26/40 for 243 yards and three touchdowns in Buffalo most of the time at the minimum. I said this a couple of weeks ago on Twitter, but unless you are getting a clear-cut, long-term, undisputed upgrade a quarterback this offseason, there is absolutely no scenario where he shouldn't be the Patriots starter moving forward (barring something unprecedented of course).

Parker Returns with a Bang

Outside of those opening few weeks where he and Jones didn't seem to be on the same page, I thought Devante Parker was a very solid contributor for this Patriots offense this season. That definitely rang true on Sunday. In his first game back after suffering a concussion, he hauled in 6-of-7 targets for a team-high 79 yards and two touchdowns.

In the end, Parker closes out the season with 31 catches for 539 yards and three touchdowns, with injuries costing him five games. However, I'd be more than willing to have him stick around next season, especially if Jakobi Meyers walks as a free agent. 17.4 yards per catch is no joke, that's going to likely set him third in all of football behind only Gabe Davis, Jaylen Waddle assuming things don't shift too much.

Curtain Call for McCourty and Slater

A loss to potentially close out two fantastic careers is a bummer, but DMac and Matt Slater both came up huge against the Bills. McCourty came up with his 35th career interception to deny Josh Allen a late first-half touchdown, with an assist to Matt Judon up the middle. Then he and Judon were both at the bottom of the pile on Devin Singletary's fumble inside the Bills' 20, and McCourty secured that ball as well.

Slater's big contribution was a bit more subtle in nature. Engaged with a Bills special teamer on the Bills sideline, he unintentionally led him right towards the ball and got the Patriots a free possession right outside of the red zone. Slater was super emotional postgame, as was David Andrews, who said that both Patriots icons "meant a lot to him". Hard to put into words what those two meant to that locker room behind closed doors. If this is it, id imagine there are some red jackets awaiting McCourty and Slater a few years down the line.

Up Next: Offseason

No real way to sugarcoat it, this Patriots team has a great deal of talent, but have some holes at some key spots. Offensive tackle jumps out right away, as do size and depth at cornerback, and a true No. 1 wide receiver. The good news is that the Patriots have a decent amount of cap space to work with, and will have three draft picks in the top 100 (14, 47, 77). Based on these last three drafts, I feel the fears of this organization being unable to draft are unwarranted for the time being. Especially considering that Kyle Dugger, Josh Uche, and Mike Onwenu are likely to get well deserved contract extensions down the line here.

Onto the coaching staff, things could, and quite frankly should look different next season. Jerod Mayo, even if he doesn't earn a head coaching gig, could be on the way out with an expiring contract, which would be a big loss. Achord should probably be out as special teams coordinator for reasons already stated. And not much of a shock, Matt Patricia should probably lose both his offensive coordinator and offensive line coaching duties. I don't think a move to defense to replace Mayo is even warranted based on this year. If Belichick wants to give him Ernie Adams' old job, fine, but that's as far as I'd be willing to go. But, we got a bit to go before we see any substantial changes I'd reckon.

Final Score: Buffalo Bills 35, New England Patriots 23

Gaffney's Three Stars:

1st Star – Devin McCourty (1 INT, 1 Fumble Recovery)

2nd Star – Devante Parker (6 Catches, 79 Yards, 2 TDs)

3rd Star – Rhamondre Stevenson (6 Carries for 54 Yards, 5 Catches for 28 Yards, Fourth Most Scrimmage Yards for a Patriot since 2000 with 1461, Trailing Moss '07, Welker '11, and Dillon '04)

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