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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

11/27/23 pdf
November 27, 2023

Is the Patriots’ season a lost cause already?

Illustration+of+Patriots%E2%80%99+linebacker%2C+Matthew+Judon.+Illustration+by+Bianca+Oppedisano+%2F+Mass+Media+Staff.
Bianca Oppedisano
Illustration of Patriots’ linebacker, Matthew Judon. Illustration by Bianca Oppedisano / Mass Media Staff.

There’s frustration brewing among the Foxboro faithful, and the newly coined term “moral victory Monday” has become a staple among New England Patriots fans since the dawn of a new era began, one that has brought both mediocre football and jerseys to the Bay State. The Pats were winless through two weeks of the season, yet countless opportunities to turn the tables on the Philadelphia Eagles and Miami Dolphins caused a ruckus among supporters, many of whom have grown distaste for the franchise’s inconsistencies on both sides of the ball. 

One of the biggest concerns growing within the locker room is the team’s need for a true “number one” wide receiver. Over the summer, the Pats fumbled on the Deandre Hopkins sweepstakes, as the perennial all-pro would solve the gaping hole in New England’s stagnant, un-explosive offense and give quarterback Mac Jones the talent he needed to bring this team to the next level. Instead, Hopkins took his talents to Nashville to reignite the Tennessee Titans’ offense, and New England settled for TikTok superstar Juju Smith-Schuster—who’s looking to make a carbon copy of his productive 2022 season that, according to football reference, nearly saw him break the coveted 1,000 yard plateau. (1) 

Former Patriots offensive coordinator and Dorchester native, Bill O’Brien, returned to the team as well, hoping to execute to the tune of what fans hoped would bolster the offensive game plan through complex schemes and aggressive play. Unfortunately, O’Brien’s repertoire now seems like a ghost of season’s past, and New England’s “revamped” offense is not nearly as lively as experts set it out to be. 

Jones has been the scapegoat for the teams’ lack of recent success, but so far in this young season, even with some costly mistakes on his part, the coaching and offensive line can shoulder some of the blame. Albeit, Jones’ lack of touch on downfield passes, wrong reads on audibles and inaccurate throws into tight windows have proved costly, but his performance has been nothing short of great this year, especially with the struggles he’s been dealing with. According to football reference, Jones’ stat line in his first two games is a 4–2 touchdown-interception ratio, 547 yards and an 88.3 QB rating (2)—granted, 88.3 is not great, but his interceptions brought it down a remarkable amount.

Jones may not be pumping out elite stats in the book, but at face value, they’re good enough to win you football games, and there were a handful of problems that stopped the Patriots from doing just that. Arguably, the biggest problem has been the offensive line, who’ve been plagued with injuries throughout training camp and the preseason. The Boston Herald wrote that prior to their Sunday Night Football game against Miami, the Patriots had linemen Trent Brown, Sidy Sow, Cole Strange and Mike Onwenu on the injured list (3). Onwenu and Strange ended up playing, but it didn’t make too much of a difference—maybe it would have if the NFL made the right call and gave Strange a first down. 

Despite Strange’s impeccable effort to give the Patriots a pulse, the offensive line consistently left Jones and the running backs out to dry. Currently, the offensive line is the second-worst pass blocking group in the league, while New England also ranks in the bottom fourth of the league in rushing average, as noted by Patspulpit (4). O’Brien’s “spread,” shotgun-heavy offense can be to blame for the Pats’ stagnant run game, and the teams’ hesitation to utilize play-action more in their playbook has taken a toll on their explosiveness when having the ball in their hands. Moreover, using a screen pass as a safety blanket or fallback plan has proved to hold no dividends for the offense, who are dead in the water right now trying to resuscitate themselves.

Not all of the offensive woes fall on the players and O’Brien. Head Coach Bill Belichick has made a handful of questionable decisions in this young season. In their 25–20 loss to Philly in week one, the first crucial mistake Belichick made came to light; it was his decision to “go for it” on fourth down early in the fourth quarter. The Patriots drove down the field and could have kicked a field goal to cut the Eagles’ lead to five, but Belichick gambled and came up empty. The domino effect allowed Philadelphia to drive down the field and make it a two-score game; had they kicked the field goal, the Patriots could have won the game with a stop on defense and a touchdown on an ensuing possession.

That hasn’t been the only head-scratcher Belichick has made, though. Against Miami, Belichick benched rookie wide receiver Demario “Pop” Douglas after a blindside fumble forced by superstar linebacker Bradley Chubb caused a turnover for New England. Up until that point, Douglas was a catalyst for the Patriots’ offense, acting as a human joystick with his elusive moves and heart-attack speed who would have provided an extra spark in the closing stages of the game. Belichick couldn’t swallow his pride, however, and the Patriots played on without one of their most skillful players contributing. 

Regardless of their offensive mishaps, the Patriots’ defense has been a shining star since the beginning. So far, injuries in the secondary have caused minor setbacks, but the young studs of the team are stepping up. With the absence of cornerbacks Jack Jones, Jonathan Jones and now, return specialist and cornerback Marcus Jones, some of the teams’ second and third stringers have had to take on the starting role in New England’s defense. Rookie cornerback Christian Gonzalez is the biggest name from that group to flourish.

According to Boston.com, Miami’s famed wide receiver, Tyreek Hill, offered nothing but praise for the first-year player out of Oregon, calling him “real good.” It was also noted in the article that his endurance is astonishing, as he played every defensive snap in weeks one and two. His biggest feat doesn’t come close to his stamina, though. In week two, he allowed just 32 yards off of three catches going up against the dynamic duo of Hill and Jaylen Waddle, who’ve made a name for themselves as two of the league’s top pass catchers. (5)

Gonzalez even managed to snag a nasty highlight reel interception off of Tua Tagovailoa when covering Hill, putting his name on the map just two weeks into his NFL career. If there’s anything to take note of regarding New England’s defense, it’s that in the long run of this laborious, demanding season, their hard work and effort will bear rewards, and returning players will ensure that opposing offenses will be in for a battle.

Contrary to popular belief, the Patriots are in good shape. Sure, they may be fighting at a loss right now, and digging out of a 0–2 hole has proved to be troublesome for teams of years’ past, but they’re in some growing pains right now. There’s new personnel and players that will inevitably build their résumé as members of the team, and returning players will help soften the strenuous load some players have had in earlier weeks. Besides, they nearly pulled off two wins against two of the top teams in the league, and while many publications, including clutch points, have pointed out that a measly 31 of 270 teams have made the playoffs after starting 0–2 since 1990, the Patriots’ talent is nothing short of the opposite of how they’ve performed. If anything, they’ll be proving a lot of doubters wrong as the season moves along. Plus, if you look at the bright side, it’s beginning to look a lot like 2001.

 

  1. https://www.pro-football-reference.com/players/S/SmitJu00.htm
  2. https://www.pro-football-reference.com/players/J/JoneMa05.htm
  3. https://www.bostonherald.com/2023/09/16/patriots-roster-moves-indicate-good-news-for-offensive-line-injuries/amp/
  4. https://www.patspulpit.com/platform/amp/2023/9/22/23884051/patriots-mailbag-new-england-offense-run-game-going
  5. https://www.boston.com/sports/new-england-patriots/2023/09/20/tyreek-hill-christian-gonzalez-patriots-dolphins-rookie-cornerback/?amp=1

 

About the Contributors
Nick Collins, Sports Editor
Bianca Oppedisano, Illustrator