BOSTON — The Patriots are 0-2. Both losses have come at home. But there’s no need to panic just yet.
No — really.
As long as we all agree on the Patriots’ ceiling — nine to 10 wins, a playoff spot, likely a quasi-competitive playoff loss during Super-Duper Mega Wild Card Weekend — then we can see that it’s still very much achievable. While a loss to Miami and the 0-2 record and the “only X percent of 0-2 teams make the playoffs” certainly delivers a level of anxiety to New England, the reality is that the Patriots really just need to split their division games. So when they head down to Miami in late October, they have to win that game. Or they have to sweep the Jets and split with the Bills to offset a potential Miami sweep.
Whatever the specifics may be, if they come out with a 3-3 record in the division — which only requires them to go 3-2 going forward — then they’ll ultimately be OK.
Of course, we are the great city of Boston, so there will be panic meters, there will be overreactions, there will be chaos in the streets. But a start like this wasn’t exactly unanticipated. They’ll likely emerge from the opening four weeks of the season with a 1-3 record, but they could — and should be 3-3 in time for back-to-back division games. They’re home vs. Buffalo in Week 7 and on the road in Miami in Week 8. Let’s say they lose to Buffalo but beat Miami, then they’re 4-4 before a home date with Washington and a Germany date with Indianapolis. They can still be 6-4 when they hit their bye before emerging with winnable games at the Giants and Steelers and home vs. the Chargers. That will leave them at, say, 8-5 with four games to go. So winning nine, 10 games, it’s all still there.
That is to say: Sunday night was ugly at times. This team is far from great. It will not be competing for a Super Bowl. But in terms of this season as a whole being a viable endeavor, the loss to Miami doesn’t derail that process.
A loss next week against the Jets? OK, then we can talk. For now, let’s hit some leftover thoughts from the Dolphins’ 24-17 win at Gillette, another game where the Patriots kinda-sorta came close to coming back but ended up falling short.
–I have grown to truly despise the Mac Jones era in New England. It’s not his fault, necessarily … though he is a bit boring. It’s really just the disgusting mess of quarterback “analysis” that I find myself inundated with on a daily basis.
You’d think that having spent two decades watching the greatest quarterback to ever play would have elevated the quarterback intellect around these parts. Nevertheless! We’ve seen people declare Matt Cassel to have been the future, we’ve seen people confidently state that Jimmy Garoppolo was THE GUY, we’ve seen the architect of the team push the aforementioned greatest QB ever out the door for no real reason, and we’ve seen the region go absolutely bonkers for a kid named Bailey Zappe.
It’s not great. So naturally, the assessments of Mac Jones can get a bit wild.
It’s gotten to the point — or, actually, it’s kind of been at this point for more than a year — that if you simply explain the reality of the situation for the quarterback, then you are “making excuses” or you’re a “Mac apologist” or some other thinly veiled insult based on who knows what. And while seemingly everybody wants to make grand conclusions on Mac Jones as an NFL quarterback, the situation remains the same: YOU SIMPLY DON’T HAVE ENOUGH EVIDENCE TO MAKE THAT DETERMINATION. HE HASN’T BEEN ON A LEVEL PLAYING FIELD SINCE HIS ROOKIE YEAR (WHEN HE WAS ACTUALLY, YOU KNOW, GOOD!).
To help illustrate this matter, I’m going to embed some tweets. It’s a thread, and there’s a decent number of clips in there. But please, take a few minutes to digest the offensive line play from Sunday night’s game — and in particular, the play of right tackle Calvin Anderson against Andrew Van Ginkel.
As a warning, this gets ugly.
That thread also doesn’t include this room-service sack delivered on a platter by Cole Strange on the opening series, turning a second-and-12 on a promising drive into a third-and-21:
That was the working space for Mac Jones all night long. If you watch that and can only muster “the quarterback sucks!” then that is your right, sure. But football may not be your game, partner!
Mac Jones may indeed be a Gardner Minshew-level NFL quarterback and not a top-10 type of guy. Maybe he’s somewhere in the middle. I’m just being honest with you when I say that I can’t properly evaluate him overall because of the conditions he worked in last year and his offensive line situation this year. I can’t. You can’t. Please, please, please try to keep that perspective. It’s OK to not know something … you know?
–File this under “excuse-making” if you insist, but here: One year after forcing the quarterback to be coached by Matt Patricia and Joe Judge (neither of whom are coaching offense anymore), Bill Belichick has Mac Jones playing behind a bad offensive line after spending the team’s top three picks on defensive players.
Let’s play the comparison game. Let’s say your job is … digging holes. That’s your life’s work. You’ve got a shovel, and you dig holes. You were awesome at hole-digging in college, so you got a big shoveling job after graduating. One year, your boss takes your shovel and smashes it, allowing you to only shovel half of the dirt you’re used to shoveling. Everyone around you keeps saying things like “this guy sucks at shoveling” even though you’re working with half of a shovel. It’s not fair, but that’s the job of a shoveler. You get the glory when you shovel like the dickens, you get the blame when you shovel less dirt and fewer holes. That’s why you get paid all that money.
A year later, you’ve got almost a whole entire shovel, but your boss is making you shovel lefty. You’re a righty. This is hard. You shovel your butt off lefty, but you’re not shoveling as effectively as you would be shoveling if you could just shovel righty. Nevertheless, the shoveling critics are everywhere. This guy just can’t shovel too good, they mutter with disgust.
But really, you might be pretty good at shoveling. And you’re doing the best you can. Here’s an unrelated tweet:
Anyway, as a shoveler, you might still be good … but you’re just in an unfortunate scenario.
–Wow. That was an incredible comparison, Mike. You should win an award for that. Everyone agrees. Even the shoveling critics. Well done. Bravo.
–Another stain for the Patriots’ offensive line: A week after the Chargers rushed for 233 yards and three touchdowns on 40 carries, the Patriots managed to rush for 88 yards and one touchdown on 25 carries. And 25 of those rushing yards came from mobile quarterback Mac Jones. The duo of Rhamondre Stevenson and Ezekiel Elliott combined for 63 yards on 20 carries. That was a 3.15-yard average, a week after the Chargers averaged after Austin Ekeler and Joshua Kelly averaged 6.5 yards per carry.
The Dolphins were obviously going to try to patch that up after an embarrassing defensive week, sure. But they were still vulnerable. The Patriots’ shortcomings on the line — even with Cole Strange and Mike Onwenu returning from injury — prevented them from capitalizing.
–If you’re searching for one silver lining on the O-line, Vederian Lowe started at left tackle in place of the concussed Trent Brown, and he did all right. Only one very obviously bad rep at first blush. If I’m Bill O’Brien/Adrian Klemm, I’m giving him Anderson’s spot on the right side as soon as Brown returns.
–If you want to wag a finger at Mac Jones for anything, then you should aggressively wag one at him for the interception. That thing never had a chance, with Xavien Howard absolutely bullying DeVante Parker up the sideline. The only two possibilities on that play were an interception or an illegal touching penalty if Parker had worked to break it up.
It was particularly backbreaking because it was on a first down at the Miami 22-yard line. In Jones’ mind (or Bill O’Brien’s, but I think this is somewhat of a trend for Mac), it’s worth tossing up a shot toward the end zone on first down, because there will be two plays left to try to move the chains if it doesn’t work out. But the worst-case scenario — a pick — takes points off the board, and for a team that can’t ever afford to miss out on points, that can’t happen.
Jones did this last year in Week 1 in Miami, throwing a pick to … Xavien Howard … while targeting DeVante Parker … on a first-and-10 … from the Miami 22-yard line. I kid you not! That’s crazy.
Mac’s playoff interception on the opening drive in Buffalo likewise came on a first-and-10 on the opponent’s side of the field.
Turning it over on the plus side of the 50 is something that Jones absolutely needs to eliminate from his game. Sunday night’s was bad.
–This is just scratching an itch for me, but after a week of seeing and hearing everyone compare Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones, I’m left with one question: Why do so many people say that Tua is a mobile quarterback? He is not. He was not the more mobile quarterback on Sunday night, and that’s really saying something. He averages 2.9 yards per rush in his career. He averages 8.3 rushing yards per game in his career. Mac Jones, who’s very much not a mobile quarterback, averages 2.8 and 8.2 in those same categories.
I don’t even know who I’m arguing with! But spread the word: Tua — not a mobile QB!
–In terms of things you could have never seen last year, I liked this pre-snap motion from Demario Douglas:
Of course, nothing gold can stay, so Belichick stapled Douglas’ tuchus to the bench after fumbling following his second catch. Belichick denied the benching postgame, saying the team just has so many skill players and got a ton of production out of the offense. Just a coincidence that Douglas played six offensive snaps early and never got another chance to touch the ball on offense.
“Look, we had a lot of production on offense,” Belichick explained. “Parker had a good day. [Mike] Gesicki had a good day. Hunter [Henry] had a good day, JuJu, KB. So, you know, a lot of good players. Can’t play everybody.”
Parker led the Patriots with 57 receiving yards (on eight targets). The next-best wide receiver was Kendrick Bourne, who caught four passes (on nine targets) for a whopping 29 yards. JuJu Smith-Schuster had 28 receiving yards.
Perhaps Belichick just didn’t want to publicly shame the rookie for fumbling. But we’re not stupid, and we know what a benching looks like. This one seemed to hurt the team, who really could have used Douglas’ quickness to help move the ball on a night when the Patriots were held to under 300 yards while punting four times and turning it over on downs to lose at the end.
–Douglas holding a ball while sitting on the bench was kind of sad, though. High school stuff, on display in Foxboro.
–Not that we needed any confirmation that it’s a different world in Foxboro these days, but back when games mattered, players wouldn’t be holding the football from his first NFL interception after a loss.
I’m not blaming Christian Gonzalez for that. I’m a human. Love to see humans embrace life and celebrate their successes. I’m just making an observation that the old days are so far gone. That’s all.
–I also don’t want to make this the Calvin Anderson Story, because he missed the entire summer with an illness and clearly isn’t up to speed. That being said! His bio on Patriots.com is hard to believe, and that’s ignoring the typo that says he played 4,212 snaps last season.
That bio says things like this: “Allowed just two sacks [in 2022 season].”
It also says, “Allowed zero sacks [in 2021 season].”
And it says, “Allowed zero sacks [in 2020 season].”
That bio indicates that Anderson took 743 offensive snaps from 2020-22 and allowed two total sacks. That doesn’t sound like the person we saw playing on Sunday night. Something is up — either with that accounting, or with his current health status.
–I don’t have a problem with the Cole Strange first down overturn in a vacuum. He definitely looked short.
But when contrasted with the challenge decision on Rhamondre Stevenson’s run earlier in the game, the NFL really plays it fast and loose with the whole “clear and obvious video evidence” portion of the rules.
With Stevenson, the only way he came down short of the line to gain is if he was cradling the football in his crotch. Football players very rarely employ such a tactic, so I personally felt quite comfortable knowing that he had gained that first down. That’s why Bill Belichick threw his challenge flag with the sass of a thousand angsty teenagers.
NBC rules analyst Terry McAulay claimed you could see the ball on replay. Not sure what kind of eyes he’s working with, but I couldn’t see through Cole Strange’s torso, personally.
That challenge failed, which didn’t hurt in the moment, because New England converted the fourth-and-inches. But it cost them a timeout, which would have been very useful on that last-gasp drive at the end of regulation.
I recognize there’s no easy solution for the issue of spotting footballs. People yell for chips all the time, and yeah, that helps, but you still have to determine when a knee went down, so knowing the exact spot of the football can only help so much.
I think ultimately, just like baseball folks love the “human element” of umpires having at-times insane strike zones, football people have to embrace the absurdity of a sport that’s governed by sticks attached by 10 yards of chain link, with elderly men guessing where the football was in the midst of a pile of eight enormous bodies flying around at full speed.
What a sport!
–This isn’t fair, but it’s kind of a reality: If the Patriots are going to win games, they probably will need to score on defense. Just before the sick Brenden Schooler blocked field goal, the defense got that chance. Granted, it would have taken an unreal, Garrett Wilson-esque play from Kyle Dugger to have stopped a pass dead in its track while tipping it to himself … but if he could have picked off that Tua pass, he would have likely been gone to the house:
That’s a great play by Dugger. But again, it feels like with the offense being limited for the time being, the defense is going to have to create points for the team to win games.
–I still can’t get over the route by Braxton Berrios:
We all know the sluggo route but the slant … wheel? Slant fade? I don’t know. Pretty slick.
I had some questions about Mike McDaniel when he got the job last year. Namely, I wondered … is this guy going to go 0-17? But credit to him. He’s 11-8. And he’s 2-1 against Bill Belichick.
–OK, hot take from me, who’s watched every single snap of the Patriots and Jets thus far: Patriots are winning next week. Those defensive scores will come easily, because Zach Wilson is bad. And though Quinnen Williams against this offensive line is a problem, the Jets are just so putrid offensively that it won’t matter.
Yes, I am here to boldly declare that the mighty New England Patriots will be 1-2 by mid-afternoon next Sunday. Alert the presses. No interviews please.
You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.
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