FOXBOROUGH – As the boos rained down, it was Bill Belichick caught swearing on the sideline this time. The Patriots coach could be seen mouthing one expletive on the sideline in the first quarter on Sunday. By the second quarter, the officials microphone heard him screaming a different expletive.
By halftime, this crowd was booing the Patriots into the locker room. By the final whistle, fans were left heartbroken.
Merry Christmas, coach.
If we’re being honest, Saturday’s loss to the Cincinnati Bengals was fitting. This 2022 Patriots team doesn’t deserve to go to the playoffs. After losing, 22-18 to the Bengals, their season will almost certainly end in two weeks. That’s how it should be.
There’s only so much you can get away with in the NFL. In the end, you get what you deserve and this year’s failures fall on Belichick’s shoulders.
Saturday was just another example. As faithful fans packed into a freezing cold Gillette Stadium, the Patriots offense was lifeless for three quarters. By the time they found life, the game ultimately ended with a costly offensive turnover in the red zone.
After failing to cross midfield until the final play in the third quarter, the Patriots almost came back on Christmas Eve. Instead, that offensive ineptitude reared its ugly head in fitting fashion – a Rhamondre Stevenson fumble five yards away from a touchdown.
The boos were warranted. Belichick’s decisions led to a team with a poor coaching setup, shallow depth at important positions and a mismanaged cap situation. Look no further than Mac Jones and the Patriots’ offense.
Kendrick Bourne proved himself
When you have a young quarterback, it is important to create a level of security around him. It’s not about holding his hand but making sure he’s surrounded by players he trusts. One of the biggest miscues this season comes with the handling of receiver Kendrick Bourne.
Last year, Bourne finished with a career-high 800 receiving yards. On Saturday, Jones called Bourne one of his closest friends. When he plays, he looks like one of the Patriots most dynamic receivers.
“KB, he’s a great teammate, and he’s one of my closest friends,” Jones said. “Every time I’ve seen him, he’s had a smile on his face, even in a situation like that at the end of the game where we’re trying to fight back and there’s a lot of pressure, he’s in there smiling, like , “let’s go do that.” When you see that from a guy, and I’m saying the same stuff in the huddle, I want to look for a guy like that, who wants to compete and play and play with effort.”
That’s why it’s befuddling that Bourne has played fewer snaps than four receivers on the Patriots roster – Jakobi Meyers, Devante Parker, Nelson Agholor and Tyquan Thornton. On Saturday, Bourne showed his coaches why he should be on that game field.
In the Patriots first scoring drive, Bourne caught passes of 19 and 32 yards before hauling in a 32-yard touchdown. On their second scoring drive, the receiver caught a ridiculous 28-yard pass.
“I’m going in and getting my opportunities. It’s just about making them when I get them,” Bourne said. “It’s not the easiest situation, but I make the most of it when I get it.”
Bourne finished with a career-high 100 yards on Saturday. Considering Jones’ struggles last week in Las Vegas, it’s highly questionable as to why Bourne played just 11 snaps on offense. He looked like a player that should be playing more, not less.
When asked why Bourne hasn’t played as much this season, Belichick replied, “No particular reason.”
Mac Jones showed he was capable of throwing a Hail Mary
On Saturday, Jones showed off his arm strength.
Last week, when the Patriots game ended in embarrassing fashion, Belichick was asked why the team didn’t attempt a Hail Mary on that final play in Las Vegas. The coach responded, “We couldn’t throw it that far.”
That felt like a dig at Jones and his arm strength. That pass in Las Vegas would have been a 55-yard attempt – in a dome. On Saturday, Jones launched a 48-yard pass – in the freezing cold – that bounced off Scotty Washington and landed in Jakobi Meyers’ hands for a touchdown.
Right there, Belichick was proven wrong. You never know what can happen on a Hail Mary.
Instead of praising his arm strength, Jones took the blame for what led up to that 48-yard score. The Patriots were in a third-and-29 situation, in part, due to his intentional grounding call.
“At that point, I did a lot of things to put us in that situation, which isn’t good,” Jones said. “… But at some point you’ve just got to let it rip.”
In Las Vegas, the Patriots shied away from letting Jones rip. They focused on the run game against one of the worst passing defenses in the NFL. Considering Belichick’s comments about Jones’ arm strength, the night in Vegas felt like a sign that the Patriots didn’t trust their quarterback.
For three quarters, you could see that Saturday. After the first quarter, the offense had 10 total yards. Jones was 0 for 2 passing. The group never hit midfield that half. The Patriots offense didn’t cross midfield until the final play of the third quarter.
Jones turned it on in the fourth quarter. It didn’t hurt that he was throwing to one of his best players in Bourne.
“Mac’s very posed. He’s been like that his whole career,” Bourne said. “Very proud of that guy. He’s a warrior. That’s what we need. Didn’t have the outcome that we wanted, but love the fight we have in our guys.”
Belichick gets the blame
Belichick was caught without a plan when Josh McDaniels left for Las Vegas last offseason. Instead of building up a young offensive coach behind his offensive coordinator, who had interviews for head-coaching gigs every offseason, Belichick put Matt Patricia and Joe Judge in charge of the operation.
That move was criticized from the jump. It never worked. The offense looked inefficient in training camp and the preseason. They never looked great in the regular season.
Last year, under McDaniels, the Patriots offense finished sixth in the NFL in points scored and 15th in yards. They entered this game 17th in scoring and 25th in yards. The drop in offensive production is clearly due to Belichick’s failure to adequately replace McDaniels.
The coaching change isn’t the only problem with this group.
The Patriots also failed when it came to building proper depth at tackle. They entered this season relying on Trent Brown and Isaiah Wynn. Neither player has been a model of durability in their career. The Patriots did not adequately build up depth behind them. They entered the regular season with Yodny Cajuste as their top backup. He’s been passed on the depth chart by Conor McDermott, who was signed off the New York Jets practice squad.
Then there’s the issues with the receivers and tight ends. The Patriots have the most expensive tight end room in the NFL at $23.4 million with Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith. They have the second-most expensive receiver room at $34.3 million.
As we saw once again Saturday, the Patriots have issues with their receivers getting open and players running routes too close to each other. For a team that’s spending that kind of money on those offensive weapons, the production is alarming.
When asked how much responsibility Belichick’s takes for the offensive failures, he responded, “I’m the head coach.”
Yes you are – and that’s why these losses are you, coach.