When Cam Newton was sacked on 4th down late in New England’s 22-12 loss in Miami on Sunday, the Patriots already-slim playoff chances went down with him.
Technically, the Patriots entered Sunday’s contest with just a three percent chance to make the playoffs, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index, but the NFL community has certainly taken solace in their wicked witch being officially dead.
The mood surrounding Bill Belichick and some of the few remaining Super Bowl heroes was as you’d expect.
“It stinks to lose,” Devin McCourty said after the loss, “but I think the way we have played has been most disappointing. It just really hasn’t developed for us all year. It’s just felt like that throughout the whole season.”
“Obviously it hasn’t been our year,” said Matthew Slater, the Patriots’ longest-tenured player (since 2008). “Obviously we haven’t done enough to be the type of team we thought we would. As to why that’s the case, it’s really hard to put your finger on it.”
Now, the Patriots will play their last two games versus AFC East opponents at home (vs Bills, vs Jets) with them having nothing to lose, and not much to gain.
The New England offense under Cam Newton (5 TD passes, 10 INT, 11 rush TDs, 44.9 Total QBR), and a sub-par pass-catching core, has not only struggled, but they’ve set back the clock on modern offenses. The difference between New England’s pulling-teeth passing game and that of some of the efficient, new-age passing offenses (let alone the Chiefs) is stark.
Soon, NFL talk will shift toward the playoffs, and the deserving teams in the postseason field.
The defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs. The AFC East-champion Buffalo Bills. Tom Brady’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
New England will enter the offseason with many questions needed to be answered, including one at quarterback, which is a topic that will have its time for deep dives in the next few weeks and months.
As expected by many sensible figures before the pandemic-altered season, the Patriots did not have the team to compete, especially with their legendary quarterback of the past two decades now throwing passes in South Florida.
But in taking a big-picture look at the fraction, which side of the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady wishbone would you prefer to hold if you’re Robert Kraft and the New England Patriots?
Brady could win a Super Bowl in Tampa Bay and he’s likely going to call it a career in the next year or two (although you can never fully assume so when we’re talking about the GOAT).
Despite some questionable draft day decisions over the last few seasons, and a few blind spots in the entire process (evaluating wide receivers), Bill Belchick is a master team-builder, an innovative and brilliant strategist, and the best coach in the history of football, and maybe, sports.
The married football coach with young children who once stated he wouldn’t be “Marv Levy coaching in his 70s.” But things are different now. Belichick is now a man on a mission — to prove himself by sustaining consistent success without Tom Brady. “The Hoodie” is a revitalized 68-year-old coach with both sons (now adults) on his coaching staff. He’s since divorced but has been in a long-time loving relationship with partner Linda Holliday. Part of Belichick’s summers are spent at Cape Cod with Linda, but most of his life still revolves around football, where a big chunk of his heart undoubtedly resides.
Now, Belichick is tasked with rebuilding the New England Patriots.
The Pats are sufficient in a few important areas already (offensive line, defensive secondary), making the rebuild seem more like one of Bill’s classic “retools” (2005-2007, 2009-2010, etc.) as opposed to a full-on rebuild — if the quarterback position was more ingrained and not Brady-less.
But aside from QB — the obvious position that will be much-talked about in the northeast this offseason — New England obviously fields a skill-position arsenal (WR, TE) that simply must be addressed. Their defensive front seven also needs some offseason attention, as a team like the Dolphins, who came into the game ranked last in yards per carry (3.6), ran for 250 yards on 42 carries (6.0 YPC) versus the Patriots behind running backs Salvon Ahmed and Matt Brieda.
But despite a nightmare season congruent with the year 2020, there is reason for optimism in 2021.
The Patriots are projected to have at least $70-ish million in cap space, depending on the league’s cap number this Spring. They’ll also field a pick in the top half of the draft for just the second time since 2003, giving them a shot at a blue-chip player.
Then, there’s the small group of young players showing promise. Kyle Dugger, Josh Uche, Jakobi Meyers, Michael Onwenu.
As long as there are hard-working, young talents in the building reflecting with quotes such as Chase Winovich’s in the tweet below after Sunday’s loss in Miami, the “Patriot Way” is still in tact.
Yes, New England’s young core is not that exciting on paper, but with Belchick, and an arsenal of offseason tools (cap space, draft) to reshape this team, it’s at least exciting to see which way Belichick goes.
They most certainly will address their receivers and defensive front seven.
At QB, do they re-sign Newton? Re-sign Newton and draft a rookie on Day 1 or Day 2 of the draft? Do they hope former Patriot Jimmy Garoppolo is released outright by the 49ers? Everything is on the table, and until they figure it out at QB, the rest may not matter, that’s evident, but everyone from Foxboro to Portland, Maine knows Bill, Nick Caserio and the Patriots front office are already planning.
This was a year of poor play and bad luck for the Patriots. But as a new year turns, New England’s hopes are that of American citizens dreaming of a post-Pandemic world. Change is coming.
“Teams that don’t make the playoffs change,” said Devin McCourty. “The 2020 Patriots — it won’t be the same in 2021.”
There’s a void… a cavity waiting to be filled with more Patriots success. Belichick and the Patriots are just getting started.
NFL MVP RACE
- Patrick Mahomes
- Aaron Rodgers
- Russell Wilson
- Josh Allen
- Derrick Henry
The only change here is Josh Allen jumping into the top five. After a so-so midseason stretch, the third-year QB is revisiting his red-hot start to the season at just the right time. Still, he’s more in line with Russell Wilson than a true contender for the award. Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers are essentially in a two-man race with two weeks to go.
THE BETTER HALF
1. Kansas City Chiefs (13-1) (Last week: 1). We, as a collective non-Kansas City NFL community needed a Saints win over the Chiefs to prove that Kansas City can be beaten. It didn’t happen. The Chiefs are a collective cyborg. They are a well-oiled machine and Patrick Mahomes is a football god.
2. Buffalo Bills (11-3) (Last week: 2). With their scorching-hot play as of late, and their first AFC East title since 1995, the Bills have emerged as perhaps the most obvious challenger to the Chiefs in the AFC.
3. Green Bay Packers (11-3) (Last week: 3). It seems the Packers will go as far as Aaron Rodgers takes them, but that’s really not the case. Rodgers is solid, and will remain so. It’s up to his supporting cast. Is their defense ready?
4. Pittsburgh Steelers (11-2) (Last week: 4). The Steelers should win tonight in Cincinnati, but it’s pretty clear a once-clear contender is floundering a bit in December. Injuries on defense are certainly mounting, too. Still, you wouldn’t want to see this proud franchise in January.
5. New Orleans Saints (10-4) (Last week: 5). Defensively, the Saints beat up Mahomes at times. They had a swagger and look of a Super Bowl contender that would not play afraid. Still, they lost. Drew Brees played fairly well down the stretch but it’s still pretty clear that these are his last days. Can he do enough for one last Super Bowl run?
6. Tennessee Titans (10-4) (Last week: 8). The Titans are the ultimate dark horse in the AFC, a spot in which they filled admirably last season. Derrick Henry and A.J. Brown are players you just don’t want to see in an outdoor playoff game. Their defense, and lack of a pass rush, may make it too tough to repeat their playoff run from last season, though.
7. Indianapolis Colts (10-4) (Last week: 9). The Colts again survived Deshaun Watson and the Texans via a Houston goal-line fumble late in the game. That’s the second such occurrence in two weeks. But any division wins are welcome.
8. Seattle Seahawks (10-4) (Last week: 10). The Seahawks are slowly working their way back into contender status in the NFC. They have a big one on Sunday versus the Rams (9-5). If they win, they clinch the NFC West. The playoffs essentially start now for Russell Wilson’s bunch.
9. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-5) (Last week: 11). Ho hum, another 17-point comeback for Tom Brady. And against Matt Ryan’s Falcons, no less. TB12 looked like a product of his method on Sunday, zinging the ball around to complete the come-from-behind win. In all, Brady threw for 320 yards in the second half on Sunday, the most of any QB in the second half this season.
10. Los Angeles Rams (9-5) (Last week: 6). They were rolling before this home loss to the all-time inept New York Jets (1-13). What the hell happened?
11. Baltimore Ravens (9-5) (Last week: 13). Their cake-walk of a closing schedule should put them at 11-5 and in one of the AFC’s wild card spots, but there’s much to like about Lamar Jackson and this Ravens team that is surging at the right time, albeit against lesser competition. They’ll be a tough out in January.
12. Cleveland Browns (10-4) (Last week: 7). Their Sunday night win over the Giants in New York was a solid, hard-earned win after their taxing loss to the Ravens last week.
13. Miami Dolphins (9-5) (Last week: 12). They did what they had to do to survive the Patriots (6-8) at home with a decimated pass-catching core. If the Dolphins make the playoffs, Brian Flores really may win the Coach of the Year award, leapfrogging Pittsburgh’s Mike Tomlin, who had the lead on the award for most of the year.
14. Arizona Cardinals (8-6) (Last week: 15). That was a mighty fun game in Philadelphia, with Kyler Murray and Jalen Hurts battling it out. The Cardinals should be able to hold on to the NFC’s No. 7 spot.
15. Washington (6-8) (Last week: 14). We’ll leave Washington on the list for keeping it close with Seattle, and because of the ineptitude of everyone below them here.
16. Chicago Bears (7-7) (Last week: 16). I guess the Bears go here? It feels wrong to have them in the rankings, but they earned it in Minnesota. Or at least, they earned this spot.
Next up: Minnesota, New England, Las Vegas, L.A. Chargers, Dallas