There was a little under seven minutes left in the third quarter. It was another three-and-out for the New England Patriots in their humiliating 34-0 home loss to the New Orleans Saints. The third down had been an uninspired and poorly executed pass up the middle into traffic. It was deflected and nearly intercepted.
The boos inside Gillette Stadium had been crescendoing all afternoon. They rose at the end of the first half when a respectable Patriots drive was halted after Mac Jones took a couple of sacks. They grew even louder when New England turned the ball over on a failed pitch three plays into the third quarter. Now they were deafening.
Last week’s 38-3 embarrassment against Dallas was the worst loss of Bill Belichick’s career by points differential. But this one may take the cake overall, given how uninspired New England were against a Saints team who are far from Cowboys-caliber. In fact, New Orleans entered this matchup losers of two in a row and had not scored more than 21 points in 10 straight games.
Now 1-4, this is Belichick’s worst coaching start since 2000. If Tom Brady were under center, it would be fair to consider this a blip on the way to an inevitable playoff run. But this dispiriting version of the Pats is far removed from the glory days. Simply put, New England have hit rock bottom. Belichick the coach is no longer scary, and Belichick the GM has been downright wretched. Would Belichick the GM fire Belichick the coach? Will Robert Kraft fire both of them? It’s unlikely Belichick will ever be officially fired given the titles he’s won. His departure would be billed as some kind of mutual agreement.
In the meantime, the Patriots are a tough watch, strapped with one of the NFL’s worst rosters. It starts at quarterback: Jones is regressing in his third season, and it wasn’t a surprise when he was pulled from the game for the second week in a row. His completion percentage and passer rating are down. A makeshift offensive line, which has been different each week, is not helping matters. But Jones is also an unreliable decision maker, often releasing the ball too early and he doesn’t have the gumption to execute explosive plays rooted in misdirection. Jones and retread offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien are not in sync. Nor is Jones jelling with his less-than-ideal receiving corps. Ty Montgomery was a particular liability on Sunday. After a decent catch, he fumbled. Later, an illegal shift call on the receiver negated a first down.
Third-year running back Rhamondre Stevenson is a legitimate talent but most of Belichick’s offensive weapons are old, injury-prone or castoffs. Belichick chose to extend DeVante Parker and sign JuJu Smith-Schuster instead of keeping Jakobi Meyers and/or making a play for an elite wideout like DeAndre Hopkins.
Hopes were a bit higher for the Pats defense, but those hopes have diminished. On Sunday, the Saints torched their zone coverage. There weren’t enough adjustments. There isn’t enough fight. That goes back to the coaching.
It wasn’t long ago that Belichick ruled the NFL. Even his grunting would make news as reporters tried to decipher its meaning. But this is a new era and not a pretty one. The Patriots are just like any other bottomfeeder franchise. Except they’re not. The face of their franchise is not a player, it’s Belichick. He deserves some grace for all he’s accomplished, of course, but he’s also a relic. Unless there is a massive turnaround or surprise signing, the post-Brady Era in New England will be remembered as a dud. The franchise could use a change and Belichick probably could too. Imagine the bidding war for his services in a broadcast booth (where presumably he’d shower the audience with NFL history and not just mumble). He could perhaps make his mark on a new franchise as a coach or adviser. The options are intriguing. Someone has to make the first move because the status quo is a disaster.