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NFL Draft

Is Patriots’ Future Outlook As Weary As It Seems?

  • The Draft Network
  • October 27, 2020
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The NFL universe is not aligned when the New England Patriots aren’t winning, which means their two-win record could send head coach Bill Belichick and company spinning into the abyss, reaping what they sowed after becoming too reliant on former quarterback Tom Brady and years of neglecting skill positions.  

While the former New England passer is well into his first year playing with someone other than Belichick, the Patriots are regressing. What Brady’s move showed us isn’t so much that New England is lacking at quarterback; there’s a former NFL MVP under center who, when healthy, can rip through defenses in the air and on the ground. Instead, it’s showing us that the problem is with positions across the board, and the Patriots are in a new, troubling position. Their glaring deficiencies include a depleted receiver room—which stars the aging and oft-injured Julian Edelman and N’Keal Harry, the first wide receiver Belichick drafted in the first round (2019) since he was running the Cleveland Browns more than two decades ago—and a severely undermanned defense.

New England’s troubles bubbled over Sunday when quarterback Cam Newton was benched during the 33-6 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. He threw three interceptions and was replaced in favor of Jarrett Stidham early in the fourth quarter, and the Patriots suffered the worst home loss in the Belichick era. The head coach said Newton is “absolutely” the team’s starting quarterback, but how much longer can Belichick and the rest of New England withstand the growing pains?

“I don't feel offended by what was done,” Newton said Monday on Boston sports radio WEEI. “I don't feel offended having this type of conversation. I'm a realist. I don't fear my position stability more so than controlling the locker room. Performances like yesterday jeopardizes [that]. It's like, 'Oh my God!' Players talk, and that's what's most important to me. Knowing you have your coaches' belief [is good], but my belief is that I want to have the whole facility. ... It doesn't start with no miraculous play. It's a whole body of work that goes into performing on Sunday.”

Newton was a Band-Aid for New England, which had to transition quarterbacks in the league’s most unprecedented season, but now the edge of that Band-Aid is lifting and the Patriots’ wounds are showing. It wasn’t just Newton’s stat line that was bad; he finished 9-of-15 passing for 98 yards and no touchdowns. New England’s offense was non-existent. Jakobi Meyers and Rex Burkhead were the only players with more than one reception, and Newton had the second-most rushing yards (19) behind Damien Harris (58). 

The Patriots’ glaring problems on offense have manifested into three consecutive losses with a slew of contributing factors. Newton’s COVID-19 diagnosis caused him to miss nearly two full weeks of games and practice. In his return versus the Denver Broncos, Newton seemed to have injured his hand as the Patriots lost 18-12; Newton finished 17-of-25 for 157 yards and two picks. He doesn’t look fully healthy and continues to lack the proper supporting cast. The offensive line is riddled with injuries as well, and the Patriots are missing an NFL-leading eight players, including linebacker Dont’a Hightower, safety Patrick Chung, and offensive lineman Marcus Cannon, who all opted out of the season due to coronavirus concerns.

The defense that was ranked No. 1 late in the 2019 season gave up a season-high 467 yards to the 49ers. San Francisco was doing everything Belichick and New England wanted to. The 49ers passed and ran at whim and only punted on one garbage-time drive. Belichick named every single unit and nearly every single component of the game as a current problem for the 2-4 team: offense, defense, special teams, running, passing, defending the run, defending the pass, ball security, tackling, blocking.

The Patriots would benefit from making some moves before the Nov. 3 trade deadline. While their success is largely tied to improved performances from Newton, they would be wise to make sure everything is working well around him. Newton still has time to surge back and betting against Belichick is unwise. 

The short-term outlook could reverse itself. New England will face the Buffalo Bills, New York Jets, and Houston Texans, who all have middling-to-bad defenses. What’s most concerning is the Patriots’ long-term future which could look a lot different from what we’ve become accustomed to over the last two decades.

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