Just because we all saw it coming, doesn’t make it an easier pill to swallow. The fans and viewers of the NFL have heard these remarks for the past two weeks since the Patriots fell to the Miami Dolphins, squandering their playoff hopes before the season was even over; “The Patriots have missed the playoffs for the first time since 2008”, “The Patriots will not win 10 or more games for the first time since 2002”, and now “The Patriots finish with a losing record for the first time since 2000”. For a lot of fans, this Patriots team looked like the Pats of old, and I’m not talking about the dynasty years of the early 2000s. This Patriots team took a harsh turn to the late 90s when Pete Carroll was the head coach. Consistently failing in the big moments, subpar offensive play, struggling to take on the great competition that the rest of the NFL had to offer. Many expected the Patriots to struggle but predicting a Bill Belichick-coached team to miss the post-season was as bold of a take that you could make in any season. Nevertheless, that’s exactly what happened.
Even a happy-go-lucky, locker room leader at quarterback like Cam Newton couldn’t keep the New England Patriots afloat in the first year of the post-Tom Brady era. At some points, the quarterback position was a key detriment to the Patriots’ effort to keep their many streaks alive. Whether it be during the 26-10 loss in Kansas City where Newton went down with COVID-19, or throwing just 98 yards and three interceptions against the San Francisco 49ers, or even in a win managing to post just a 23.4 quarterback rating against the Arizona Cardinals. It certainly doesn’t help that Newton didn’t have very many targets to throw to. Sure, Julian Edelman went down early on and never returned to the field after having knee surgery in October. But it’s not like Edelman was even a fraction of what he used to be. First-round selection N’Keal Harry also failed to improve off of an uninspiring rookie season, and Jakobi Meyers proved to be the New England Patriots’ best wide receiver, but he was an undrafted free agent, a shot in the dark. It’s as impressive as it is disappointing, knowing your first-round pick from 2019 is playing worse than some (no disrespect intended) guy found after the draft. Drafting two tight ends and having a grand total of 17 catches for two touchdowns also doesn’t speak well to the construction of this team.
Everybody has down years, in any profession. Although in this profession, it only got this bad by consecutive years of bad drafting and poor team management. That’s why the team skidded their way into a division title win, instead of the dominance Patriots fans had been used to for years. Brady was essentially surrounded by aging veterans and underperforming offensive pieces, being carried by an aging defense taking advantage of soft competition. One could say the lack of offensive investment was the single biggest reason for Brady leaving for Tampa Bay.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom for the Patriots this season though. Seeing cornerback J.C. Jackson step up as a ball-hawking corner and securing nine interceptions was a huge bright spot on this Patriots team. As well as the rise of the former Michigan edge-rushing teammates Josh Uche and Chase Winovich, even in limited snaps, those two played extremely well. Not to mention that rookie safety Kyle Dugger is looking like a solid box safety and an immediate Patrick Chung replacement, as it doesn’t look like the 33-year-old veteran will return to the Patriots next season at the money he is making. Offensively, the extremely productive running of Damien Harris was a sight all fans wanted to see. Harris made the most of his 137 carries by rushing for 691 yards and two scores, averaging five yards per carry. This Patriots team proved to have some pieces that are worth being key staples in their efforts to rebuild for the 2021 season.
Unfortunately, the big question has yet to be answered for the Patriots. The quarterback situation remains to be a detriment to the Pats since the arguably greatest of all time left for Tampa Bay. It is an insanely difficult task to fill the shoes of a quarterback like Brady. It would be foolish to compare the likes of Newton, Jarrett Stidham or Brian Hoyer to him. But as we mentioned before, the quarterback play was not only subpar, it cost them games. It’s not something the Patriots have experienced in at least 20 seasons. Who knows what’s to come as the Pats try to find the successor to Brady, but it’s obviously at the top of their to-do list this off-season. Although according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, It’s looking unlikely that Newton will be the signal-caller for the Patriots in 2021. Personally, I would have loved nothing more than for Newton to work out here in New England. Every single one of his teammates spoke extremely high of him, even Belichick complimented his work ethic and what he brought to the team as a locker room figure. Something you would have to dig through about 10 years of press conference film to find Belichick say about Brady. Newton off the field was a total Patriot, it truly is unfortunate that the play couldn’t match what he brought as a leader. I wouldn’t be shocked if Newton is back next season, but it would be wise for the Patriots to test their luck with other opportunities at the position.
Ultimately fans are going to be worried about the future. Getting used to several years of being a bottom feeder in the AFC East is not something to be desired, especially after 20 years of utter dominance in the division. Routinely, it has run through the doors of Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. With the ascent of the Buffalo Bills and the Miami Dolphins, it looks like the Pats might not be top dog for several years to come. After this off-season, it could end up being that the New England Patriots are the only team in the AFC East without a stable quarterback situation should the Jets land a quarterback in the draft like Justin Fields or Zach Wilson. It’s too early to evaluate that though, what we can evaluate is that despite what we saw in the 28-14 win over the New York Jets on Sunday, these are not the winning Patriots that we are all so used to. There is a need for a major overhaul this off-season, and the Patriots have an abnormally early start to construct a plan to complete said overhaul. They pick in the top half of the NFL Draft for the first time since 2008 with the 15th pick, and with about $62 million dollars in projected cap space, they have the ability to make some splashes this off-season. Buckle up Patriots fans, it’s a long road ahead. A lot of the players you see on the Patriots today, have a good chance of not being here come the new league year on March 18.
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