It only took the better part of 20 years, three different presidents, and eight Super Bowl appearances, but it finally happened: the New England Patriots are a bad football team. While Tom Brady was busy in Vegas throwing five touchdown passes, the Patriots got stomped by the 49ers on their home turf in Foxborough by the score of 33-6. It wasn't even that close. It was the second week in a row everything looked bad for Bill Belichick's squad. And I mean everything.
Cam Newton has looked like an entirely different quarterback since his return from the COVID IR list. Over the last two weeks, he has completed 16 of 40 passes for 255 yards and five interceptions. He has not thrown a touchdown. He has been erratic with his throws and many of his incompletions were so off-target they looked like they were thrown by a local father in his men's league flag football league. Newton was benched for Jarrett Stidham in the third quarter of this week's game.
The Patriots rode a strong run game to all of their wins this season. Injuries forced a reshuffling of the line, and they haven't been able to find any level of success in that area. After rushing for over 180 yards in three of their first four games, New England has averaged only 100 yards on the ground per contest these last two weeks. They've managed one offensive touchdown in that stretch.
Defensively, they have one of the most talented secondaries in the NFL. That doesn't really matter when their linebackers and defensive line can't do anything to stop the run or contain receivers on short routes after the catch. The Niners abused them in that regard yesterday while gaining 467 yards in total. The offense hasn't done them any favors by turning the ball over so often the defense gets around 10 minutes of rest before they have to go back on the field, but the results don't change even when taking that into consideration.
The biggest advantage the Patriots had going into the 2020 season was coaching. That makes sense when Belichick is on the sidelines, and one might've figured that advantage would be more pronounced this season with the lack of preparation for every franchise. Yet even that has been an issue. The defense is undisciplined as we've ever seen from New England with regular mental mistakes that result in costly penalties. They trotted out 10 men to defend San Francisco on the fourth snap of the game yesterday. When the offense was struggling, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels busted out... a fullback screen to Jakob Johnson, who then fumbled the ball. The fact that he managed to recover it was one of the few positive plays of the whole game.
Hell, even special teams, the pride and joy of any decent Belichick squad, has been slacking. Nick Folk has managed to hit his field goals when called upon, but the kickoff coverage has been subpar. They nearly lost another fumble yesterday on a kickoff return. Gunner Olszewski is both a real person and the regular kick returner who has an overinflated sense of confidence that he can get back to the 25-yard-line from five yards deep into the end zone.
They simply are a bad team. There are good elements, but you can say the same thing about the 1-5 Atlanta Falcons. Everything has gone wrong for an organization that is accustomed to things going right. With the exception of his Week 2 performance against a historically bad Seattle secondary, Newton has looked average at best. Belichick's drafting woes are coming back to haunt him as Damiere Byrd, an undrafted free agent in his fifth NFL season, has been more successful than 2019 first-round pick N'Keal Harry.
Normally, this kind of piling-on in regards to the Patriots means we're all making a big mistake and will be eating crow in short order. Not this time. Everything bad teams exhibit-- a failure to execute basic responsibilities on both sides of the ball, careless unforced errors, evident lack of talent at important positions, and a heaping of bad luck-- is showing up in Patriots games. There's still time for Newton to even out his play and for Belichick to fix the mistakes his players do not usually make. But it doesn't feel like that'll be enough at this juncture.
There hasn't been much legitimate reason for concern up in New England in quite some time. The alarm bells should be ringing now, though. This iteration of the Patriots isn't good, and unless Newton woke up today and decided he's going to return to MVP form, there isn't any way to get better.