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Where Do The New England Patriots Go From Here?

With their fourth loss of the season this week, Bill Belichick's team looks like they are headed down a slippery slope.

(Sam Donsig/IS)

By: Chris Harrison

Coming into this season, the New England Patriots had managed just one playoff game (a loss) in the first three seasons of the post-Tom Brady era. Team owner Robert Kraft made it clear that this wasn’t up to his high standards and put pressure on coach Bill Belichick to get the team back to the playoffs.

In March, he suggested that the team must return to the playoffs this season. "Look, I think Bill is exceptional at what he does. And I've given him the freedom to make the choices and do the things that need to be done,” he told NFL Network. “You either execute and you win, or you don’t.”

So far in 2023-24, the team has done more of the latter.

Last year’s Patriots team narrowly missed out on a playoff spot, despite a top-three defence, because the offence, coached by a former defensive coordinator and a former special teams coach, was a disaster. That unit has been no better this season.

Most analysts figured hiring Bill O’Brien this offseason to take over offensive playcalling would prop the offence up to at least league average, allowing them to ride an elite defence to fight for a playoff spot. However, that hasn’t been the case at all.

Per Pro Football Reference, last season’s anemic offence was 27th in 3rd down conversion rate. This season? 28th. They’ve fallen from 17th in scoring (21.4 points per game) to dead last (an absolutely pitiful 11 points per game). Meanwhile, the defence, now possibly playing without September Rookie of the Month Christian Gonzalez and Matthew Judon, its most important player, for the rest of the year, has regressed.

Things are looking dire in Foxboro. The Pats just suffered their two worst losses of the Belichick era in back-to-back weeks. They responded to a must-win home game against a mediocre Saints team by putting a big donut on the scoreboard and falling to 1-4.

If they can’t beat the Las Vegas Raiders on the road this Sunday – and, frankly, probably even if they can beat them – there will be virtually no hope of finishing in a playoff spot. So, what should the Pats do if they’re facing a lost season?

It might be time to look toward the future. The Patriots are used to a certain level of consistent success and this year’s win-now edict is an extension of that. Over the last two decades, the Pats have walked an impossible tightrope, balancing today’s needs with long-term sustainability despite virtually never picking at the top of the draft. The two highest-drafted players on the team are Gonzalez (taken 17th) and struggling quarterback Mac Jones (15th). New England has only made one top-10 pick since 2002 (current defensive assistant Jerod Mayo, taken 10th in 2008).

If New England finally bottoms out, they could restock the proverbial cupboard in a way they haven’t had the opportunity to do in literal decades. A top-five pick would allow the Patriots to take a swing at the franchise quarterback (or receiver, or edge rusher) they sorely need to lead them for the next decade.

Further, they could potentially enter next season with a ton of cap room, giving them an opportunity to accelerate the rebuild. Or, they could trade some of their current top players for picks to blow it up and start all over again.

Of course, there’s one problem. The elephant in the room.

They currently employ the man widely considered the greatest coach in the history of the sport, who also has unprecedented control over football operations as general manager. With the all-time wins record on the horizon, it’s doubtful Belichick will be interested in tanking or rebuilding. Unfortunately, he has built a deeply flawed roster, with a weak offensive line, receivers who don’t create separation, and a mistake-prone quarterback.

Belichick can still coach – don’t forget, the Pats did a great job keeping Tyreek Hill and the Dolphins in check as recently as week 2 – but it may be time to install an actual general manager and have him stick to coaching. If he’s unwilling to relinquish that power, the Pats may have to consider the unthinkable. They might have to let him go.

It’s wild to think that it’s come to this, but the GOAT might be coaching for his job right now. And Robert Kraft might be running out of patience.


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