The Patriots couldn't shake their poor performance from last week in Dallas, as a Mac Jones pick-six opened the scoring for the Saints and New Orleans never looked back, riding some first-half big plays that helped them build a 21-point halftime lead, en route to a 34-0 shutout victory that dropped New England to 1-4 on the 2023 season.
The Pats could never get much going in any phase of the game, as the offense sputtered throughout (three turnovers) while the defense couldn't make any big plays without two of their injured star players and the special teams had too many little mistakes that swung favor overwhelmingly toward New Orleans.
With two blowout losses in two weeks, the Patriots are reeling and looking for answers just five games into the season.
Here are the key takeaways from New England's fourth loss of the season.
1. Offensive Struggles Carry Over
The Patriots defense pitched an early shutout through their first two possessions, forcing two punts despite allowing some yardage, but the offense once again came out cold, going three-and-out on their initial possession and then things got worse on the next offensive possession as the Pats came up on a quick third down. On third-and-six, the offense saw the pocket quickly collapse around Mac Jones and as Jones tried to get the ball out, it was picked off by veteran Tyrann Mathieu and returned for a touchdown to open the scoring in the game.
It was another instance of Mac trying to do too much, resulting in a major mistake that immediately affected the course of the game. This was his third interception in the last two games and his second pick-six in as many weeks.
Slow starts are one thing, but this was another disastrous start that continued a troubling trend.
2. New Twists in the Mix
With two major injuries in the last game and some returnees from Injured Reserve this week, as well as the addition of J.C. Jackson, the Patriots did some personnel juggling in this one. Jackson was eased into action. Although he didn't start, he was quickly in the lineup and saw his fair share of action as the team rotated him with Myles Bryant and Shaun Wade. Jonathan Jones' return to the lineup was a badly needed boost and Jones played nearly every snap in his return.
Keion White appeared to be the primary beneficiary of increased snaps without Matthew Judon, while Anfernee Jennings saw a spike on running downs as well. Unrelated, rookie Marte Mapu continued to see an expansion of his playing time at linebacker, as the rookie duo are continuing to grow their roles on defense.
Riley Reiff entered the game on the third possession but was somewhat surprisingly at left guard in place of Atonio Mafi. Reiff had spent his time on the right side in camp, initially at right tackle but quickly moving inside to guard. Reiff slid over to the left guard spot as Mike Onwenu left the game with an ankle injury. Mafi returned at right guard for the rest of the game.
3. Big Play Problems
Down 7-0, the Patriots offense made their first big play of the game, with Mac Jones hitting Demario Douglas for 24 yards on a third down play that also had 15 additional yards tacked on for a penalty. It was the last play Douglas would make against the Saints as he left the game with a head injury and did not return.
The drive stalled and then Chad Ryland missed the ensuing 48-yard field goal attempt as the Patriots streak of missed plays continued.
Things got worse on the next Saints possession as Derek Carr started to find his downfield rhythm, hitting Michael Thomas for 26 yards on a third-and-11, and then finding Rashid Shaheed for a 25-yarder. The two big plays set the Saints up deep inside New England territory and they'd find the end zone for the first time offensively with Alvin Kamara finishing things off from two yards out to make it 14-0.
The Pats defense had a good start, forcing two initial punts, but the offense handed the Saints a touchdown and then the defense lost their mojo, allowing two big plays that quickly allowed New Orleans to extend their lead. The team's defensive philosophy always starts with avoiding the big plays, but that key fell by the wayside on the Saints third possession and continued into their next possession as New Orleans picked up a 33-yarder off a checkdown on the first play of their next time with the ball.
Four plays later New Orleans added another touchdown, making it 21-0 as things continued to snowball on the Patriots due in large part to explosive plays that the Saints were stacking.
4. Turnovers Carry into the Second Half
Things got even worse on the first Patriots possession to open the third quarter as the offense lined up to attempt what appeared to be an Eagles-style QB sneak with two pushers. But the Pats had some tricks up their sleeve, faking the sneak and looking to toss the ball to Rhamondre Stevenson, however, the flip hit the ground and the Saints recovered. It seemed like a nice twist to throw at the Saints, but the execution fell apart for New England's second turnover of the game.
This was credited with a fumble on Mac, marking his fifth turnover in two games.
The Patriots defense would keep the Saints out of the end zone following the fumble, with a Saints false start and a Myles Bryant coverage sack helping their cause. New Orleans would still tack on a 54-yard field goal that extended the lead to 24-0.
The teams traded punts through the third quarter until one of Mac's passes deflected off Ty Montgomery and into the hands of a waiting Saints defender, Pete Werner, giving the Patriots their third turnover of the game. Werner quickly delivered a hit to Montgomery that jarred the ball loose, but Mac still was pinned with his second interception and sixth turnover over the last two games.
The Saints would turn that takeaway into another touchdown, making it 31-0 early in the fourth quarter. They'd tack on another field goal for a 34-0 final, New England's first shutout loss at home since 2016, a 16-0 loss to the Bills with Jacoby Brissett at quarterback.
5. The Patriots are now 1-4
With a second lopsided loss in two weeks, the Patriots fall to 1-4, their worst start in 23 years, when they started 1-4 en route to a 5-11 finish in Bill Belichick's first year with the team.
The same problems continued for the offense with a general inability to move the ball, multiple turnovers that often led directly to points for the Saints and zero ability to put points on the board themselves. Defensively the big plays broke the game open after the offense surrendered the first points of the game with the pick-six. As if that wasn't enough, the special teams were littered with their own issues that included missed field goals and bad snaps. In short, it's the same issues popping up over and over, games are unfolding the same exact ways, and the team hasn't been able to find any answers to break the trend.
Next, the Patriots are off to Las Vegas for the third time in two seasons after facing the Raiders in both the 2022 preseason and regular season. Las Vegas will play the Packers on Monday night and the Patriots will hope that gives them some sort of an edge as New England searches for some way, any way, to break their two-game losing streak.