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Patriots Mailbag: Week 17 Edition

In this week's mailbag, we examine the most recent Patriots loss and the state of this Patriots team as the 2021 regular season approaches its end.


I know it's easy to criticize the game plan following a loss, but I was surprised by how [offensive coordinator Josh] McDaniels chose to attack the Bills. I felt with not having [wide receivers Nelson] Agholor and a weakened [Kendrick] Bourne we would see a healthy dose of a two-tight end offense. I thought the Bills would concentrate on eliminating [tight end Hunter] Henry, which would allow Josh to scheme up Jonnu Smith. I think Smith ended up with only 21 snaps. Do you think the offensive game plan lacked creativity? Thank you. Gary Madera

No. You're right, though, it's very easy to criticize and second-guess after losses. Yet if you're going to criticize game plans, Gary, save some for New England's defense and its coaches, who surrendered 33 points to Buffalo. The simple truth, however, is that the more talented team won this game. You can devise the most ingenious game plan in football history, but if the other team is just better than you, you're going to lose more often than not. Erik Scalavino

Happy holiday season guys! What's your take on the last two games? What is the reason for the lack of urgency and aggression in these important games? Is it just poor coaching and execution? Or is it the ceiling of what this team could do against stronger opponents and our having had higher and unrealistic expectations? Rosen Rashkov

The latter, more than the former. I'd be more willing to include the later-than-normal bye week as a possible explanation for some of the lethargy we saw the Patriots exhibit, but the Colts were also coming off their bye the week those two teams met, and Indy didn't look very weary that night.

I think you answered your own question, though. Look, the Patriots' seven-game winning streak and brief stay atop the AFC playoff seedings perhaps gave some folks a false sense of security about this 2021 team's potential. The season isn't over yet, of course, and the playoffs are still a legitimate possibility. If New England gets in, anything can happen from there.

However, other teams in the conference are starting to play their best football (i.e., Kansas City, Indy, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Miami) while the Patriots are coming back down to earth. Luckily for them, the 2-13 Jaguars are coming to town this weekend, giving the Patriots a chance to right their ship before a crucial regular season finale in Miami. Erik Scalavino

Hello, crew! Been following the Patriots for 25 years and you guys for 15. So, I want to thank you for all you do. It is always fun to listing to your takes on everything. Living in Denmark, it is hard to listen live, but love putting on the [Patriots Unfiltered] podcast after work.

I hear a lot of negativity [about the latest Patriots losing streak], but go back 10 weeks and we would all be jumping of joy if we were in the playoff hunt with a (small) chance to win the division! I really hope we take care of the Jaguars and will end up with a chance to play for the division against Miami. I know it is a slim chance, but I actually believe the Falcons are able to beat the Bills this week. They have all the strengths that the Bills hate: a fast RB in Cordarrelle Patterson and a fast defense.

But as a sucker for a rebuild, I love where we are and really hope we are able to get to the playoffs. Next season, it is going to be very different when we probably will have to sport a completely revamped defense! But go Pats and keep up the good work guys! Dennis Hansen from Denmark

Some of you might be thinking, 'Hey, Scal, what gives? This guy didn't even ask a question.' And you're right, he didn't, but I'm including his submission because he provides a level-headed perspective about where this rookie-QB-led Patriots team is at the moment. Regardless of how this season ends, New England has already exceeded any reasonable expectations, and that should provide the Patriots' global fan base with renewed enthusiasm about the future as we approach the advent of a new calendar year. Erik Scalavino

Gunner Olszewski breaks a tackle against the Buffalo Bills
Gunner Olszewski breaks a tackle against the Buffalo Bills

Hi, Erik. Do you think the Patriots letting Braxton Berrios go was a mistake? Gunner Olszewski had a good year last year but hasn't really shown up on special teams or as a wide receiver this year. Berrios seems to be really putting it all together. Michael Chiminec

It's a fair question and an astute observation. On a struggling 4-11 Jets team, Berrios, a former Patriots draft choice, is enjoying a solid season catching passes and returning kicks and punts. It was a bit of a surprise when the Patriots went with Olszewski over Berrios in 2019, but I was optimistic at the time that it was a worthwhile risk, given Olszewski's diverse athletic skills. Thus far, Berrios has proven a more productive player overall. Count me among those disappointed that Olszewski hasn't done more as a slot wide receiver, a position from which rookie QB Mac Jones could really benefit. Erik Scalavino

What is your take on Isaiah Wynn? It seems like every game there's a handful of not just bad plays, but those frustrating, that was-absolutely-so-terrible-it-makes-my-beer-taste-bad plays. Am I being too harsh? Why not move Trent Brown to the left and Mike Onwenu to the right? Kyle Witkoski

New England's starting left tackle hasn't had an auspicious 2021 season, I'll grant you. In particular, he's struggled with penalties and been responsible for a number of allowed sacks. But the bad beer description is a bit over-the-top. If he were, in fact, that bad, the Patriots coaches would have moved him, as they did with Onwenu, who began the season as the team's starting left guard. They've since found that Onwenu best fits this O-line unit as an extra blocker in jumbo packages and as a versatile backup. Around midseason, Ted Karras claimed the starting left guard spot, after Onwenu briefly went on the COVID reserve list and later filled in at right tackle while Brown dealt with a calf injury.

The current combination of Wynn-Karras-David Andrews-Shaq Mason-Brown appears to be the best the Patriots have had all season, and that's what you'll be seeing (barring the unforeseen, of course) for the remainder of the 2021 campaign.

Wynn, a former first-round draft choice, will be back in 2022, after the Patriots exercised his fifth-year option this past spring. Whether he stays at left tackle next season remains to be seen, but I wouldn't rule out a change of position for him, depending on what other moves the team makes along the offensive line during the upcoming offseason. Erik Scalavino

Jakobi Meyers has had a solid year and Kendrick Bourne is starting to emerge as a solid option. However, Nelson Agholor has had zero-to-no production and N'Keal Harry, when given the opportunity, has proved that he can go down the field and box defenders out for the ball, so, why not give him the opportunity to start. Even if they trade him next season, it could only increase the value that they could get back for him, so it seems like a win-win situation. Fernando Mier

First, let me address the unfair and completely off-base misinformation here about Agholor. I can accept that he's fallen short of most people's expectations this season, given the hefty contract New England gave him during the 2021 offseason. Fine.

However, entering this most recent Bills game (which Agholor was forced to miss because of a concussion), he was New England's fourth-leading receiver, with 36 catches for 450 yards and three touchdowns. His longest reception totaled 44 yards, second only on the Patriots to Bourne’s 75-yard touchdown jaunt versus Dallas and a yard longer than Harry’s one-and-only big play of the 2021 season.

That's far from "zero-to-no production." Agholor wasn't signed to be a traditional No. 1 receiver, but one of a top trio of wideouts, which is exactly what he's been, along with Meyers and Bourne.

I hate to belabor the point about Harry, about whom we get at least one question every week, because I have nothing at all personal against the young man. But the answers remain the same as always. He's greatly underperformed as a first-round draft choice. The only reason he had any passes thrown his way versus Buffalo this past weekend was because, as mentioned, Agholor was out and Bourne only played sparingly after not having practiced all week (he was on the COVID reserve list until just before the game).

New England has had three years of seeing Harry in practice and in games. There's a reason why they went out and spent money on a pair of better pass catchers this year. Furthermore, to suggest that starting Harry in their place would only be a "win-win" scenario fails to recognize that he could expose his shortcomings even further if given the chance to play more, thus reducing any trade value he might currently possess.

When they're all healthy, Meyers, Bourne, and Agholor represent this 2021 Patriots team's best options at wide receiver. Even at that, I would expect New England to add more talent to that position in 2022, likely marginalizing Harry's opportunities even more. Erik Scalavino

Jakobi Meyers runs after the catch against the Bills
Jakobi Meyers runs after the catch against the Bills

Big fan from El Paso, Texas. I noticed that there is already talk about free agents, the upcoming draft, and positions that need to be filled. Why don't the Patriot scouts and staff look to the Canadian Football League to find seasoned players rather than just rookies, who may not work out, to fill some of their position needs. Also, we may get good players on the cheap, which I think the Patriots would like. Carlos Armendariz

New England's personnel department does include CFL players in its ongoing evaluations of available talent, as evidence by their having signed a couple of them in the recent past (Armond Armstead and Jason Vega). Neither of them worked out in the end, but clearly, the Patriots are aware of professional players north of the border, many of whom spent their college years here in the U.S. There's a reason why most CFL players don't get a chance in the NFL, and it's a simple one: they lack sufficient talent. Fear not, though, the Patriots are well aware of every player in Canada, and should one prove suitable for them, they'll do what they can to acquire him. Erik Scalavino

Would you rather have Jimmy G in his form when he was Tom's backup or Mac Jones in his form right now heading towards the playoffs? Nick Berry

I was a big fan of Jimmy Garoppolo during his years here in Foxborough and never wanted New England to trade him. I never hid that fact, even stating so publicly on our aforementioned podcast. But Jones is the QB here now and for the foreseeable future. I'm eager to see how he can develop, especially after having this valuable rookie year to gain so much immediate game-playing experience. Erik Scalavino

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