It was not the result the Patriots were looking for in Germany as they fell to 2-8 this season with a loss to the Indianapolis Colts and the Pats will now enter the bye week searching for answers that might help them find a way back into the win column.
"We'll work through everything," said Bill Belichick on Monday morning after returning from overseas. "We'll look at everything, all the way across the board. Not specifically one position, but just look at everything and do the best we can here going forward."
An easy place to start will be at the quarterback position, where Mac Jones was lifted late against the Colts after throwing an interception on what could've been a game-winning touchdown pass. Bailey Zappe entered the game for a final comeback attempt but fell short, throwing an interception of his own. There's no easy answer at QB, with Will Grier continuing to get up to speed on the playbook since arriving in late September, but it's certainly a position that must be dissected in the coming week.
"Bailey's had some opportunities. I think he's prepared well every week. We've called on him in the end of a couple games, three games, I guess it was. So, I think he stepped in and did the best he could. Was it perfect? No. Were there some positive things? Yes," said Belichick. "Will's certainly improving every week in terms of understanding and working with his teammates and running the scout team and executing the plays that he has the opportunity to. There's just not a lot of opportunities for the third position, which is where he's been, but he's taken advantage of the ones that he's had."
Finding a way to reset Mac Jones, whether that means a trip to the bench or just giving him a break to get back on track, could be the biggest piece of the puzzle.
After retooling the offense this past offseason, Sunday's result was the culmination of a unit that has struggled to consistently produce points. After 10 weeks they rank 31st in points, 26th in yards and 26th on third down. The advanced stats have them at 26th in DVOA and 30th in EPA, while Mac Jones ranks 31st in EPA and is tied for the league lead with 10 interceptions. Those bottom-of-the-barrell rankings tell you all you need to know about the state of the Patriots offense.
Asked on Monday morning why the offense has remained stuck in neutral, Belichick pointed to the lack of consistency.
"There are good things. There are things that we can build off of. We're certainly doing a lot of things better than we did earlier in the year. But, it doesn't take much to stop a drive or to have a bad play. We just have to do a better job eliminating those errors, so that's what we're working towards," said Belichick.
The team could continue to expand the roles of their younger players on offense as well, as Kayshon Boutte re-entered the lineup on Sunday and picked up his first catch, while Demario Douglas continues to stack good games as one of the bright spots on offense. Tyquan Thornton failed to enter the game against Indy and remains a player who needs to make the most of his chances over the final seven weeks.
Defensively, the team has been hit hard by significant injuries, starting with the losses of leading pass rusher Matthew Judon and promising rookie cornerback Christian Gonzalez. Despite missing that duo the D has kept the Patriots in many of their games. Earlier in the year when they allowed 10 points it led to a win over the Jets, but against the Colts even 10 points were too many.
The defense comes in with rankings of 23rd in points, 16th in yards and 17th on third down, while the advanced stats have them at 24th in EPA and 13th in DVOA. Another significant stat via Next Gen Stats is that the defense ranks 21st in pressure rate and is tied for 26th in the league with 18 sacks. Without Judon and with Josh Uche battling injury that has led to reduced production (2 sacks), the team's lack of pass rush pressure has been a problem in need of an answer over the bye week.
Christian Barmore has been a bright spot, coming on with five QB hits and two sacks over the last four games, and rekindling some of the promise he showed as a rookie as he's rounded out his game.
"Recharging and resetting," was how Deatrich Wise described what he'd be doing over the bye week. "Most people will spend time with their families. That's the way most people kind of rekindle and recharge and reset and refocus. All of their support systems, whatever they have, I think that's kind of what a lot of people do."
With remaining matchups against the two-win Giants and three-win Broncos, winnable games are still on the docket. But to get those wins the Patriots must explore every available option over the coming week, and implement elements that will help them finally put points on the board and pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
"Look, everybody is working hard. I know we've been close. We just haven't been able to finish enough and make the plays that we needed to make here in critical situations at the end of the game to win," said Belichick. "Everybody's committed to working hard to change that. We've out ourselves in that position multiple times here, but we just haven't had the results that we're looking for, and we're going to work hard to get those results."