Coming off a second-straight blowout loss, the Patriots enter Week 6 looking to "start over" in the words of head coach Bill Belichick. The players were off on Monday as the coaching staff looked to chart a new course and put the starting over plan into effect, however it manifests itself. It's clear that changes could be in the wind as the team prepares to head back to Las Vegas for the third time in two seasons.
Not surprisingly, fans are wondering how the team got to this point. In the past year and a half, they've witnessed a standout negative string of firsts for the franchise… the worst playoff loss in team history, the worst loss of Bill Belichick's tenure and now, the worst shutout home defeat in team history. That might be jarring to some more recent fans, but for those who lived through the painful one- and two-win seasons in the early 90's it's even more surprising to see those kinds of lackluster performances return to the field in Foxborough after it seemed like they were long forgotten.
Here are your questions about whether or not this season is still salvageable and how the team should begin looking toward the future.
Just watched the worst Patriots game I have seen since Rod Rust was the coach. I know that Bill Belichick is working with a banged up offensive line, a defense that is missing some very valuable key parts, and special teams play that is lackluster. What I don't understand is why he is sticking with Mac Jones? Mac Jones has shown after two seasons and five very shaky contests that he is not an NFL caliber QB. I think, that he should take a peek at Malik Cunningham, and see if the Pats can get something going there. I know that all of the analysts would say that Mac Jones is still our best bet, but I no longer see that. -Roe Clark
Just based on what I saw in training camp, I think fans are more intrigued by the idea of Malik Cunningham than what Malik Cunningham actually is as a player. It's understandable. Cunningham had the nicest drive of the preseason, the kind of drive that has been completely absent for most of the regular season, but as someone who also watched all of training camp, there weren't many other flashes by Cunningham at quarterback. Most often his role at quarterback was giving the defense read option looks that certainly helped them do an okay job containing Jalen Hurts in Week 1. However, Cunningham was otherwise with the receivers and to this point, as a member of the practice squad, he's remained a receiver and probably a scout team quarterback. While he's athletic, he never showcased an ability to throw the ball as a pocket passer in my view. Like everyone else, I wish that they had a version of Lamar Jackson sitting on the practice squad who could suddenly spark the offense, but it's a really big stretch.
We could maybe discuss Will Grier as an option as he continues to get up to speed, but in my opinion, even with how bad Mac and the offense have looked, Mac Jones remains the best option for this team at quarterback. I'm not sure how to get him back on track, how to reinstall a sense of confidence in his protection so he can get more comfortable in the pocket and not looking at the rush. I suspect it starts with the offensive line coming together but once again that group went through some injury issues this week that have put their continuity in question. That said, I don't think the team will continue to tolerate the rate of turnovers from Mac, if he doesn't at least clean those up, Zappe will get a real chance sooner than later. It could come as soon as this weekend, as I think giving Mac a week off might be on the table to help him reset. -Mike Dussault
I can't help but think this team is at rock bottom right now. That isn't always a bad thing because when you win a handful of games like you do the past couple of seasons it can paper over the cracks where things look better than they actually are. Now, it is all laid bare and the real rebuilding can begin. The real question is where do they begin? Is it in the QB room? Is it elsewhere in the squad? Or do they look at the bigger question where they look deeper into coaching and what that looks like going forward. Change is inevitable, you can't continue to roll out the same thing and expect to get different results. The next move from this organization will be very intriguing. -Pete C.
Let's get to the 2024 offseason first. It should start along the offensive line, and then corresponding moves at tight end and a real need for an impact wide receiver. Looking at the 2024 roster, the offensive line and tight end groups are facing major turnover. They have to get back to a place where the offensive line is a strength but right now, they've got questions at pretty much every spot. Trent Brown and Michael Onwenu are free agents, while uncertainty remains at right tackle, not to mention left guard where Cole Strange has yet to get healthy in his second season. Similarly, the pending free agents Hunter Henry and Mike Gesicki provide an opportunity to make a significant move at the position. Henry has easily been their best offensive piece and think he could be a candidate for a new contract, but the team needs to seriously look to the future at the position, with a true "Y" who can catch and block as the focus. Thought they would've done it last year with 2023's stacked TE class but here we are. Set the stage for an impact receiver in the draft with a remade O-line and some complementary tight ends and the team might finally have enough around Mac.
It's hard to make a plan when it's Week 6 and you're coming off two huge, historic losses. Plenty out there would replace everyone if they could from players to coaches, but the Pats have to be selective when it comes to injecting the offense with new life. A new quarterback, a new left tackle and right guard and then a collection of new weapons isn't all going to happen at once. I still think there's a good chance Mac is the QB in 2024, but we'll get an interesting inflection point when the team has to decide whether or not to pick up his fifth-year option this offseason.
But for me, it all starts with putting the line in place then building out from there and that comes regardless of any changes to the coaching staff. -Mike Dussault
What can be done to improve the offensive line play? -Frank Gonsalves
That's a great question, Frank and if I had the answer I'd probably be down with the football team and not here answering mailbag questions. In some ways their decline is shocking. They looked like they struck gold with Mike Owenu, they spent a first round pick on Cole Strange, David Andrews and Trent Brown are two championship caliber players and yet, the uncertainty at right tackle entering the season just seemed to fester and then injuries set them back at the guard positions. They should be better than what they've shown and even with some allowance that offensive lines can be shaky early in the season, they haven't been able to find any kind of stride through five games. Even the small pieces of continuity haven't really seem to help. Now they're back to where they started, Owenu is fighting an ankle injury, Strange continues to fight a knee injury suffered during the first padded drill of the summer and Brown and Andrews haven't been enough to anchor the unit. Again, this is the first place I'd start next offseason, getting the line reinforced and right. -Mike Dussault
Hi Deuce! I am genuinely bemused. I didn't think Mac was as bad as we have witnessed. Heck, the players aren't THIS bad. It doesn't feel like a bad team it feels like a twilight zone. Could it simply be a bad patch for the mentality of the team that can be turned around? -@clazzyclare
I get what you're asking but I feel like that a "bad patch of mentality" can be even more significant than just some uncharacteristic bad play. I can't dismiss how flat they came out against the Saints a week after getting blown out by Dallas. If they didn't respond with renewed effort at home against a beatable Saints team, what kind of fire exists within this team to battle and fight through any adversity? I do think that a win could work wonders, especially coming in Vegas which has already become its own House of Horrors after two painful performances by the Pats there last year. But if they drop this game in Vegas and then do what they've done in recent history against Josh Allen and Tua, it will be hard to see how this team can turn things around and win more than a handful of games this season. It's weird, but it feels like at this point the best the Patriots can hope for is to be 2-6 before facing the Commanders at home and the Colts in Germany unless they make an incredibly dramatic turnaround. -Mike Dusssault
Would you still consider trading for a high-level receiver like Jeudy despite the fact that Mac looks like he may not be staying? It seems like we need so many pieces on offense that we should start replacing pieces whenever we can. -David Sepulveda
No. At this point they need all the draft assets that they have and making a move for a receiver at this point is like putting a kind of shiny hood ornament on the front of a car that's headed full speed for a brick wall. My view would change if it were a long-term kind of deal where they're making a move for the future but trading for a receiver on the last year of his deal is futile and a waste of assets, especially if it's just for this season. Let me get this out there, if this season continues down the track of a bottom-10 finish the only way out is to DRAFT TALENT. You must draft a core. There are some pieces in place already and eventually things can be rounded out by a targeted trade or free agency acquisition at select spots. If things continue to go like they've gone, make sure all the young players on the roster get as much playing time as they can muster. -Mike Dussault
Where do you draw the line at when it comes to trading away potential assets to help at team with a 1-4 (or worse) record? Doesn't trying to stay "competitive" just become moot at some point? -Chad Moore
With all due respect to the roster, I just don't see who could be traded away for a significant enough return. They barely have enough depth at offensive line, running back and tight end. Their defensive depth is also getting more tapped now due to injuries at cornerback and edge. If he was healthy I could see the argument being made to trade Judon. He'd move the needle and could maybe get a Day 2 pick, but even that could be a reach. Generally, I'd be fine trying to stack some additional draft picks, but it doesn't really seem worth it when anyone you'd realistically want and be able to trade would only bring back a conditional sixth or seventh rounder. With their depth so tenuous is so many spots, it seems like this is the roster from now until January. -Mike Dussault
With the 3rd most cap space in the league for 2024 how do you prioritize the roster moving forward? Find skill positions in the draft and look to shore up the O-line in FA? Do you give Mac another year or find a bridge QB if you aren't high enough to get your guy in the draft? -@Youngfinlay
A quick look at the pending free agent class of 2024 is rather uninspiring, which is unfortunate. And to be honest, after 2021 free agency scares me. I think Kyle Dugger and Hunter Henry are worth prioritizing for new deals. I'd put tackle, both left and right, atop the priority list, getting at least one legit starter in free agency. They have to count on Mafi, Sow and Andrews to some extent even if all have had their rookie struggles this year to varying degrees. At this point, on a Tuesday before Week 6, I'm still good with rolling with Mac, barring a top-three pick in April. You can't keep playing whack-a-mole. If you take another QB atop the draft, the problems around him aren't going to change. If they already spent a first rounder on Mac, why not fill in the holes around him first before blowing it up? He's on a rookie deal still and I don't see the point of just flipping Mac for some retread veteran. Again, if they had the first overall pick I'd sing a different tune. You can't miss that chance to draft a generational QB no matter what. But short of that, I'm still with Mac.
Otherwise, I think the first rounder has to be an offensive player, whether a tackle or receiver, maybe even a tight end depending on how that class plays out. Do for the offense what they did for the defense this year by adding three promising players in the first two days who have all stepped in and not looked out of place. That's really it. Defensively they need to get a bit younger along the defensive line but otherwise I think they're mostly in good shape, depending on how Dugger and Uche's free agency status plays out. Late round picks can continue to round out their defensive depth. If this isn't the offseason of offense, I'll be flabbergasted. That's right, flabbergasted. -Mike Dussault
DISCLAIMER: The views and thoughts expressed in this article are those of the writer and don't necessarily reflect those of the organization. Read Full Disclaimer