The epitaph of the 2020 Patriots won't be pretty. It will contain a lot of negative words and phrases but mostly it will come down to one simple fact: they weren't good enough.
Bill Belichick said as much following Sunday's loss to the Dolphins, which was the final nail in a playoff coffin that in reality had been closed for weeks – at least since a four-game losing streak in October that all but ended New England's postseason hopes. After 11 straight appearances in the playoffs, the 6-8 Patriots were eliminated with the loss.
"Disappointed. But we didn't deserve to win today," Belichick said after the 22-12 loss in Miami. "To win these games we've got to do a better job. I've got to do a better job and collectively as a staff and a team, we've got to perform better than this."
Belichick often cites the need for better coaching after a loss, but in 2020 those words didn't have a hollow ring to them. It wasn't that Belichick and his staff suddenly forgot how to game plan or what it takes to succeed. It was simply a matter of not having the horses, and Belichick and his staff are responsible for that as well.
The roster is lacking in several areas, not the least of which is quarterback. For all the talk about weapons – both wide receiver and tight end – it won't matter much if Belichick can't find a suitable answer at the game's most important position. And that won't be easy.
Through 15 weeks the Patriots are positioned to pick 15th in the NFL draft. That won't be an ideal spot to select the quarterback of the future, but it's also not out of the realm of possibility that one worth taking will be available. BYU's Zach Wilson is intriguing based on his athleticism and arm strength, but some mock drafts have him going in the top 10 after a terrific season with the Cougars.
Belichick might look into the veteran pool for the second straight year, with plenty of possible options offering intrigue. Matthew Stafford, Carson Wentz, Jimmy Garoppolo, Kirk Cousins, Jameis Winston or Matt Ryan might make sense as bridge options, but even if a deal could be worked out (a huge assumption in most of these cases) the Patriots still need an answer for the future.
Until that situation is rectified, it's hard to imagine the rebuilding process progressing in a timely fashion. Examining the roster, free agency and the draft will be a huge part of the offseason here on Patriots.com and we'll be getting started in earnest next month.
Hats Off To Cleveland
It's been a while since the Browns have enjoyed a playoff season, and their Sunday night win over the Giants put them on the edge. At 10-4 the Browns still have some work to do to qualify, but watching head coach Kevin Stefanski's approach with quarterback Baker Mayfield has been impressive.
The Browns are a run-oriented team with Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt, but that doesn't mean they can't throw the ball. In fact, it opens up plenty of options in the passing game and Mayfield was hot Sunday night. Mayfield went 27 of 32 for 297 yards and a pair of touchdowns against the Giants, and it stood in stark contrast to watching the Patriots all year.
Like Cleveland, the Patriots want to run the ball first and foremost, but the opportunities to let it rip and make defenses pay for loading the box never materialized largely due to Cam Newton's inconsistency and the lack of legitimate weapons. The more we get to watch other teams offensively, the worse the Patriots look in comparison.
There is a strong possibility that Tampa Bay could finish with the No. 5 seed and hit the road to take on the 4 seed, which will be the NFC East champ. At this point, Washington has the inside track to earn that position, and with games against Carolina and at Philadelphia it's possible it could finish with an 8-8 record. If Alex Smith can get healthy and ready to go for the playoffs, I like Washington's chances to take down the Bucs. Washington's defensive line is deep and talented with first-round picks, and it's easy to envision that group making life awfully tough on Tom Brady. But that's still a couple of weeks away. … If I'm Kyle Shanahan, I'd think long and hard before parting ways with Jimmy Garoppolo. Garoppolo has his flaws, not the least of which is his durability, but the Niners simply don't win games when he doesn't play. San Fran's record with Garoppolo as the starter is 24-9. Without him it's 5-21. With three losing seasons out of his four with the Niners, Shanahan may not have the luxury of moving on.
Kansas City has taken on all comers and keeps finding different ways to win football games. The defense turned in a strong performance against the undermanned Saints on Sunday.
- Kansas City (13-1, 1st last week) – The Chiefs are separating themselves from the pack and are poised to earn the lone bye in the AFC.
- Buffalo (11-3, 2nd last week) – Another impressive performance by Josh Allen and the Bills offense on the road in Denver. With the defense showing signs of life lately, Buffalo could be a contender in the AFC.
- Green Bay (11-3, 3rd last week) – Few teams have the ability to run and throw as well as Green Bay, and the Packers are close to having the NFC run through Lambeau.
- Seattle (10-4, 4th year) – The Seahawks have been out of the rankings for several weeks but suddenly the defense is showing improvement. And as long as Russell Wilson is still doing his thing the Seahawks have a chance.
- New Orleans (10-4, 4th last week) – Sean Payton better hope Drew Brees was just knocking off some rust because without Michael Thomas the Saints offense is rather ordinary.