Sunday wasn’t a stepping stone; it left Patriot fans stranded for hope


Patriots fans hoping for the team to throw in the towel in hopes of a high 2024 draft pick should be disappointed by Sunday’s outcome.

Robert Kraft
Patriots owner Robert Kraft before Sunday’s game against Buffalo. AP
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You could argue that if a thing or two went the other way against Philadelphia, Miami, or Las Vegas, this 2-5 Patriots team might be 4-3 and within striking distance of first place in the AFC East, all with a showdown in Miami scheduled for Sunday. 

Dallas and New Orleans? Hey, even the ’03 team had Buffalo. Even the ’07 team had an ill-timed blemish on its record if I recall. 

Then you start thinking about how the 2018 Colts and 2015 Chiefs both started 1-5 only to make the playoffs, the latter of whom won a wild card game at Houston before losing to New England in the divisional round. After the way Sunday ended, it’s easy to start getting delusions of grandeur with the slightest indication that the Patriots belonged on the football field with a worthy opponent. Despite their struggles this season, the Bills are at least that. 

Either way, Sunday’s 29-25 win over Buffalo should serve as a satisfying moment in this otherwise lost season for the Patriots. For the first time all year, the offensive line played like a group of competent professionals, giving Mac Jones the time he needed not only to soar to a 25-for-30 day, but to help him produce the game-winning touchdown drive that his otherwise-uninspired resume was still sorely lacking. Bill Belichick earned his 300th career win, which tied in nicely on an afternoon when the Patriots organization (once again) celebrated its past by inducting Mike Vrabel into the team’s hall of fame. And, if you’re into this sort of thing, the organization didn’t even really hurt its 2024 draft position all that much with the Bears and Broncos both joining the win column over the weekend as well. 

Mix in the Chamber of Commerce fall day in the Foxborough area, and it was a pretty damned good day, overall, to be a fan of the New England Patriots.

So, what’s with the emptiness? 

There are two ways to appreciate what happened Sunday at Gillette; either as the stepping stone game we’ve been hoping this team was capable of, or a preview of the purgatory that is to come. Maybe the team will start sniffing .500 and who knows, the way the NFL hands out playoff spots these days, it’s not out of the realm of possibility. 

This is also still the same team that was embarrassed at the hands of the Cowboys and Saints just weeks ago. Even in the win over Buffalo, the Patriots escaped with a handful of overlooked penalties and mistakes that could have swayed the game. Players bailed each other out on Sunday, but this unit hasn’t miraculously transformed into the ’85 Bears. 

What’s more likely is that the mediocrity we’ve watched over the past few seasons with this offense is starting to gel, mainly because offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien dumbed the playbook down enough so that Uncle Alabama Rico can better react behind a patchwork offensive line. Penalties and turnovers will catch up with them, and they’ll probably lose in Miami on Sunday. Then, they’ll manage to beat the Commanders, and suddenly — maybe — they’ll turn into that 8-9-win team you pegged them as back in August. After Sunday, the remaining schedule doesn’t look all that intimidating, does it? I think I’ve seen this movie before. 

Just when you were getting used to the idea of cleaning house. 

On that, you might want to sit tight. Bill Belichick isn’t going anywhere. Mac Jones isn’t going anywhere, particularly if he plays like he did on Sunday more often. He’ll be a bargain, which is something the Patriots love more than anything. Might I remind you, the love affair this region has with Tom Brady is a product of Brady being willing to play ball, financially, with the Krafts. If the quarterback had demanded what he was worth, he would have won a lot more than one of his Super Bowl titles elsewhere. Thus, the Patriot Way was born. 

The system isn’t going anywhere. The roster isn’t changing. The mantra will always live and breathe under the same lineage on team sidelines. This is the way the checkbook will be balanced forever and that’s the way the Krafts like it. If Bill handles the money this well for another few seasons, who knows how many lighthouses they can build. 

On Sunday morning, NFL Network’s Ian Rappaport disguised a clear tip from Belichick’s camp as journalism in reporting the head coach had signed a “new,” multi-year, “lucrative” contract with the team prior to this season. It’s one way of saying that the team is, and forever will be, in Belichick’s hands. Yes, he’ll be making personnel decisions prior to the trade deadline. Of course he’ll be here in the spring to build the roster for 2024. String a couple of wins together and the noise starts getting louder about their divisional record. The future doesn’t seem such a pressing concern. 

Which will make this season a lot like last season. And the year before that. And even the year before that. 

So while Sunday delivered a wildly entertaining football game before the loudest crowd in quite some time at Gillette, it’s difficult to have faith that what we watched was any kind of turnaround. If they manage to pull a miracle out of Miami, a place where Al Bundy probably has more wins, then the conversation continues to shift. All the more remarkably, I would add. 

But you and I both know what’s going to happen. This team will find seven more wins somewhere, and they’ll chase the postseason until the final week or so. Here’s the 15th pick in next year’s draft. Wash. Rinse.

The season will be seen as a success, and all that crazy talk about firing Bill will just sort of float away. The Patriots are good enough to be interesting. That seems to be good enough for the folks who sign the checks at Patriot Place. 

No matter. The Patriots are winners again, and the coach is signed for multiple years still at significant dollars. Nothing is going to change. This is it. This is the philosophy. This is the personnel. If you thought rock bottom was the only way up, you’re going to be waiting for the elevator for some time. 

Don’t worry, it’s a pretty crowded platform. We’re going to be here for a while. 

Originally posted 2023-10-24 10:15:19.