The Los Angeles Chargers need to count their blessings. Yes, they again looked abysmal, scraping by the New England Patriots 6-0 in a slopfest that could only barely be described as “football,” but they have a saving grace in this game.
They can look across the field at their opposition with a sigh of relief and say, “Hey, at least we’re not those guys.”
Those guys in New England are putting together a pitiful product, unwatchable on an apocalyptic scale. If there was a lesson to learn from watching the Patriots play with the same urgency as a hibernating bear, it’s that it can always get worse. The Chargers might be bad, but New England has entered into a whole new plane of incompetency.
The Patriots are 2-10 and find themselves in a situation where they probably need to keep losing games so they have the draft assets needed to give this organization a major facelift this offseason. Chargers head coach Brandon Staley is firmly on the hot seat in Los Angeles, which should have given the Patriots a nice opportunity to look like a professional offense for the first time in a long time. Instead, the Patriots managed a whopping zero points in four quarters, as well as 4.1 yards per play, 28.6% on third down, and 3.6 yards per passing attempt. Again, this is against one of the least effective defenses in football. This doesn't really seem possible in 2023, but the Patriots have maximized the feeling of a JV football team.
On Sunday, the Patriots became the first team since 1938 to lose three straight games in which the opposing team was held to 10 or fewer points. That record was held by the Chicago Cardinals, which haven’t existed since 1959. The Patriots are playing a style of football so bad that it hasn’t even been seen in this league in almost 100 years.
At least one defender was vocal in his frustration.
"It’s frustrating. It’s frustrating. I’m not gonna sit up here and say, ‘You know, I still believe.’ It’s f***ing frustrating. Anybody can tell you that," said Patriots defensive tackle Davon Godchaux, per the Boston Herald. "You know, I thought [Bailey] Zappe made some good throws today. I thought there was a couple balls we could’ve caught as receivers, and those guys would tell you the same thing, too. ... But the margin of error in this league is so small."
Bill Belichick has decided he currently has enough data points on Mac Jones to know he can’t play for the Patriots right now. Fair enough. It’s probably fair to argue that the Patriots have enough information on Bailey Zappe to know that he’s not even a strong backup candidate moving forward. Zappe managed just 109 net passing yards, which wasn’t entirely his fault with the Patriots’ line getting smoked in pass protection, but he doesn’t do enough to make life easier for the already beleaguered unit.
"It starts with me," Zappe said afterward. "I gotta do better."
At this point, the Patriots should go ahead and start rookie quarterback Malik Cunningham the rest of the way. He’s probably not the quarterback of the future either for the Patriots, but at least they could run a different style of offense for the final few weeks. Cunningham was elevated from the practice squad for the Chargers game but never saw the field.
"We did what we thought was best," Belichick said. "... We had times where we got things going. We wanted to try to stay with what we were doing."
The dropback passing game with Jones and Zappe has produced essentially (and sometimes literally) nothing. A little option football with Cunningham under center to close out the season might be the medicine the Patriots need to make their offense watchable. The Patriots' defense has allowed 26 points combined over the past three games. That’s an extremely low bar to clear to win a game.
They probably shouldn’t win a game in order to stay on track for Caleb Williams or Drake Maye, but why not add a little razzle dazzle to a season that has become increasingly lifeless? They’re 2-10 with a decreasing belief each week that they can win before the season ends. Try something different for the hell of it, why not? A loss is incoming either way, at least try to make life a little more difficult for the other team. Belichick can’t go out this sadly, even if that’s the direction the Patriots appear to be heading.
The defense has held up its end of the bargain recently. The offense has done anything but that. Congratulations to the Patriots for a top-three pick in the 2024 NFL Draft.