Well folks, with the Week 15 loss to the Miami Dolphins, we can put the nail in coffin on a less than desirable 2020 effort. After an eleven-year run of AFC East Championships, the New England Patriots have officially been eliminated from playoff contention for the first time since the 2008 campaign.
The conversations are already sparking. How much will Bill Belichick's legacy be stained? Is Bill nothing without Tom? Is the dynasty dead?
Please stop, breathe, and take a step back; we may not know the answers to these questions for years to come.
If you're anything like me, you're hating the post-Tom Brady world. Sure, it's nice having a quarterback that can scramble, but it's DEFINITELY not nice when he's routinely putting up better rushing numbers than passing yards. I want my pocket QB back - someone that you don't hold your breath every time the ball leaves his hand, and someone you can trust to air out. I miss the 2-minute drill, the comeback drives, the overtime victories, and the Playoff Tom confidence.
HEY! YOU! SNAP OUT OF IT, HE'S GONE!
Sorry. It's fun to play pretend.
But unfortunately, those days are over, and the "new" New England Patriots certainly have a bit of "looking forward" to do. With holes all over the organization, it will be a "busy offseason," assure many experts and folks inside the club.
We have so much to digest, and that will come over the next few weeks & months. But for now, let's get this out of the way.
Are you wearing your black tie and gloves? You guessed it - it's time for a funeral for our beloved 2020 New England Patriots.
Our 2020 New England Patriots lived a full life spanning irrational optimism, agonizing heartbreak, and total hopelessness - all in a short 4-month span. Here's what we learned from the Pats this year.
The Cam Newton Experiment was worth the shot, but it failed.
I will wholeheartedly admit that the Cam Newton acquisition was a BIG hit for me back in July. For a measly $550k in guaranteed compensation, plus an incentive-laden contract that multiplied as more success was achieved? Who WOULDN'T want that?! A pissed-off Cam Newton with a "me vs. the world" attitude was a surefire gamble. It's only a matter of time before we find out exactly where Cam's stats rank up in the grand scheme of Patriots' historical quarterback performances, but something tells me it won't be good.
That being said, if we could rewind the clock and be faced with the same situation again? I'd do it 10 out of 10 more times. The Belichick's and Kraft's have a knack of squeezing every last drop of value out of every player - they find value in places that, to the naked eye, seem desolate. I can only hope they continue this mentality as long as their reign may last.
This team desperately needs offensive help.
That being said, I'm sick of all these Patriots fans that blame Cam Newton for everything that goes wrong with this offense. What is a man to do that spent more than HALF the year with Damiere Byrd as the most productive offensive asset?! I'm not so sure that Warren Moon, Joe Montana, or Dan Marino would've succeeded with this offense...let alone someone like Brady or Phillip Rivers, who were both available on the free agent market this past offseason. Sure, Jakobi Meyers was a nice surprise after his 12-catch, 169 yard performance against the Jets in Week 9 - but it was almost comparable to flash-in-the-pan success (fun fact, he didn't even score a touchdown this year). The run game was good enough to keep the team afloat, largely due to Newton taking it himself every now and then, but it was not nearly enough to cause concerns for any team with a respectable front-seven. And Ryan Izzo starting at tight end? Good Lord, spare me the explanations and just admit that was the wrong move.
If the Patriots do not find at least one (1) offensive weapon this offseason by way of the market or the draft, expect more dark days ahead. Their viable options for a wide receiver or tight end will come in the next few weeks/months, and we'll be sure to break down each of them - but please, please, please - get some help for the next QB. Please.
Damien Harris is part of the solution.
One of the more consistently productive Patriots of the year proved to be the second-year running back who broke out in a big way. The Alabama product, Harris made his season debut in Week 4 after fighting off a broken finger. In a crowded backfield, some doubted Harris' ability to compete for snaps, but quickly stood out. Buffalo and Baltimore, who are highly touted as some of the league's best run defenses, were a total cakewalk for Harris - he collected 102 yards on 16 attempts (and ran in a touchdown) against the Bills, and similarly tore the Ravens apart for 122 yards on 22 attempts in the hard-fought win on a rainy Sunday night in Foxboro. Look for Harris to be a cornerstone of this Patriots backfield platoon for the next few years if they have a prayer of reclaiming the divisional title.
Josh McDaniels' stock went down.
What happens when a coveted head coaching candidate has one of the least productive offensive efforts of his tenure? His stock goes down, of course. We've been through the ringer with McDaniels rumors - from backing out of the job as the Indianapolis Colts head coach at the last second, to fielding offers left and right throughout his years as the head play-caller in New England. After this season, if he's looking to hit the market, he might have a bit tougher of a time securing the job he wants.
Now, here's the catch: I firmly believe that this season SHOULDN'T have an effect on his stock. Both former Ravens head coach Brian Billick and former Patriots lineman Damien Woody agree that holding his lack of accomplishments this year against him would be "a disservice to his offensive record," and I wholeheartedly agree with them. But, we'd be lying to ourselves if we're claiming that Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy wouldn't be the more attractive coaching choice after this year. So, I don't necessarily think McDaniels' stock SHOULD go down after this season, but some things are simply inevitable.
The defense was streaky.
The shutouts, the interceptions, and the kick return touchdowns were all fun and games while they lasted. But ultimately, the streaks of greatness were overshadowed by efforts of total disparity against teams this defense should've effortlessly ran over. You name it - 27 against the Jets, 35 against the Seahawks, 33 against the Niners. Chase Winovich, Kyle Dugger, and Josh Uche all are proving to be reliable options as this franchise progresses, so keep an eye on these three guys to lead the team into consistency.
Please don't forget about the help coming next year - the opt-outs.
Help is on the way. Did you forget about Dont'a Hightower clogging up the running lanes? Patrick Chung making life hell for receivers? Marcus Cannon protecting the quarterback? The good news is that barring COVID-19 complications, these three along with fullback Dan Vitale, wide receiver Marqise Lee, tight end Matt LaCosse, running back & special teams perennial starter Brandon Bolden, and guard Najee Toran will all return in 2021. How much they'll improve this team, however, will entirely be determined by how ready they are to play.