Bill Belichick once ruled the NFL. But now the Patriots are a sad shambles

<span>Photograph: Kevin Jairaj/USA Today Sports</span>

Photograph: Kevin Jairaj/USA Today Sports

There was a little under seven minutes left in the third quarter. It was another three-and-out for the New England Patriots in their humiliating 34-0 home loss to the New Orleans Saints. The third-down had been an uninspired and poorly executed pass up the middle into traffic. It was deflected and nearly intercepted.

The boos inside Gillette Stadium had been crescendoing all afternoon. They rose at the end of the first half when a respectable Patriots drive was halted after Mac Jones took a couple of sacks. They grew even louder when New England turned the ball over on a failed pitch three plays into the third quarter. Now the boos were deafening.

Last week’s 38-3 embarrassment against Dallas was the worst loss of Bill Belichick’s career in points differential. But this one may take the cake overall, given how uninspired New England were against a Saints team who are far from Cowboys-caliber. In fact, New Orleans entered this matchup losers of two in a row and had not scored more than 21 points in 10 straight games.

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Now 1-4, this is Belichick’s worst coaching start since 2000. If Tom Brady were under center, it would be fair to consider this a blip on the way to an inevitable playoff run. But this dispiriting version of the Pats is far removed from the glory days. Simply put, New England have hit rock bottom. Belichick the coach is no longer scary, and Belichick the GM has been wretched. Would Belichick the GM fire Belichick the coach? Will Robert Kraft fire both of them? It’s unlikely Belichick will ever be officially fired given the titles he’s won. His departure would be billed as some kind of mutual agreement.

In the meantime, the Patriots are a tough watch, strapped with one of the NFL’s worst rosters. It starts at quarterback: Jones is regressing in his third season, and it wasn’t a surprise when he was pulled from the game for the second week in a row. His completion percentage and passer rating are down. A makeshift offensive line, which has been different each week, is not helping matters. But Jones is also an unreliable decision maker, often releasing the ball too early and he doesn’t have the gumption to execute explosive plays rooted in misdirection. Jones and retread offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien are not in sync. Nor is Jones gelling with his less-than-ideal receiving corps. Ty Montgomery was a particular liability on Sunday. After a decent catch, he fumbled. Later, an illegal shift call on the receiver negated a first down.

Third-year running back Rhamondre Stevenson is a legitimate talent but most of Belichick’s offensive weapons are old, injury prone, or castoffs. Belichick chose to extend DeVante Parker and sign JuJu Smith-Schuster instead of keeping Jakobi Meyers and/or making a play for an elite wideout like DeAndre Hopkins.

Hopes were a bit higher for the Pats defense, but those hopes have diminished. On Sunday, the Saints torched their zone coverage. There weren’t enough adjustments. There isn’t enough fight. That goes back to the coaching.

It wasn’t long ago that Belichick ruled the NFL. Even his grunting would make news as reporters tried to decipher its meaning. But this is a new era and not a pretty one. The Patriots are just like any other bottomfeeder franchise. Except they’re not. The face of their franchise is not a player, it’s Belichick. He deserves some grace for all he’s accomplished, of course, but he’s also a relic. Unless there is a massive turnaround or surprise signing, the post-Brady Era in New England will be remembered as a dud. The franchise could use a change and Belichick probably could too. Imagine the bidding war for his services in a broadcast booth (where presumably he’d shower the audience with NFL history and not just mumble). He could perhaps make his mark on a new franchise as a coach or adviser. The options are intriguing. Someone has to make the first move because the status quo is a disaster.

MVP of the week

Ja’Marr Chase was at his unstoppable best against the Cardinals

Ja’Marr Chase was at his unstoppable best against the Cardinals. Photograph: Joe Camporeale/USA Today Sports

Ja’Marr Chase, wide receiver, Cincinnati Bengals. Last week Ja’Marr Chase made a proclamation: “I’m open. I’m always fucking open.” Joe Burrow got the message because he couldn’t stop throwing the ball to Chase in Cincy’s 34-20 road win over the feisty Arizona Cardinals. Chase was an absolute beast in this one, scoring his first touchdown of the season and adding two more for show. He finished with 15 catches, a franchise record, and 192 yards.

Chase’s performance was not only a reminder that he remains one of the league’s most dangerous receivers, the win also put Cincinnati right back in the heart of the AFC North race. They are bottom of their division but, at 2-3, they are only one game behind the first-placed Pittsburgh Steelers.

Video of the week

It was a tone-setting play in Detroit’s 42-24 win over Carolina: Aidan Hutchinson read the screen, man-handled tight end Ian Thomas, and then snagged the ball with one hand. To be clear, this is not normal for a defensive lineman. Hutchinson, a bona fide Defensive Player of the Year candidate, is not normal.

What is normal, the new normal, is the Lions rolling off another convincing win. Detroit’s offense was missing wideout Amon-Ra St Brown and running back Jahmyr Gibbs and still managed to score 42. Jared Goff was efficient and at times explosive, passing for three touchdowns and running in a fourth. Defensively, the Lions added another two takeaways to go alongside Hutchinson’s pick. While Carolina aren’t exactly the crème de la crème of the NFC, decisive wins in this league don’t come easy.

Stat of the week

11. That’s the number of successive road wins (we’re not counting the Super Bowl, which is technically on neutral ground) Jalen Hurts has collected as the Philadelphia Eagles’ starting quarterback.

Philadelphia traveled to LA, brought a lot of friends, and produced a 23-14 win over maybe the best team they’ve faced this season. Hurts put on a show, passing for more than 300 yards, adding 72 yards on the ground. His coordination alone is a work of art.

Hurts joins Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes, and Tony Romo as the only other quarterbacks to win 11 straight on the road. With the Eagles at 5-0, Hurts is pretty good at home too.

Elsewhere around the league

Brock Purdy is an early season candidate for MVP.

— After the San Francisco 49ers demolished the Dallas Cowboys 42-10 on Sunday Night Football, it’s hard not to rate them as the best team in the NFL. They sliced through one of the best defenses in the league while harrying Dak Prescott, who they intercepted three times, for much of the evening. As for Brock Purdy, who had a career-high four touchdowns, never call him a game manager again. He is a superior version of the quarterback to the one we saw last season … and he wasn’t too bad in 2022. He (easily) leads the league in QBR and his long-ball accuracy is phenomenal, even allowing for the talented receivers he has at his disposal. Purdy’s 49ers have scored 30+ points in their last eight regular season games, something only four other teams have done in NFL history. Those teams were led by Peyton Manning, Kurt Warner and Tom Brady (twice), who are either in the Hall of Fame or will be there soon enough.

— The Denver Broncos suffered a 31-21 loss to the New York Jets that was decided in the final minutes after Quincy Williams stripped Russell Wilson, and Bryce Hall took it to the house. Sean Payton was livid with Wilson, and you wonder how the duo will recover from Denver’s 1-4 start. If (now Jets OC) Nathaniel Hackett’s tenure in Denver was “one of the worst coaching jobs in NFL history,” I wonder how Payton rates his own performance. The Jets social media team shared their analysis.

— What’s this nonsense about this being the first season in which Mike Tomlin ends up with a losing record? The Pittsburgh Steelers defense beg to differ. They were sensational on Sunday in the Steelers’ dramatic 17-10 win over the Baltimore Ravens. Corner Joey Porter Jr snagged an interception in the end zone, and the Alex Highsmith-TJ Watt duo sealed the game with a strip sack of Lamar Jackson. Jackson was not helped by his receivers’ dropfest but it was the Ravens QB who crumbled when it mattered most once again. According to ESPN Stats and Info, Sunday was the 11th time in the past three seasons that Jackson has turned over the ball in the fourth quarter or overtime in a one-score game, the highest in the NFL.

— Perhaps no team are as confounding as the Buffalo Bills this season. The Bills were flying high after their dominant win over the Miami Dolphins last week, but they arrived in London just 50 hours before Sunday’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Jacksonville, who spent the week in the UK after playing there in Week 4, took advantage of a groggy Buffalo team en route to a 25-20 win. It was a woeful performance by most of the Bills, particularly in the first half. Buffalo punted on their first four possessions and were unable to establish any semblance of a run attack: 29 yards of rushing is not going to cut it. The loss that cuts far deeper for the Bills is that of All-Pro linebacker Matt Milano, who looks likely to miss the rest of the season after suffering leg injuries. The Bills had already lost another defensive star, Tre’Davious White, to a torn achilles last week.

— A day after Indianapolis signed Jonathan Taylor to a three-year, $42m contract extension, it was fellow rusher Zack Moss who put on a show in the Colts’ 23-16 win over the Tennessee Titans. Moss torched Tennessee with 165 rushing yards and two touchdowns, one of which was a 56-yard breakaway. Taylor finished with just six carries for 18 yards in his season debut but his presence gives Indianapolis one of the most explosive running back corps in the league. In less great news for the Colts, rookie quarterback Anthony Richardson has been injured three different times in three different games on three different designed runs. A worrying trend just five weeks into his NFL career. He was replaced by Gardner Minshew.

— There are endless data points to put the greatness of Patrick Mahomes into perspective. Here’s another: With Kansas City’s 27-20 win over Minnesota, Mahomes became the first quarterback under the age of 30 to defeat all other 31 teams in the NFL as a starter. He turned 28 a few weeks ago; there will surely be many more “under-30” records for Mahomes.

— As it stands, the Chicago Bears own the first two picks in the 2024 draft and will enter the offseason with plenty of cap space. What could go wrong?

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