A five-pack of Patriots notes to get you to the weekend:
1. Sunday’s game against 49ers is basically a must-win.
The Patriots find themselves in an unusual position with a 2-3 record, the first time they have been under .500 this late in the season since 2002, when they began 3-4.
A loss to the 49ers Sunday wouldn’t crush the Patriots’ playoff hopes, especially since there are now seven spots available in each conference. But the difference in starting 2-4 versus 3-3 is massive.
Since 1990, when the NFL playoffs expanded to six teams per conference, there have been 19 teams to qualify for the postseason after starting 2-4. Five teams have accomplished it in the last five years, including last year’s Titans, who made it all the way to the AFC Championship game.
Now the sobering part: That’s 19 teams out of 202, or 9.4 percent. Put another way, 183 out of 202 teams (90.6 percent) that started 2-4 didn’t make the playoffs. No 2-4 team reached the Super Bowl, and only the Titans (2019 and 2002) and Jaguars (1996) made it to the conference championship game.
But the odds improve significantly for teams that start 3-3, with 77 out of 219 (35.2 percent) reaching the playoffs since 1990. The 2001 Patriots and 2010 Packers each won the Super Bowl, and the 1995 Steelers, 1996 Patriots, and 2014 Seahawks also made it to the Super Bowl.
And the 2012 Broncos can be an inspiration for the Patriots. That team started 2-3 and finished 13-3.
A loss to the 49ers wouldn’t be crippling, but 2-4 is a hole that is certainly not easy to dig out from. For the Patriots, this is as close as you can get to a must-win game in Week 7.
2. What happened to Isaiah Wynn last week?
The Patriots were forced to play musical chairs on the offensive line last week because center David Andrews and left guard Shaq Mason were unavailable, and right tackle Jermaine Eluemunor suffered an in-game ankle injury. One of the switches was Wynn, who had played only left tackle in his two-plus NFL seasons, getting his first start at left guard. He moved back to left tackle for the second half.
Whether it was rust from sitting out two weeks, or being out of synch at a new position, Wynn was unusually bad against the Broncos. According to Pro Football Focus, Wynn allowed two sacks, a quarterback hit, and two hurries. Prior to Sunday’s game, he had allowed zero sacks, two hits, and two hurries in the other four games combined.
Per a film review, Wynn at left guard missed the block that allowed Shelby Harris to deflect Cam Newton’s pass for an interception on the Patriots’ opening drive. At left tackle, Wynn got bowled over backward by Bradley Chubb en route to a strip-sack by the Broncos pass rusher. And Wynn allowed a sack to Malik Reed on the third-to-last play of the game.
Wynn also got beaten badly on a couple of passes that Newton completed with defenders in his face.
PFF had Wynn with a 49.2 overall grade and a 29.9 in pass blocking, which, without getting too technical, is terrible. The Patriots hope it was just a one-game aberration for the usually solid Wynn.
Meanwhile, the Patriots may get Mason and Andrews back this week, but losing Eluemunor is another tough blow. Taking over for Marcus Cannon at right tackle this season, Eluemunor has the highest PFF season grade of any Patriots offensive lineman at 82.6. The site grades him exceptionally well as a run blocker (84.0).
The Patriots placed Eluemunor on injured reserve Wednesday and now must choose between rookies Michael Onwenu and Justin Herron to fill in for a few weeks.
Eluemunor, potentially out several weeks with a high ankle sprain, tweeted Wednesday, “I won’t miss THAT Game ... Bet on it,” which was likely in reference to the Week 10 game against Baltimore, his former team.
3. I never want to see a Julian Edelman double pass again.
In Sunday’s postgame notes, the Patriots highlighted the fact that Edelman completed two passes against the Broncos, and he still has a perfect 158.3 career passer rating. Including the postseason, Edelman is 7 of 8 passing for 179 yards with two touchdowns.
The touchdown pass to Danny Amendola in the 2015 playoff win over Baltimore was an iconic and unexpected play. Prior to that night, the Patriots had allowed just one offensive skill player to throw a pass between the 2004-14 seasons: Kevin Faulk with one attempt in 2008.
But Josh McDaniels has been using this trick far too often over the past three years. Since the kickoff of Super Bowl LI, the Patriots have called the double pass 10 times (seven for Edelman, two for Amendola, and one for James White).
The double pass has become their go-to play when they can’t get anything going on offense. Edelman’s only career incompletion came in Super Bowl LI while the Patriots were trailing, 28-3.
He threw passes in consecutive weeks in 2018 — in a closer-than-the-score 31-17 win over the Packers, and in a 34-10 loss at Tennessee. He threw one in a 17-10 grind-it-out win at Philadelphia last year, and in a blowout win over the Steelers in Week 1. And he had two pass attempts in last week’s 18-12 loss to the Broncos.
The Patriots also had Amendola throw passes in consecutive playoff games in 2018 — the 24-20 comeback win over the Jaguars in the AFC Championship game, and in the 41-33 Super Bowl loss to the Eagles. And White threw a pass in last year’s 23-16 loss to the Chiefs.
A play that once was a sign of Patriots' ingenuity has become a telltale sign that they are desperate on offense and can’t move the ball conventionally.
4. The stats have been flipped in 2020.
Last season, the Patriots led the NFL with a plus-21 turnover differential (36 for, 15 against). Opposing quarterbacks generated a 62.8 passer rating for the entire season, when the leaguewide rating was 88.4. And the Patriots threw 25 touchdown passes and allowed just 13, the fewest in the league. Through five games, the Patriots didn’t allow a single touchdown pass.
But those stats are flipped in 2020. The Patriots' ratio of touchdown passes thrown vs. allowed is 3/9. And they have already committed 10 turnovers, including seven in the last two games.
The Patriots are even in turnover margin for the season, ranking 17th in the NFL. It would represent their worst ranking since 2005 (20th) and would be the third-worst of the Bill Belichick era (18th in 2000).
5. The Patriots really miss their nose tackle.
Neither the loss of Danny Shelton to the Lions in free agency nor the signing of Beau Allen generated much buzz in New England. But Allen has missed the first five games with an ankle injury, and it was clear against the Broncos that the Patriots badly miss having a run-plugging nose tackle in the middle of their defense.
Shelton was an underappreciated piece of last year’s defense, starting 14 games and leading all defensive linemen with 61 tackles. He parlayed his performance into a two-year deal with the Lions that will pay him $4 million this year. The Patriots replaced Shelton with Allen for a base of $3 million and a maximum of $4.4 million, but Allen hasn’t been on the field yet.
The Broncos scored points on their first six possessions, sustained three long drives, rushed for 135 yards, and had three rushes of at least 11 yards. Allen returned to practice this week, and has three weeks to get activated from injured reserve. The Patriots need him back in a hurry.
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.