There is blood on the tracks of the Patriots’ playoff path in the wake of the Rams’ 24-3 rout of New England Thursday night at SoFi Stadium in SoCal.
Ouch. The Patriots’ playoff map is now the path of most resistance, the road to perdition, the highway to hell.
The Flying Elvises have checked out of their Hotel California and probably the postseason hunt as well. They are 6-7 and very likely will be watching the playoffs on television for the first time since 2008. Three games remain — all against the AFC East — but the Patriots need more help than You-Know-Who if they hope to salvage a playoff spot in this gritty, but lost campaign. Bob Kraft’s best hope might be to blame the whole thing on Dominion and petition the Supreme Court to overturn losses in California, Missouri, Texas, Washington, New York, and Massachusetts (twice).
There was a lot of optimism coming into “Thursday Night Football.” Bill Belichick’s overachievers had won four of five, including a 45-0 decimation of the Los Angeles Chargers in this very same stadium just four days earlier.
Unfortunately, Cam Newton’s law of gravity caught up with them. With Cam behind center, what goes up must come down. And the Pats fell hard in this one. They scored 3 points on four trips to the red zone. It was one of the worst offensive displays in Patriot history and Belichick finally went to his bullpen, calling on Jarrett Stidham with the Patriots down, 24-3, and 10 minutes left in the game. Mercy.
Newton has averaged 90 yards passing over his last three games. But Belichick still loves him the way Red Sox fans love Jackie Bradley Jr. when JBJ is hitting .205 in June.
“Cam’s our quarterback,’' Belichick announced after the beatdown. He would not entertain questions about why he is sticking with Cam.
“Not my call,’' Newton said when asked about potential for a change. " … We’ve just got to be better and it starts with me personally … Just live to fight another down.’'
New England went three-and-out on its first two possessions. It was another demonstration of just how far Newton has fallen since his MVP season of 2015. Sidearm-slingin’ Cam had another tipped pass on his second set of downs. What is up with that? Newton is 6 feet 5 inches, but has more passes batted down than Doug Flutie (5-10) ever did.
On the first play of the second quarter, Newton threw a pick-6, which was returned 79 yards by the Rams’ Kenny Young. It was Newton’s 10th interception of the season, compared with five touchdown passes. LA led, 17-0.
It got worse. The Patriots marched into the red zone, then went for it on fourth-and-goal from the 2 only to have Newton stuffed on a failed quarterback option run. The Patriots ran the ball 11 times and threw one pass on the eight-minute, no-score drive. Painful.
Before halftime, Belichick swallowed his pride near the goal line and took the 3 points on fourth-and-2. The Rams led, 17-3, at intermission and Rams coach Sean McVay has never lost an NFL game in which his team led at halftime.
This was the first time we saw Los Angeles’ kid coach (he’s 34 now) since Super Bowl 53 when McVay spent a good portion of pregame sucking up to Bill Belichick (”Bill — Remember that time you came back from 28-3 against Atlanta? That was awesome!”) during warm-ups. The Rams scored only 3 points in that game as skittish Jared Goff was spooked by Belichick’s defense.
It took LA less than four minutes to score a touchdown Thursday. Newton was the QB who was seeing ghosts in this one.
On Fox’s halftime show, Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw characterized New England’s offense as “Some of the worst offense I have ever seen. I blame it on Cam Newton.”
Not yet. Newton was at the controls for the Patriots’ first series of the third, another New England drive that ended with a punt.
After the punt, with Rams rookie running back Cam Akers (171 yards) leading the push, Goff directed a soul-crushing 16-play, almost 10-minute drive and the Rams took a 24-3 lead on a touchdown pass to Cooper Kupp. The key play was Patriots defensive tackle Akeem Spence getting suckered into an offside penalty on a fourth-and-1 near the goal line. Very un-Patriot-like. And it came after a timeout.
This put Newton and the Patriots in a horrible position. New England needed to pass and score quickly. Newton does not have this in his tool box. The Patriots went three-and-out to end the third period. And again to start the fourth as Newton was sacked for a fourth time.
Down, 24-3, with 10 minutes left, Belichick finally went to Stidham. Stid was stopped when his fourth-down pass was incomplete at the Rams’ 16-yard line.
It is not official yet, but it is over. Not even Steve Kornacki, MSNBC’s political data analyst, can figure out enough permutations to get the Patriots into the playoffs now. At 6-6, winning out was the only realistic path and now there’s a giant Sequoia blocking the path. Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are probably going to the playoffs. The Patriots, almost certainly, are not.
More Patriots coverage
- Patriots running back Damien Harris leaves in fourth quarter with injury
- Instant Analysis: Loss to Rams shows Bill Belichick has only one move left for struggling Patriots: Start Jarrett Stidham
- Patriots come up empty, get run over by Rams in falling to 6-7