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Bill Belichick and the Patriots used to be two steps ahead of everybody else. Not anymore.

Bill Belichick has surrounded himself with cronies on his coaching staff.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

It was an interesting sight Sunday, seeing Wes Welker on the Miami Dolphins sideline as the receivers coach, trying to maneuver his group to catch passes and break big plays against his former coach, Bill Belichick.

And it was also notable watching a sweat-drenched Patriots assistant coach (offensive coordinator? play-caller? clueless guide?) Matt Patricia, rugged beard and all, looking disheveled near the end of what was a frustrating 20-7 loss at Hard Rock Stadium.

The game was winnable with precise execution, but the Patriots lack so many elements that their competitors already have. They lack playmakers, a punishing, productive running back, a wide receiver even comparable to Tyreek Hill, who would make Mac Jones’s job easier.


Jones has the potential to be a solid NFL starter, but the Patriots are putting a lot of pressure on him to carry the team in his second year, and that interception into tight coverage on the opening drive was deflating. The Patriots were desperately seeking momentum, trying to throw the first punch against a division opponent on the road.

Instead, Jones’s interception allowed Miami to seize psychological control, something the Dolphins never relinquished after driving for a field goal then scoring on a defensive touchdown.

It seems Belichick is still trying to win with the same formula that worked with Tom Brady, but Tom is long gone. The Patriots have passed on adding game-breakers, taking busts such as N’Keal Harry when they had a chance to draft a player who demands double coverage.

The fact that Belichick brought back Patricia and Joe Judge after both had failed head coaching experiences is a prime example of the cronyism he still holds. He not only brought them back but handed them pivotal roles, hoping they can help the club take the next step to contender.


Patricia and Judge are back in Foxborough after failed head coaching stints.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

They are not capable of such a feat, especially with the team’s lack of talent on offense. The days of compiling solid role players around Brady are long gone. The Patriots have a second-year quarterback, and second-rate receivers and running backs.

It’s not that these players are incapable of contributing to a Super Bowl team, but it’s difficult to win a Super Bowl with no star players. It’s incredibly difficult to win a Super Bowl in 2022 with a 2010 philosophy.

The game is constantly changing. The spike in salary for wide receivers is an example of the increased emphasis on the passing game, on speedy receivers who can pile up 20-plus-yard plays and touchdowns, who can turn a simple circle route into a 50-yard gain. That’s why the Dolphins invested so much in Hill, who toyed with the Patriots’ secondary. Hill makes defensive coordinators hold their breath each time he touches the ball.

After the bizarre selection of guard Cole Strange in the first round this year, the Patriots attempted to nab a speedster in Baylor’s Tyquan Thornton in the second round, but he was, unfortunately, hurt in preseason, hampering his impact.

But by comparison with the Dolphins, the Patriots had not one offensive player who sparked intimidation or anxiety in the Miami defense. The Dolphins played fearless defense, allowing the Patriots to damage themselves with mistakes and blitzing and harassing Jones into miscues.

Damien Harris averaged 5.3 yards per carry but only carried the ball nine times. Rhamondre Stevenson’s long run was 12 yards and he picked up a combined 12 on his other seven carries.


There’s nothing dynamic or daunting about the Patriots in an NFL that has become just those two characteristics. The Patriots need playmakers, they need speed, they need more dynamic play calls, they need more talent.

The level of expectation has been Super Bowl or bust since Brady took over in 2001, but last season excitement was tempered when Jones unseated Cam Newton as the starting quarterback. Still, the Patriots managed to reach the playoffs before getting battered by the more polished and proficient Buffalo Bills.

The Patriots did little in the offseason with free agent moves to enhance their chances of competing in the AFC East, meanwhile Buffalo and Miami spent money, made trades, and drafted astutely.

The Patriots are no longer outsmarting their opponents. They no longer have the best coaching staff or are two steps ahead of other teams. They have descended into an average franchise with moderate talent, banking that Jones can turn into the next Tom Brady because he’s young and has adapted to the NFL game quickly. But that doesn’t make him a star.

How will the season play out for quarterback Mac Jones?Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Jones needs better talent around him. Belichick needs more capable coaches on his staff, not just old buddies and former players. He also needs to inject new, fresh ideas, better play-calling, and schemes that will enhance the talent of the players.

The Patriots no longer have the combination to the Super Bowl safe. They no longer are the model NFL franchise and that’s not only because of the heinous mistake of allowing Brady to walk away, but the arrogance of believing they could quickly rebuild with antiquated ideas and second-rate talent.


You can argue the Patriots had the worst Week 1 performance of any AFC team besides the New York Jets. They looked completely discouraged after the opening drive. The coaching staff looked confused on the sideline. Belichick appears to be losing his grip on his mastery of the game. The Patriots don’t have the cushion to wait until Week 8 to find their groove, the rest of the league is too good for that.

So there needs to be immediate adjustments, a bona fide offensive coordinator, and a collective effort to accurately assess the potential of this roster and accentuate its strengths. And that still may not be good enough for a playoff berth.

Gary Washburn is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at gary.washburn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.