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Christopher L. Gasper

Seven thoughts as the Patriots face a sneaky must-win game against the Steelers

Matt Patricia (left, speaking with Bill Belichick at practice on Wednesday) has front-office responsibilities along with a big job ahead: to coach up the offensive line.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

It feels like the Patriots are residing in a snow globe that has been severely shaken — just like the confidence in the direction of the team. A whirlwind of stuff is swirling around the Belichick FC following a less-than-inspiring season-opening loss to the Miami Dolphins.

There’s a lot to unpack as the Patriots are on to Pittsburgh. I’m presenting 7 points, matching their Miami point total.

1. In its simplest form a coach’s job is to put people in position to succeed. That extends to the coaching staff. It’s hard to argue that Bill Belichick is doing that with senior adviser/offensive line coach and de facto offensive coordinator Matt Patricia, who presided over the offense’s uninspired and underwhelming Week 1 performance.


It’s tough enough that Patricia has no prior offensive play-calling experience, but he’s also being asked to coach an offensive line that has undergone changes in scheme, communication, and personnel usage. Patricia is not going to tell Belichick, his football father, no. So, it’s up to Belichick to not hand him more than he can handle.

“I love working here. I love the organization, and Coach Belichick has been kind enough to entrust me with a lot of different areas,” said Patricia, talking about balancing his responsibilities, which include front office work.

“That’s something I take a lot of great pride in. If Coach is asking me to do something I’m going to try to do the best I can at that job and put all my attention to all the details of whatever I’m needed to do ... Certainly, being around Coach as much as I can be and learn and grow and do all that, that’s invaluable to me … You’ve got to manage your time a little bit here and there, but other than that it’s great.”


2. Are the Patriots prioritizing rehabilitating the reputations of fallen branches on the Belichick coaching tree over reliably replacing Josh McDaniels? Both Patricia and offensive assistant/quarterbacks coach Joe Judge flamed out as head coaches. Putting them in charge of the offense and rebranding them as offensive minds makes perfect sense if you want to set them up for second chances.

Joe Judge (left) and Matt Patricia (center) confer with Mac Jones on the sideline in Miami.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

Offensive coaches are en vogue. Of the external hires for NFL coaching jobs this past offseason, only Chicago’s Matt Eberflus boasts a defensive pedigree. Young offensive coaches such as Mike McDaniel, who beat Belichick Sunday, and former Patriots backup quarterback Kevin O’Connell, coach of the Vikings, are the model. What’s good for the careers of Patricia and Judge might not be good for Mac Jones’s.

3. The banishment of Kendrick Bourne to the bench is disconcerting. Making an example of the wayward wideout by playing him fewer snaps (two) than reserve offensive linemen James Ferentz (10) and Yodny Cajuste (eight) is a luxury the post-Brady Patriots don’t have.

There were rumblings in the spring that Bourne wasn’t on board with the new offense. That’s alarming because he played for Kyle Shanahan in San Francisco and had McDaniels as his offensive coordinator last season. He understands what a well-coordinated offense is supposed to look like.

Bourne authored a career season in 2021 and enjoys a strong rapport with Jones, so the second-year signal-caller ends up as collateral damage.

How many snaps will Kendrick Bourne play this week?John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

“I know exactly where he’s going to be and stuff. We have a good amount of banked reps as I always say,” said Jones. “And I feel that way about a lot of guys on our team … KB’s a big part of it, and we want him to be able to help and anyone to help. We just want to be able to score more points.”


4. One thing you could always count on with the Patriots was they wouldn’t beat themselves. They would reliably lie in wait until the opponent self-immolated. It worked like clockwork for two decades.

That was the most jarring aspect of the loss to the Dolphins. With 16 days to prepare, the Patriots contributed to their demise with missed blocking assignments, three turnovers, ill-timed penalties, and untimely poor tackling on Jaylen Waddle’s backbreaking 42-yard touchdown on fourth and 7.

It’s the most immediately fixable aspect of the team.

5. The Patriots are just an ordinary NFL team now. Their mystique is in the rearview mirror — or in Tampa, if we’re being honest. If you need proof look at this comment from Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin:

“They’re a transitional group like us as well,” he said. “It has been a number of years since we’ve been in the stadium against them, and as you put the tape on you see that. Significant players in all three phrases and coaches as well [are different].

“But I know their core values will remain the same. I think if you’re playing a New England team they’ll always have a high floor.”


That would’ve been bulletin-board material in years past. Now, it’s just an honest assessment.

6. Sunday’s game represents a stress test for the New England offensive line, even with Steelers sack-meister T.J. Watt out. The Steelers have led the NFL in sacks in each of the past five seasons, a record.

They exposed another team with offensive line uncertainty, the Cincinnati Bengals, in Week 1, harassing quarterback Joe Burrow into seven sacks and five turnovers. Plus, the Steelers now employ former Patriots assistant Brian Flores as senior defensive assistant/linebackers.

Tomlin and the Steelers are coming off a season-opening win against the Bengals.Emilee Chinn/Associated Press

Flores beat the Patriots the last three times he faced them as Dolphins head coach, and he might have some extra motivation to outduel Belichick projects Patricia and Judge.

7. Sunday is a sneaky must-win for the Patriots. Belichick needs to engender more buy-in, pronto. The best way to do that is win. Also, this game looks like the easiest of the opening four. Why? Two words, Mitchell Trubisky. He’s Pittsburgh’s placeholder quarterback until rookie Kenny Pickett is ready. The Steelers won in spite of the pedestrian passer in Week 1.

If the Patriots don’t squeeze out a win, they could be looking at an 0-4 or 1-3 start. Of course, the Patriots started 1-3 last season and made the playoffs. Let’s end on that positive note.

Christopher L. Gasper is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at christopher.gasper@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.