FOXBOROUGH — At first glance, the electric 48-yard touchdown reception for rookie defensive back/returner Marcus Jones was classic Patriots, in the same vein as Mike Vrabel catching touchdown passes as a tight end or Troy Brown and Julian Edelman doubling up as defensive backs.
In reality, it represented an act of desperation for an offense gone awry, not a moment of inspiration. Instead of ingenuity, the Patriots’ lone touchdown in a not-that-close 24-10 loss to the Bills at Gillette Stadium Thursday night stands as an indicator of their offensive futility.
Coach Bill Belichick’s decision to turn the offense over to indebted and indentured coaching servants Matt Patricia and Joe Judge has become an unmitigated disaster threatening his team’s season and its buy-in.
The Jones TD was a neat trick, but the offense disappeared the rest of the night. What appeared in the locker room afterward was an air of disgruntlement after a dozen games. The 6-6 Patriots have bigger offensive issues than the glaring ones on the stat sheet, such as 3 for 12 on third down and 0 for the red zone again.
There was a palpable undercurrent of dissatisfaction among offensive players, grumbling about the predictability of the offense and what looked like indecorous snickering when the locker room opened. The vibes were bad and borderline insurrectionary.
Thursday was a worst-case scenario for the Patriots. Their offensive resurgence in Minnesota turned out to be a mirage, the result of facing the 31st-ranked pass defense down three cornerbacks.
Plus, the Patriots’ defensive dominance also turned out to be illusory as Josh Allen and the Bills once again had their way. After not allowing a touchdown against Indianapolis and the Jets, the defense has surrendered 50 points the last two games. That’s no good considering during the Mac Jones era the Patriots haven’t won a game in which the opponent scored 25 points.
Jones blew his top instead of blowing the top off a Bills defense that was missing Von Miller and looked vulnerable versus Cleveland’s Jacoby Brissett and Detroit’s Jared Goff.
A social media-circulated video showed a red-faced Jones barking, “Throw the [expletive] ball. The [expletive] short game sucks, [expletive].” It’s unclear whom Jones’s philippic was directed toward. He tried to downplay it.
“Yeah, obviously, I just kind of let my emotions get to me,” he said. “We’re kind of playing from behind, and what I said was throwing it deeper than the short game. I’ve got to execute that part better, but it’s the short game that we kept going to which was working. But I felt like we needed chunk plays.
“I shouted that out to kind of get everyone going. That’s emotional. That’s football. I’m passionate about this game. Obviously, you don’t want to let your emotions get the best of you. But I think that’s pretty much it. It wasn’t directed at anybody, just emotion coming out.”
It sure seemed like it was directed at somebody and not just yelling into the yawning void that swallowed New England’s offense.
Even players like Jones, who answered questions about the offense in measured tones, left enough verbal breadcrumbs to indicate that this unit isn’t thrilled with its offensive plans, concepts, or architects.
Then there was wide receiver Kendrick Bourne, who just came right out and singled out play-calling as an issue on a night the Patriots piled up just 194 yards outside of the Marcus Jones 48-yarder.
“We need to scheme up better,” Bourne told reporters. “We need to know what they’re doing. We need to know what they want to do on third down. We’re kind of sporadic.
“They call this and we call that, and it falls right into what they want. We need to have it where they’re falling into what we want.”
Yikes. Bourne could be running a go route to the Belichick doghouse.
This contest served as a condemnation of Belichick’s decision to turn the offense over to football’s Frick and Frack.
Marcus Jones, who caught 15 passes playing wideout at the University of Houston, ended up as the Patriots’ leader in receiving yards with two catches for 51 yards in three snaps. He said “offensive coaches” approached him about playing receiver this week.
Conversely, it was tough to watch Allen and the prolific Bills offense do what the Patriots used to do to opponents when You Know Who was QB — dismantle them using their game plan against them.
The Patriots took away the big plays and dared the Bills to be patient. Buffalo obliged and killed them with a death-by-a-thousand-paper-cuts approach.
Allen’s longest completion was an improvisational flip to running back Nyheim Hines for 21 yards. The Bills ran 37 times for 132 yards and a back-breaking fourth-quarter touchdown.
“When we were in a two-high shell, they were going to check to a run and live in that,” said Patriots linebacker Matthew Judon.
Allen unleashed an incredible Derek Jeter jump-throw touchdown pass to Gabe Davis just before he went out of bounds with Patriots linebacker Mack Wilson draped all over him. But most of what Allen did was conventional, not spectacular.
At least the Patriots got Buffalo to punt this time — three times actually.
But it felt like the Bills stopped themselves a couple times, and the Son of Hochuli officiating crew, which hadn’t seen a home team lose on its whistle watch until Thursday, did too.
Belichick once again didn’t have any answers for Allen and was in no mood to supply answers to the media. Despite a subdued demeanor, we got full hostile-witness Hoodie at the podium.
No answers for you.
The bigger problem for Belichick is that it appears some of his offensive players doubt whether the coaches he handpicked have answers.
Belichick told the Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy before the season, “If it doesn’t go well, blame me.”
It’s not going well, Bill.
Getting questioned by the media is one thing, but your players questioning the coaching is a sign that their belief is teetering.
The Marcus Jones play is emblematic of an offense groping — and griping — for something, anything that works.
Read more about the Patriots-Bills game:
• McBride: A closer look at how the Bills completely overwhelmed the Patriots
• Sullivan: The Patriots couldn’t hang with the new beasts of the AFC East
• Volin: A lame loss to the Bills exposed the Patriots’ flawed offseason
• Mac Jones explains his sideline rant
• The Patriots turned to defensive back Marcus Jones to score their only TD
• Finn: In the ultimate compliment, the Bills put on a Patriot-like performance
• How it happened: Bills dominate Patriots once again, roll to convincing victory
Christopher L. Gasper is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @cgasper.