If Bill Belichick wants to keep Matt Patricia on his staff and in his tight circle of trust beyond this season, yeah, sure, fine, go ahead.
Slide him into the old Ernie Adams role as the unofficial director of football omnipotence. Have him help out as sort of a Matt of all trades, perhaps with an emphasis on his defensive acumen. Maybe he could even do competent work with the offensive line if that were his sole focus.
Really, it doesn’t much matter where he’s redeployed. Just get him away from a position of authority with the offense. Get him away from Mac Jones before the frustrated second-year quarterback’s promise is extinguished by Patricia’s haplessness as the de facto offensive coordinator.
Belichick’s decision to delegate offense responsibilities to Patricia — and to a lesser extent, quarterbacks coach Joe Judge — after longtime offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels left to become head coach of the Raiders has gone from perplexing, to egregious, to downright detrimental.
He certainly has the gravitas to do so, but in his 23 seasons as Patriots coach, Belichick occasionally does things that make sense only to him. Refusing to turn to Malcolm Butler in Super Bowl LII when Nick Foles and the Eagles were punching holes through the Patriots’ defense has long been his most confusing move.
The decision to put Patricia, whose last specific experience as an offensive coach came as the Patriots’ assistant offensive line coach in 2005, in charge of Jones’s development may be usurping the Butler benching in terms of pure what-is-he-doing? bewilderment.
The Patriots’ No. 1 priority this season should have been to help Jones build on his fine rookie season. The most valuable commodity in the NFL is a quality quarterback on his rookie contract, and the Patriots seemed to have that advantage entering this season.
Jones, the 15th pick in the 2021 draft, easily submitted the best rookie season of any of the five quarterbacks selected in the first round. He threw for 3,801 yards and 22 touchdown passes while completing 67.6 percent of his passes.
The Patriots won 10 games, reached the playoffs, and Jones was even selected for the Pro Bowl after the Ravens’ Lamar Jackson bowed out because of injury, making Jones the first rookie passer since Dallas’s Dak Prescott in 2016 to participate in the NFL’s version of an All-Star game.
Jones wasn’t a sure thing for quarterback stardom — his arm strength is such that if he were a baseball player, he’d be described as a control pitcher — but he was poised, accurate, and competitive in all the right ways. The Patriots seemed to have their guy, their successor to Tom Brady after the awkward one-year Cam Newton interlude.
Jones did his part toward fulfilling that promise, working to get stronger and leaner in the offseason. And what did Belichick do for him? Turn the play-calling over to a defensive coach while also attempting in training camp to fundamentally change the offense. I won’t go so far as to call that malpractice, but it is either hubris or absurdly poor decision-making, and it’s been so detrimental to Jones that the player described above feels like a distant memory. Jones, who missed three games with a high ankle sprain, has seven touchdown passes in the nine games he has played this season; 29 players have more, including two Commanders quarterbacks, Carson Wentz and Taylor Heineke, neither of whom will be confused with the second coming of Slingin’ Sammy Baugh in Washington football lore.
Often, Jones has not played well. But how many quarterbacks who have been set up to fail would? The Patriots’ rudimentary, incoherent scheme has left a trail of befuddled NFL analysts. The NFL Network’s Kurt Warner wondered if Jones was being challenged mentally by an overly simplified approach. Mike Lombardi, who formerly worked with Belichick in Cleveland and New England, said “the Patriots don’t have an offense, they just run a bunch of plays.” ESPN’s Dan Orlovsky suggested Jones should ask for a trade if the Patriots don’t bring in a proven offensive coordinator next season.
Patricia does not maximize offensive talent. He minimizes it, and his players, many of whom justifiably expressed their frustrations in one way or another during last Thursday’s loss to the Bills, know this. Jones lost his temper in the fourth quarter and screamed in a particularly colorful way that the Patriots need to take some shots down the field. Kendrick Bourne, a permanent resident in Patricia’s doghouse, said things need to be schemed up better. This isn’t a redux of 2009, when Belichick was caught by NFL Films telling Tom Brady he couldn’t get through to some of the players. This is a case of players caring deeply about winning and coping in real time with the knowledge that they are not being put in the best position to do so.
The Patriots have more talent than they did a season ago, when they had the 10th-best offense in the league — relentless runner Rhamondre Stevenson has another year of experience, tough DeVante Parker and speedy Tyquan Thornton joined the receiver ranks. Yet only Stevenson and receiver Jakobi Meyers are consistent producers. Tight end Hunter Henry, who had nine touchdowns a year ago, is averaging 28 yards per game. Bourne, an exciting playmaker last season, has been buried since training camp. For years if not decades, the Patriots got the most out of their talent. Now they are getting the least.
Belichick indicated on WEEI’s “The Greg Hill Show” Monday morning that dramatic changes are too hard to do at this point. But he must make one at season’s end, and here’s hoping he knows it. Patricia has been a dependable assistant coach and a loyal ally through the years, but he’s a detrimental misfit in his current role. I suspect Belichick gave him the responsibility figuring he’d have a learning curve that he’d navigate fairly deftly. Instead, he’s driven the Patriots offense into a ditch.
Don’t know about you, but I keep wondering what this mediocre season might look like with a competent coordinator orchestrating the offense. Here’s hoping we find out before Jones, whose promise has been compromised by Patricia’s incompetence, is damaged beyond repair.