INDIANAPOLIS — The Patriots have given Matt Patricia a life he probably never could have conceived as a kid in upstate New York.
They gave him his start in the NFL. They promoted him up the ranks. They gave him the opportunity to win three Super Bowl rings and eventually become an NFL head coach.
But the Patriots owe Patricia better right now. He’s getting crushed, and they’re not doing much to stop it.
Patricia, a defensive coach for nearly two decades, took over offensive play calling in 2022 for the first time. He also coached the offensive line, managed the Patriots’ salary cap, and performed about a thousand little jobs for his mentor and close friend, Bill Belichick.
The way one source close to the situation described it, Patricia didn’t really want to be offensive coordinator, but did it as a favor to Belichick, who needed someone he could trust. And it also was indirectly a favor to the Krafts, who didn’t have to pay an offensive coordinator in 2022, as Patricia finished out the final year of his five-year deal with the Lions.
Now Patricia has to wonder whether any of it was worth it.
He can’t turn on ESPN or local media without getting mocked. He gets almost all the blame for the offense’s struggles and for Mac Jones’s regression in 2022. Fellow coaches took shots at Patricia during the season. Anonymous sources blasted Patricia’s offense as being simplistic and disorganized in a recent Boston Herald article. The Krafts hired Bill O’Brien as offensive coordinator last month and heralded his arrival as the remedy to everything that went wrong.
Meanwhile, Patricia didn’t get much of a sniff on the coaching market this year. The Broncos were the only team to interview him for a defensive coordinator job, which may just have been a favor from old friend Sean Payton. Patricia didn’t get the job, but still could join the Broncos as a position coach or in some sort of advisory role.
And that’s pretty much it. A coach with perhaps the most varied résumé in the NFL — he has been a head coach, offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator, linebackers coach, offensive line coach, and salary-cap manager — has almost no buzz on the market.
This is not at all to defend Patricia’s performance in his one year as offensive coordinator. Patricia, a defensive coach for nearly two decades, was the least qualified offensive coordinator in the NFL in 2022, and the Patriots offense performed exactly as one would expect. They were 22nd in points scored by the offense, 26th in total yards, 27th on third downs, and dead last in the red zone.
And Patricia had a horrible tenure as Lions head coach, going 13-29-1 in two-plus seasons and not making many friends among the players or local media.
But to blame Patricia for the Patriots’ mess last year is misplaced. It’s blaming the soldiers instead of the general.
In September, Belichick tried to make clear in an interview with the Globe that the onus would be on him if it didn’t work out with Patricia running the offense.
“Ultimately, it’s my responsibility, like it always is,” he told Dan Shaughnessy. “So if it doesn’t go well, blame me.”
Belichick is the one who decided to go with a totally inexperienced offensive coordinator. And to give three jobs to one person. The Krafts are the ones who signed off on it.
Patricia was set up to fail, and no one seems to be there to break his fall.
Belichick perhaps has sensed this and is attempting to fix it. On Tuesday, he offered support for Patricia.
“Matt’s a really good football coach who I have a ton of respect for,” Belichick told the Globe. “He’s helped us win a lot of games and championships with the Patriots.”
Much as Patricia didn’t put the Patriots in a position to succeed in 2022, the Patriots didn’t set him up for success, either. Their receiving corps was “average, if we’re being generous,” one AFC executive said Wednesday. One defensive coordinator told Mike Giardi of NFL Network there “wasn’t a matchup we feared.”
The Patriots still finished second in the NFL in QB pressure rate (19 percent), 16th in net yards per pass attempt (which factors in sacks), and the run game had decent success with Rhamondre Stevenson.
There’s also the reality that perhaps Jones just isn’t that good of a quarterback. He’s not big, he’s not fast, he doesn’t have a strong arm, and he didn’t show great decision making last year. Jones also played much of the year with a high-ankle sprain. But many fans (and some media) badly want Jones to be the Patriots’ franchise quarterback, so he gets very little of the blame, and Patricia becomes a one-man whack-a-mole.
One friend close to Patricia (not his agent) said there is still a chance Patricia could return to the Patriots in 2023. Patricia and Belichick remain close, Belichick may need Patricia as a confidant and sounding board, and Patricia has a young family that loves New England.
But the Patriots already filled his jobs with O’Brien, Adrian Klemm (offensive line), and Matt Groh (salary cap). They would have to bring Patricia back in some sort of “special assistant to the head coach” role.
Patricia would have to want to come back to New England, though. Another friend (also not his agent) thinks Patricia may want to get away from New England and all this criticism.
Moving on from Patricia was the right move, but Belichick and the Krafts should have found a way to cushion his fall. Instead, they took advantage of the free labor (the Lions were still paying him), chewed him up, spat him out, and let Patricia become a human piñata, at the expense of his coaching reputation.
He deserves better.
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.