After Sunday’s ugly loss, readers are (understandably) restless, and have questions regarding Mac Jones, Bill Belichick, Bill O’Brien, Malik Cunningham (?), and the state of the Patriots offense. Let’s get to it.
I think it’s time to move on from Mac. Even with Bill O’Brien, he isn’t seeing the open receiver. I agree the offensive line is awful and there is not a true No. 1 receiver on the team. But I don’t see him getting any better. Time to start playing for next year’s draft?
— Chris T., Connecticut
When does the organization move on from Mac Jones? Two scores directly attributable to his poor play, not to mention that pathetic quarterback sneak attempt.
— Chris, Boston
Serious question: Is it time to start thinking about drafting a quarterback early this spring? Like, what are the chances they can get someone like Caleb Williams or Bo Nix? Because whatever we saw out there Sunday isn’t cutting it anymore.
— Charles, Nevada (via Newton)
Grouped these together because they were the best and most coherent of the emails I got around 6:30 Sunday night. (Some emailed in all caps.)
Full disclosure: I was a Mac defender the last year-plus. Going into his third year, armed with a real offensive coordinator and more than enough offensive options to make it work, this represented his best chance for success in New England. But I may have reached the end of my rope Sunday night.
For the offense to work, you need 11 players working together, and with a wounded offensive line, that figures into the conversation when it comes to assessing the play of the quarterback. However, the guy under center needs to show he can overcome those things, whether that’s poor coaching, injured (or substandard) teammates, or an ineffective game plan. That’s why the quarterback gets the big contracts and is on the cover of magazines. That’s part of the job requirement.
Jones has to show he’s capable of making everyone around him better. Overcoming adversity. Putting an offense on his back and carrying it across the finish line. He’s had several chances over the last two-plus years — including multiple opportunities this year. And he hasn’t been able to convert.
I’m not saying Bailey Zappe or Will Grier is the answer. And it’s important to note it’s still early in the season. But after a loss in which everything should be questioned, it’s reasonable to wonder if Jones represents the best path forward for this team.
Would Bill ever tank for a top-five draft pick?
— Steven, Louisiana
No. I just don’t think that’s in his DNA. If this season continues to go sour, the Patriots could be in position for a pick in the 12-15 neighborhood. (At this point, our buddies at Tankathon have the Patriots in position for seventh pick.) In a draft that could have some very good quarterbacks, I’d be curious to see what sort of wheeling and dealing Belichick might be inclined to do if he could land Williams or Nix.
Does Bill O’Brien realize you can throw on first down? I understand he’s stuck in 2001 and still thinks you have to stay ahead of the sticks, but first and 15 into an eight-man box is extreme. Also playing zone in the first quarter and getting in a deep hole, then switching to man is getting old.
— Michael Swanton, via email
One of the more interesting subplots to this season was the idea that if O’Brien was going to be the guy who “unlocked” Jones, he could parlay that into a head coaching job somewhere. Through four games, that hasn’t been the case. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens to O’Brien’s future job prospects if the offense continues to spiral downward.
If Josh McDaniels is fired by the Raiders, does he return as an “offensive assistant” this year? And what would that look like?
— Victor, from Phoenix (via Newton)
Hey, there is a history there. Honestly, if he’s let go during the season, the idea of McDaniels coming back to New England this season wouldn’t shock me. It’s certainly not too late for O’Brien to find something with Jones. But McDaniels has been the only coach capable of getting anything at all out of Jones, when he was a rookie. I have no clue how that would work; maybe one would be offensive coordinator and the other would be quarterbacks coach. But it’s possible.
Is Malik Cunningham a consideration? That may be the only interesting story moving forward.
— Tony Perna, via Twitter
That’s a fascinating proposition. I don’t think the Patriots would be inclined to toss him the keys to the offense ahead of Zappe and Grier. But maybe — just maybe — the Patriots can use Cunningham to try and jump-start an occasionally lifeless offense. Again, I’m not suggesting they make him a starter. But if things continue to go south, perhaps it’s time to consider a package of plays with him under center. It could be one way to give a jolt to the offense, and see what the youngster might be capable of.
I haven’t gotten a greater understanding on why Pop Douglas isn’t used more; plays like that 42-yarder seem to be few and far between, and he seems like one of the few players capable of chunk plays. Any insight there?
— Nonseq, via Twitter
Agreed on almost all counts. When he gets the ball in his hands, he’s a dynamic presence capable of making guys miss. (When the scoreboard showed the replay of the little juke he put on a Dallas defender near the end of that play, there was an audible “Whooa!”) One of the best offensive plays of the season for the Patriots.
I think there are still some questions about his overall reliability. He did well to push through the fumble against the Dolphins, but I couldn’t help but notice he was yanked from returning duties for a stretch after a ghastly first-half punt return that went for minus-2 yards and was the first step on a road to ruin for the Patriots.
Who should the coach and GM be next year? I know it was supposed to be Mayo but they need someone who can build an offense and they probably should stay away from anyone Belichick-adjacent.
— Dave, via Twitter
Dave, I think it’s still Belichick’s job, at least right now. But we all know it’s going to come down to one guy’s decision. Robert Kraft was there Sunday, watching the game with his pal Jerry Jones. I think that might hit the owner differently than if he was watching at home. His team was vaporized on a big stage, and he was there to see it.
It probably didn’t sit well with him. At all.
How would you rate Steve Belichick as a defensive coordinator? Does his presence prevent another candidate from an opportunity?
— Jim White, Marshfield
There’s plenty of reason to snicker when you mention his name in NFL circles, but Jim, I’ll just tell you what I hear (on and off the record) from guys who have played for him: There was some skepticism from players when he was added to the coaching staff, but in the years he’s been on the job, he’s received nothing but support from the players on the defensive side of the football. Some more than others, obviously, but that sort of backing is enough for me.
If the succession plan post-Bill means that Jerod Mayo ultimately ascends to the role of head coach, I believe Steve Belichick would be a part of his coaching staff.