While the heat has been turned up on Bill Belichick and Mac Jones following eight losses in 10 games, Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien is starting to feel it as well, saying he has to be better.
“I’ve been doing this for 31 years,” O’Brien said during a Monday conference call. “I’ve served every single role on a coaching staff in an organization that you can pretty much serve. And so I think right now for me, it’s got to be … I’ve got to do a better job of what’s going on here right now to try to have a more productive offense.
“That’s what it is. It’s not a cliché; that’s the truth. That’s just the way it is. And so, I have to do better at this job. That’s the big thing for me, personally.”
O’Brien’s return to the Patriots this season was expected to provide a boost to an offense that struggled last season with Matt Patricia at the controls. But the Patriots have scored more than 20 points in a game just once, and they are in the bottom half of the NFLin most major offensive categories, including points per game (14.1, 31st), time of possession (27:18, 32nd), yards per game (294.5, 26th), and rushing yards per game (94.9, 27th).
It’s been a frustrating season for everyone, including O’Brien, who could be seen hollering at Jones on the bench late in the Week 10 loss to the Colts. Asked about the scene, the occasionally hot-tempered offensive coordinator — nicknamed “Teapot” by Tom Brady and Brian Hoyer because of his propensity to boil over — said it was simply “coaching in the moment” and nothing more.
“Sometimes the way to get a point across is to be very demanding and very intense about it,” O’Brien said. “That’s just the way I coach. That’s who I am. That’s how I’ve always coached. Sometimes that rubs certain players the wrong way. Sometimes players want that.
“I don’t want to speak for Mac, but I think Mac wants to be coached. I think he wants to be told, ‘Hey look, this can be better.’ And I look for the same thing from the players. ‘Hey Coach, you’ve got to explain that better.’ Or whatever it might be.”
One possible offensive shakeup could include a change at quarterback. Jones was yanked at the end of the loss to the Colts in favor of Bailey Zappe, the third time this season the Patriots made an in-game change at quarterback. When asked Monday about who will be the starter Sunday against the Giants, O’Brien deferred to the head coach.
“I think assistant coaches make recommendations and head coaches make decisions,” he said.
Asked if he had made a recommendation to Belichick, O’Brien said he preferred to keep those discussions private.
“I basically get everybody ready to play,” O’Brien said. “So what we try to do is every week … get Mac ready to play, get Bailey ready to play. And that’s what we do.
“At the end of the day, Bill will make that decision at some point, and we’ll go from there. But I do believe that we have to continue like we do all the time — to earn it on the practice field.”
Another potential spark could be quarterback/wide receiver Malik Cunningham. The rookie saw significant snaps for the first time in an October loss to the Raiders, working some at quarterback at some at wide receiver.
“He’s made a lot of improvements. Great guy to work with,” O’Brien said. “And he’s played in a lot of different spots. He’s played wide receiver. He played in the slot. He’s played quarterback. He’s played in the backfield. He’s done a lot of different things, and he’s really improved in all areas.”
Ultimately, it sounds like the final decision on a starting quarterback this week will come down to who performs the best in practice.
The Patriots are set to hold their first post-bye-week practice Tuesday at Gillette Stadium.
“What I’m saying that’s really important is that — and I’ve said this, and I know that people may scoff at this — but one of the reasons why I really enjoy coaching here is you have to earn it on the practice field,” O’Brien said, specific to the quarterback position. “And you earn it on the practice field by quality reps.
“Really, you have to strive for perfection on the practice field. You’re not going to reach perfection on the practice field, but you’re going to strive for it and try to execute at a high level, and then hopefully, that leads to good execution in the games.
“Right now, we haven’t had consistent enough execution in the games, obviously. So we’ll see what happens down the road here.”