The bye week meant the Patriots were on the sidelines, but you still had plenty of questions. This week’s mailbag was heavy on the offense, as well as some offseason “what-ifs,” a good story idea, and a logistical question that I hadn’t considered. Let’s get to it.
Why does Bill O’Brien get a pass after Matt Patricia was escorted out of town after last season? While it’s hard to believe, their offense has been considerably worse when compared to last season. Not to mention, ripping Mac in front of the cameras was not a good look, no matter how poorly Mac has played.
— Peter Mooney, Rowley
Peter, all legitimate questions, some of which O’Brien addressed Monday. Let me take them point by point:
▪ I’m not willing to give O’Brien a pass; the offense has been worse than last year, at least statistically. But between injuries and misfires in free agency, there’s been an apocalyptic run of bad luck along the offensive line. Almost all the preseason moves (namely, swapping Jakobi Meyers for JuJu Smith-Schuster) were also off the mark.
Those elements, combined with Mac Jones being on his third offensive coordinator in three seasons, combined to set up a miserable season for the offense, regardless of who the coordinator was.
In hindsight, we should have seen some of this coming, but it’s been a perfect storm.
▪ O’Brien was asked about that scene, and the coordinator — who was nicknamed “Teapot” by Tom Brady and Brian Hoyer for his occasional propensity to boil over — said it was just part of his style: “I think that was just coaching in the moment. That’s kind of the way I coach. Sometimes the way to get a point across is to, you know, be very demanding and be very intense about it.”
▪ O’Brien was very forthcoming with us Monday, accepting culpability and saying that he needed to “be better” over the final seven games. I know it’s cold comfort, but I think that speaks volumes about his self-awareness and understanding of how the situation looks from the outside.
In your estimation, what will the Patriots accomplish the rest of the season? How many more wins are realistic?
— Ed Helinski, via Twitter
In any other year — even down years like the last few seasons — I’d look at this schedule and see at least three or four more wins. This season, it’s hard to look at any one of the games and see the Patriots with an edge. (Despite the fact that some betting services have New England as a favorite against the Giants.)
I’d like to think that they have another couple of wins left. But who knows? I’m done giving them the benefit of the doubt.
At this point in the season, why not shake things up and try going with Malik Cunningham as the QB? Maybe his slashing/running would open things up and get folks energized. Certainly can’t get worse than what we’ve seen so far.
— Jack Nee, Jeffersonville, Vt.
Jack, I wouldn’t go to Cunningham full-time. That being said, I would be intrigued about what he could do on a temporary basis in a home game.
His one stint this year came on the road in front of a geeked-up Raiders crowd, and at the helm of an offense that was struggling. That’s a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of someone making his NFL debut.
If he does get back under center this season, I’d prefer to see him in a situation where he’s better set up for success. Specifically, a home game where he has some semblance of a healthy offensive line in front of him.
Find him some winnable situations and go from there.
Will the Patriots and Giants, in competing bids to land the coveted worst record and No. 1 pick, play the ugliest game in NFL history?
— Jeff Clabault, Forestdale
Not sure it’ll be the ugliest game in NFL history, but on the surface, this matchup has some similarities with a December 1981 contest between the Colts and Patriots. Those teams were jockeying for the first overall pick entering the regular-season finale, and Baltimore ended up with the 23-21 win to finish the season. Both teams ended 2-14, but because the Colts’ two wins came against New England, the Patriots ended up with the No. 1 pick, taking defensive lineman Kenneth Sims out of Texas.
When they fly overseas, who picks up the bill for airfare, hotel, and meals?
— Alan Riley, North Carolina (via Massachusetts)
I reached out to a Patriots spokesman, and they told me that the league provides a flat stipend for each team that travels overseas for games. That covers most of the expenses, but the team picks up the difference.
Given what’s happened since, what should we make of Mac Jones’s 2021 season? Did he really play well in 2021 and regress since then? Or was that season’s seven-game win streak a mirage, or the result of a strong defense? Are the late-season losses to Indy, Buffalo, Miami the true indicator of what Mac is? I think it would make for an interesting article to go back and re-watch some of those 2021 games and analyze Mac’s performance.
— Bob Rodak, Holden
Good question, and a good story idea. In hindsight, almost everything fell into place for Jones in 2021. He had a terrific working relationship with his OC (who knew how to maximize his strengths and minimize his weaknesses). He had enough quality options around him on offense, and the Patriots stayed mostly healthy on that side of the ball. And the team played the sort of good complementary football (as you hinted at, particularly on defense, where they were second-best in the league) that put him in an optimal position to succeed.
Fast-forward to this year, and it’s almost been the exact opposite. If you’re a regular mailbag reader, you know my biggest beef with Mac (as it relates to this season’s struggles) is that he’s not able to succeed unless everything is perfect. He can’t adjust when the offensive line doesn’t execute, or his receivers can’t get separation, or the running game is sloppy.
Fair or not, an ability to overcome adversity is a big part of succeeding as a quarterback, and he just doesn’t have that gene. It doesn’t mean he can’t be successful. I just think it’s a stretch to expect him to do it within the framework of the current offense.
Replace Brock Purdy in San Francisco with Jones, and, assuming Jones knew the scheme well, would he be as successful? San Francisco has weapons and Purdy is a facilitator. Could Jones be as good in such a role with such talent around him?
— Thomas Cahill, New York
As you sort of alluded to, it would take a stretch of games for Jones to get up to speed in the new system; he couldn’t jump right into the 49ers’ scheme. But yes, I think Jones could find some level of success for a couple of reasons: 1. The players around him would represent a significant talent upgrade at just about every position; specifically, he’d have the ultimate safety valve with a third-down back such as Christian McCaffrey. And 2. There’s something to the idea that Kyle Shanahan runs a really quarterback-friendly offense. He has succeeded as a head coach or offensive coordinator with a lot of different signal-callers. With all that, I would have full faith that he would find a way to make it work with Jones under center.
I think the best possible course for the Patriots is to try and retain Bill Belichick under a couple of stipulations. A. Do you think Bill would be willing to cede control of scouting, drafting, and GM duties if the Patriots were to bring back Nick Caserio, Scott Pioli, or Thomas Dimitroff? B. If Bill does stay, do you think the Patriots’ best course of action would be to draft Marvin Harrison Jr., sign Kirk Cousins to a two-year deal to be the starting QB, and draft a developmental QB in the second round to learn behind Cousins for two years? If Bill wants the wins record, staying in New England is better than starting over elsewhere (except maybe with the Chargers). C. What’s Mac Jones’s trade value around the league? Third-rounder? Fourth-rounder? Thanks.
— Jon Cullen, via e-mail
Lots going on. I’ll take the questions point-by-point:
A. In my mind, this is the big question. I think the owner and the coach have this discussion at the end of the season. If Bill is amendable to adding a GM, he stays. (I don’t think it would be anyone from that list, however.) If not, it’s the first step in what could end up as an amicable parting between Belichick and the franchise.
B. I think the best course of action would be to draft a quarterback, especially given the fact that the free agent market for quarterbacks (which could change in a blink) isn’t expected to be great, and there are a few who are considered generational talents by people who know a lot more about college football than I do. I do think the possibility exists that the Patriots draft a quarterback, and go get a veteran backup to serve as a temporary bridge guy in case they feel like the rookie isn’t ready.
C. Things can change between now and the end of the season. But at this point, Mac’s trade value is likely pretty low. My inclination is that he’d fetch a Day 3 pick.