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Dan Shaughnessy

Are the Patriots tanking? Bill Belichick is wired to win, but this hideous loss makes us wonder.

Bill Belichick isn't wired to tank, but does he have much choice now?Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff




When is the last time a Patriots field goal kicker missed a 35-yard chip shot that would have sent a game into overtime?

It happened Sunday in the Meadowlands when rookie Chad Ryland hooked a 3-foot putt with three seconds remaining in a 10-7 loss to the Giants (a game that should have been flexed to April).

Wow. We haven’t seen a muffed kick like this since Baltimore’s Billy Cundiff’s 32-yard bunny sailed wide left in the 2011 AFC Championship game, delivering the once-great Patriots to yet another Super Bowl.

Was Ryland under orders to miss? Any chance the Pats, now 2-9, did not want to win to stay in position for a top-three pick in the 2024 NFL Draft?


We haven’t seen the Patriots lose in the closing seconds on such a makeable play since 2005 when backup QB Matt Cassel tossed a potential game-tying, 2-point game conversion attempt to the Musket Men, assuring a final regular-season game loss to the Dolphins. That defeat gave the Patriots the Tomato Can Jaguars instead of eventual Super Bowl champion Steelers in the first round of the playoffs and worked nicely as the Pats destroyed the Jags, 28-3.

As much sense as it might make, it’s hard to believe the Patriots would tank this early. There’s no way Bill Belichick (stuck on 331 coaching victories, 16 shy of tying Don Shula) wants to lose when he can win. But suspicious minds will be working overtime in these final two months of the worst season of the Hoodie’s illustrious 24-season career as HC of the NEPs.

The Patriots came into the day holding the No. 3 spot in the 2024 draft and did nothing to worsen their position. Can anybody say “Caleb Williams”?

Chad Ryland's late miss sank the Patriots against the Giants.Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

Why would Bill tank? He’s eternally wired to win and he might not even be on the Gillette sideline next season. He undoubtedly cares more about victories than the draft position of a team he may not even be coaching in 2024.


But there are times one wonders about decisions that continue to sabotage this season.

This is one of those times.

Start with quarterback. Belichick has turned the most important position into an absolute dumpster fire. It’s as if Bobby Valentine has been in charge of handling Mac Jones and Bailey Zappe (who was released in August!).

The late John Madden, speaking of any two-quarterback rotation, once said, “when you have two, you have none.”

The 2023 Patriots have none. This has been demonstrated repeatedly, especially in a mind-numbing November.

Top-round pick Jones has been a puddle most of this season and in the wake of his benching in Germany two weeks ago, there was considerable noise about who would start Sunday.

It was absurd. Belichick spent two weeks protecting the identity of the starter as if he was guarding the nuclear codes. It was a galactically stupid, completely unnecessary display of stubborness and self-importance — the kind of stunt that used to fly when the Patriots were in the AFC Championship game every year.

Not anymore.

When did Bill tell his team who’d be under center for the first game after the bye?

“I can’t remember,” Belichick said after Sunday’s loss. “Sometime during the week.”

Belichick said the team was told before it flew to New Jersey. Patriot players said little, but tight end Hunter Henry indicated he pretty much knew nothing until game day.


Maybe Mac found a football in his locker when he arrived at MetLife Sunday morning.

“We had talked about it,” Jones said. “Obviously you got to take advantage of the reps you get in practice.”

Zappe deferred to his head coach.

Bailey Zappe (left) was thrown into the game after halftime. Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

Reportedly, the quarterback reps had been split (sort of) during the week and Jones reportedly “won practice.”

Belichick tried to explain it away, saying, “I think they both deserve to play.”

But would we have seen Zappe if Jones hadn’t been terrible again?

In Jones’s lone half he completed 12 of 21 passes for 89 yards and two grotesque interceptions. He put no points on the board. He lobbed several balloon balls over his receivers. (Referee Scott Novak could have invoked the infield fly rule on a couple of them.) He threw a pick into triple coverage. The other one was another back-foot abomination.

“Just bad quarterback play,” admitted Jones. “If your quarterback doesn’t play well, you have no chance.”

So we got Zappe in the second half. For the fourth time in 11 games, Jones was benched.

Zappe was better than Mac, completing 6 of 6 passes in an 11-play, 60-yard TD drive that tied the game, 7-7. He also put the Pats into field goal position at the end of the game. But his telegraphed interception into the arms of Xavier McKinney was a backbreaker on par with Mac’s game-ender against the Colts two weeks ago.


Bill wasn’t having any of it in a quickie presser after the game. He kept saying, “I told everybody to be ready to go.”

Then he walked off in mid-question. Abruptly. An absolute mic drop.


We’re on to 2024.

Is Bill?

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Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at daniel.shaughnessy@globe.com. Follow him @dan_shaughnessy.