Some terrific questions this week on a wide variety of topics, including the coach, quarterback, the future of the franchise, whether Sunday represented the nadir of the season, and where things go after the latest loss. Let’s get to it.
Have we hit rock bottom?
— Carlos, Amherst
It certainly felt like rock bottom, given the woeful Giants’ record, the miserable conditions, the heartbreaking loss, and the Patriots’ scattershot personnel decisions, particularly at quarterback.
New York’s record was comparable to New England’s, and given that BIll Belichick has so much shared history with the Giants franchise, it felt like an embarrassment on a personal level for the coach.
All that being said, I believe a January loss at home to a Jets team quarterbacked by Zach Wilson or Tim Boyle has the potential to be worse.
When you are 2-8, are you playing to win or force overtime? If the latter, why? It was their best chance to win. I don’t understand.
— Tony Perna, Georgia
Great question, Tony. I believe the belief was not so much to play for the tie but about riding the hot hand in Rhamondre Stevenson. After Demario Douglas went down, Stevenson represented the Patriots’ best offensive option, especially at that point in the game. Keeping the ball on the ground also eliminated the possibility of a late pick by Bailey Zappe.
If Stevenson broke one for a touchdown, that would have been ideal, but they got down to the 20, which should be more than close enough for a field goal.
Did the Patriots consider bringing in a free agent quarterback during the bye week? Any chance they do so now?
— Mark Coen, Beverly
It was my understanding that they did not bring in anyone over the bye week. I think there’s a chance of them doing their due diligence if a player suddenly becomes available, something Bill Belichick alluded to Monday when he said, “I mean, I wouldn’t rule anything out, anything that would help our team. We’ve brought in players at any position. You never know what’s going to happen.”
That being said, I don’t think they are going to sign anyone impactful at quarterback between now and the end of the season. Sad to say, but at this point, the last real card for them to play would be Will Grier (whom I expect to return to the practice squad).
How does the NFL insist it’s for player safety and yet have no comment as NFL officiating totally ignores the clothesline that Douglas took?
— Brian C.
Is Cam Brown going to be fined or suspended for that hit on Douglas?
— Gerry Day, Revere
I feel like I missed something in the last game when Cam Brown nearly decapitated Demario Douglas and celebrated. Douglas was taken to the medical tent, and there was no flag and no mention of it on the broadcast. Did we travel back to 1973 and I missed it?
— Billy Budd, Rhode Island
I haven’t heard the broadcast replay of what happened, but there was an audible “ohhhh” from the press box when Douglas was hit. Even though there was no flag, I’d bookmark the Rules Enforcement page of NFL Football Ops for news of a fine. They’re usually announced at the end of the week.
The Patriots were incensed after the game because of the hit.
“It’s just crazy,” Jabrill Peppers said. “They preach all this player safety stuff, but that doesn’t get flagged. But I’ve been fined maybe two or three times for clean hits. So that, too.
“But you can’t say anything about the refs in this league. To me, that’s a joke. You can’t say you care about player safety and not flag that play.”
One other thing: I’d hold us in the media accountable, because where there are questions for officials, a media member usually makes a request for a pool reporter who can ask the referee for their thoughts. I could be mistaken, but I did not hear of a request for a pool reporter. Call it 15 yards for the non-decision.
(I will say the last line made me laugh out loud, Billy. Good job by you.)
Why not sign Colin Kaepernick for the rest of the season?
— Barry Brodsky, Swampscott
A good question that was asked a little earlier in the year, and my feelings haven’t changed: I’m not going to pretend I know what shape Kaepernick is in, so I’m not going to speak on his immediate chances of returning to the NFL. It was my understanding he reached out to the Jets after Aaron Rodgers went down but didn’t hear anything. His last public workout came in April 2022 during the Michigan spring game, while his last in-game action came on Jan. 1, 2017.
I understand Kaepernick remains a polarizing figure. And I think you can make a pretty good argument that the NFL successfully colluded to keep him out of the game. But setting aside all of that and looking at him strictly as an on-field prospect, it’s unlikely that any 36-year-old quarterback who hasn’t taken a snap in a regular-season game in six years could immediately operate successfully in the NFL.
Will Grier and Malik Cunningham can’t be any worse than the two guys we saw Sunday. Why not play them? At least the game would be more fun to watch.
— Lawrence Burns, Swansea
I feel the same way. The season is fundamentally lost. It’s time to see what you have with the rest of the roster. I’m not saying either one is capable of lifting the offense out of its doldrums, but you could start to get some answers regarding their possible future here.
The one condition I’d have with Cunningham is that they need to do a better job when it comes to setting him up for success than they in Las Vegas. Get him at home, put him in some winnable situations — red-zone packages, for instance — and work to maximize his strengths and minimize his weaknesses. Identify a half-dozen situations where he can execute successfully.
Against the Raiders, he was thrown into the fray on the road and asked to provide a spark in a dicey situation. There are better ways to let him get his feet wet.
I don’t believe Belichick will be willing to cede GM duties to anyone (unless he is allowed to make the choice, which gets the team nowhere), which means Bill’s gone. Who do you think would make the most sense to become the GM, and who is the best candidate to become the next head coach? And even if the Patriots make the right choices, what kind of timeline are we looking at before the team becomes a legitimate Super Bowl contender again?
— Vincent Lee, Quincy
Lots to unpack there, Vincent. Let me take your questions one at a time.
▪ I’ve been consistent in this throughout the last month-plus: I can see it coming down to whether Belichick accepts the idea of a GM. If not, that represents the first step in the separation process. (If he does, then I think he stays.)
▪ If they do bring in a GM and coach, I think there’s the very real likelihood that they go outside the organization for at least one of them. Regardless of what happens and when, Jerod Mayo is still the lead candidate to succeed Belichick, which would mean an outside GM. I’ve floated the name Louis Riddick on several occasions, but that would be a ways down the road.
▪ Ultimately, a sizable chunk of the timeline depends on this offseason. Does Bill stay with a GM or do they change their management approach? How do they handle the draft and free agency? Who leaves?
If they get the right team in place, history tells us that you can turn things around in a 2-3-year span. (As a “what if” scenario this offseason, let’s say they draft Caleb Williams and sign Tee Higgins. That might not make them an instant contender, but it would be two colossal steps in the right direction.)
What do you think of this scenario for next year? Josh McDaniels is back as OC, and Jimmy Garoppolo comes back as the bridge quarterback until the Patriots get their draft pick Bo Nix up to speed?
— Pete J., North Carolina
Pete, while I don’t necessarily agree with you on the big-picture elements, I do agree on some smaller specifics. One, I think the only way McDaniels comes back is if he’s hired by Belichick, and that prospect is looking a little dicey. But I do think that the Patriots are going to flip the quarterback position through the draft. If Garoppolo is too expensive, I’d suggest Jacoby Brissett as the guy who could be the shepherd for the rookie signal-caller.
Bill Belichick is famously grumpy, short, and elusive when asked any question concerning strategy, personnel, or long-term plans for the team. If he magically had a personality transplant and become like Dolphins coach Mike McDaniel, what question would you ask him and what would his response be?
— Patrick Halley, Bartow, Fla. (by way of Hudson)
Love this question. I’d ask: What did Malcolm Butler do to get himself benched for Super Bowl LII? My best guess is the answer would have to do with a clash with Matt Patricia.
Why does Bill Belichick pay himself top dollar while running the “value” train in all other positions? Can one detect a character flaw?
— David Trull, Wellesley
In years past, you could argue that Belichick earned top dollar. (Plus, he made it possible for them to forgo paying a pricey GM.) Now, not so much. His contract details remain a closely guarded secret, but I’ll go back to the above question if I got another shot — I’d ask him what he makes annually and whether he’d consider a pay cut after this season.
Have the Patriots ever had such a miserable season under the Kraft family ownership of the team? — Ed Helinski, via Twitter
No. The last time I can remember a season anywhere close to this was 2009, when they just sort of petered out down the stretch. That year had the most toxic locker room I’ve ever covered. As a reporter, it was a slog going in there every day because they were playing miserably, no one wanted to talk, and they legitimately had guys who didn’t want to be there.
For what it’s worth, the locker room is much better now than it was in 2009. Not sure it matters to people on the outside, but it’s certainly part of the conversation if you’re going to compare 2009 and 2023.
Marte Mapu has hardly played this season after being the subject of much hype after he was drafted. Anything of substance that you can share? Hard to imagine he’s not good enough to get some playing time on this team.
— Don Kelley, Cambridge
Excellent question. While Mapu hasn’t seen the field as much as maybe I anticipated earlier in the year, I think there are a few things at play, including the fact that the Patriots’ safeties have had a really good season, particularly Jabrill Peppers and Kyle Dugger. Not to mention Mack Wilson, who is sort of an oversized safety himself.
While Mapu is a bit of a tweener who can play both linebacker and safety, he’s probably best at safety at this stage, of his career, so that means he’s sitting behind those guys.
For the record, he has played 21 percent of the defensive snaps, which is in the same neighborhood as Wilson, Adrian Phillips, and Josh Uche. He also leads all rookies in special teams snaps at 48 percent. Good numbers for a rookie defender who is a bit under the radar this season.