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Bill Belichick’s big mistakes: The miserable 2023 Patriots season is marked by a litany of errors

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For two decades, Patriots fans embraced a motto: “In Bill We Trust.”

In recent years, however, the decisions of longtime coach Bill Belichick have not translated to success. Some have begun to derail the team. As if New England’s AFC-worst 2-10 record this season were not enough to reflect Belichick’s missteps, a closer look at the decision-making only underscores his growing ineffectiveness in the personnel department and on the field.

Remember in Week 2 when rookie Demario Douglas fumbled in the first quarter against Miami and didn’t play another offensive snap? Douglas, one of the team’s more dynamic playmakers, could have offered a spark for the passing attack, which, at the time, had not reached the level of impotence it functions at now.

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Instead, Belichick decided to make a point by keeping Douglas on the bench for the remainder of the game. It’s difficult to see how that move could be considered doing what is best for the team, given the lack of talent among New England’s wide receiver corps. The Patriots lost to the Dolphins, 24-17, with their final drive a turnover on downs from Miami’s 33-yard line.

Then, in Week 6, Belichick signed undrafted rookie Malik Cunningham from the practice squad to the active roster only to waive him 10 days later. Cunningham served as the backup quarterback against Las Vegas and would have had to run the offense if then-starter Mac Jones suffered an injury, disqualification, or benching. Was Cunningham, who had practiced primarily as a wide receiver to that point, really in a position to do so?

Cunningham ended up playing six snaps, lining up as a receiver four times and as the quarterback twice, to register zero targets, zero carries, and zero pass attempts. How the Patriots handled the entire situation was a head-scratcher. They lost to the Raiders, 21-17.

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In Week 9, Belichick ruled rookie Kayshon Boutte a healthy scratch and elected to go with just four wide receivers against Washington rather than the traditional five. It is unclear why Boutte was inactive, with Belichick saying that tight end Mike Gesicki (0 receptions) served as the fifth receiver.

Leading up to the game, Belichick said Boutte turned in his best week of practice. So, what changed before kickoff? It’s hard to fathom why the Patriots wouldn’t want to have another receiver, specifically one they drafted in the sixth round, available. They lost to the Commanders, 20-17.

Kayshon Boutte hasn't seen the field much this season.Barry Chin/Globe Staff

That brings us to Week 10, when Belichick benched Jones for the potential winning two-minute drive against Indianapolis. After two weeks of uncertainty at quarterback, Belichick trotted Jones back out as the starter against the Giants and benched him again after a half.

Belichick’s unwillingness to name a starting quarterback, along with his plan to split practice reps between Jones and BaileyZappe, did not seem to benefit anybody. The Patriots lost to the Giants, 10-7.

It’s possible that the Patriots still would have lost each of those games, even without Belichick’s poor decisions. But it’s hard to give him a pass for repeated mismanagement on game day.

What might be more concerning, though, is the number of blunders by Belichick even before the team played its first game.

During free agency, Belichick passed on bringing back homegrown Jakobi Meyers in favor of JuJu Smith-Schuster. Their production speaks for itself: Meyers, now a Raider, would be New England’s top pass catcher this year in yards (591), receptions (52), targets (76), touchdowns (6), and first downs (33).

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In another personnel decision that backfired, the Patriots traded up to take rookie kicker Chad Ryland in the fourth round, making him the highest-drafted specialist in the Belichick era. After a training camp competition between Ryland and incumbent Nick Folk, the Patriots decided to trade Folk to Tennessee for a 2025 seventh-round pick.

It makes sense that the Patriots would stick with Ryland over Folk because of age, draft positioning, and talent. The problem is Ryland hasn’t lived up to his billing. He’s connected on just 12 of 18 field goal attempts, most recently missing a tying 35-yard kick against the Giants. Folk, meanwhile, is 24 of 25 on the season.

Belichick also didn’t properly address the glaring void at right tackle. He signed Riley Reiff (one year, $5 million) and Calvin Anderson (two years, $7 million) as potential starting options, but neither had much success before going on injured reserve. Reiff (knee) played one game, while Anderson (illness) played five.

On Wednesday, Bill Belichick announced tackle Riley Reiff won't return from the IR this season.John Amis/Associated Press

The offensive line has remained a prominent issue as the Patriots have faltered in pass protection. Kicking right guard Mike Onwenu to tackle has helped, but the unit’s struggles have persisted.

The list goes on, with items ranging in magnitude. Belichick failed to sign a capable third-down running back, as Ty Montgomery has played a minimal role in his two seasons as a Patriot. Belichick failed to create an adequate environment to develop Jones, the 15th overall pick just three years ago. He repeatedly pushes all the wrong buttons on game day.

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Belichick, who turned 71 in April, is in the midst of his 24th — and worst — season with the Patriots. For the third time in four years, the Patriots will finish with a losing record.

As the missteps pile up, it’s only fair to wonder when owner Robert Kraft will deem he’s seen enough.


Nicole Yang can be reached at nicole.yang@globe.com.Follow her @nicolecyang.