Curran: Patriots put a cherry on top of stupidity sundae in Vegas originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
Bill Belichick can put up with derision. If he gave a crap that people make fun of his wardrobe, mumbling, snorting or ornery podium decorum he’d change it.
He could not care less.
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But laughing? Laughing at his football team? Laughing at its blundered execution, its level of preparation or situational intelligence? That’s got to cut him to the core.
The Patriots put a cherry on top of their stupidity sundae on Sunday with a for-the-ages-blunder by Jakobi Meyers. That Bill Belichick’s Patriots produced a play that vaulted immediately into the top-five most absurd moments in league history? That’ll leave him staring grimly at his ceiling in the dark for the remainder of 2022.
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The Lateral From Hell wasn’t a one-off by a fringe player in an otherwise crisp game. It was the capper (one hopes) to a season of offensive futility. A season doomed when Belichick put Matt Patricia in charge of an offensive overhaul and said, “Don’t worry."
The bar got lowered right then. And the Patriots have limboed under it ever since.
Not that this loss was primarily on Matt Patricia or the coaches. As Belichick subtly signaled a few times Sunday and Monday (we’ll get to that), on-field execution and in-the-moment situational decision-making sunk the knife between the shoulder blades of 2022.
Most notably? Mac Jones stunk. If you’re going to go all-in on calling out the sidelines when things go sideways -- which I had no issue with after nine months of the offense floundering -- you better be pristine with your own performance.
Jones wasn’t. He was 13 for 31 for 112 yards. He was 8-for-15 for 56 yards in the first half. Somehow, he was worse in the second -- 5-for-16 for 56 yards.
He missed two throws wide on the first drive. In a three-play stretch from the Raiders 1, he missed Jonnu Smith in the end zone, threw high to Nelson Agholor on the goal line allowing a pass-breakup and didn’t check to see if his offense was set before going quick-snap for a would-be QB sneak touchdown. He overshot Meyers running open down the seam. And he laid down like a fawn in a pasture when the Patriots – too scared to let him throw on a third-and-10 with 3:04 remaining – called for a bootleg run.
There were plays to be made. Jones failed to make them.
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"We just have to do a better job," Belichick said of Jones’ performance. "We’ve thrown the ball well. In other games our completion percentage has been different than that. That’s not the standard, but just in general, we just have to do a better job.”
Belichick rejected diplomacy when asked why he didn’t just throw a Hail Mary on the final play of regulation saying Jones "can’t throw it that far." In reality, Jones absolutely can throw it 60 yards (the ball was at the New England 45). And even if it’s caught at the 5, we’ve all seen rare instances where a receiver staggers in. More likely, the Patriots didn’t see the risk-reward benefit. Instead of saying something like that, Belichick fingered arm strength as the issue. And it was an issue earlier in the game as well as Jones’ average arm lacked the velocity needed on a couple of sideline throws in the first half.
Belichick also defended the third-and-10 play call by Patricia that saw Jones give himself up.
"Yeah, I think we definitely had a chance to convert it," he said. "It’s a situational play that they’re playing for the run, kept the clock running, forced another timeout or keep the clock running, however you want to look at it. [Maxx] Crosby made a good play and they reacted to it. Throwing the ball on third-and-10 or run another running play, those are your options."
Maybe it’s a coincidence Belichick was more pointed in his blame-laying after Jones’ histrionics last week. But I doubt it. For a man practically raised at the Naval Academy, Jones’ flipping out on his bosses had to offend Belichick’s sensibilities. And after spending the week fielding questions on whether he was cool with it, Belichick called out mistakes in -- for him -- a more direct way than usual. He always gives himself cover by saying, "all of us …" and "coaches too…" but this loss wasn’t on the game plan or the preparation and he made that clear.
A sampling from the postgame:
Q: On the final play: “I would say we made a mistake on that play. The play didn’t work. We made a mistake on the play."
On the blocked punt: "It’s another mistake on the play.”
On the lateral: “We've talked about situational football. We talk about it every week. Obviously, we got to do a better job playing situational football and not making critical mistakes in the game."
On the delay-of-game penalties and getting plays in on time: “We need to try to eliminate all the mistakes we made. All of us."
On Smith’s false start: "It was obviously a mistake on that play too."
Interestingly, the late timeout Belichick called on a red-zone play that wiped out a touchdown pass to Jakobi Meyers? Not a mistake.
"Yeah, we really didn’t have the play right," said Belichick. "The whistle blew before the play was run. We didn't have the play right, so I took a timeout so that we did it right."
The whistle didn’t blow before the play. Unless it was a whistle only Belichick heard which was inaudible to the players, who carried on without hesitation. A whistle isn’t heard on the telecast until the ball was actually settling into Meyers’ hands. It’s ironic to me that the plays the Patriots aren’t doing right are the ones that result in rare touchdowns.
But that matters little to the big picture the team's looking at right now. The football-watching world is chortling at Sunday’s finish in a game that NBC decided wasn’t fit for prime-time. Horrible as the Raiders are and insistent as they were on handing the Patriots the game, Josh McDaniels still beat Bill to run Belichick’s recent record against former players and assistants to 1-7. The Patriots are 1-3 since Thanksgiving and face a gauntlet to close the season.
Meanwhile, all the "buy-in" we’ve speculated players were reluctant to give this season? It sounded Sunday like Belichick was pulling back some of his buy-in on them -- Jones in particular. And, just as I understood when Jones finally flipped out, I understand it if Belichick is miffed.
You have to tell guys not to throw it backwards in a tie game to a spindly quarterback whose 55 yards from the goal line? You have to tell a first-round pick to check that everyone’s set before snapping the ball on the goal line? Or a highly-paid veteran tight end to get his posterior on the line? You have to tell guys to be ready to block at the end of the play clock on a punt even if the clock’s been (or about to be reset) because the snapper may blow at anytime?
Where do you go to lay the blame for such a monumentally disorganized team? How do you square that a franchise which lorded situational genius and football IQ over the NFL for years keeps stacking weeks of dumb decisions? How far gone are they?
Did the Patriots hit rock bottom in Vegas? Can it get worse? And what’s it mean if it actually does?