The Patriots have been buried a bajillion times since their dynasty window opened up back in 2001. Bill Belichick famously repeating "we're on to Cincinnati" in 2014 came after a Week 4 blowout loss to the Chiefs that dropped the Pats to 2-2 amid a whole host of obituaries being written about Belichick and his aging (37) quarterback Tom Brady. They'd go on to finish 12-4 and win the Super Bowl.
Doubting the Pats and quickly looking stupid was a routine aspect of their dynasty. After watching the Patriots get utterly dismantled by an average Saints team to the tune of 34-0 -- the worst home loss in the history of the Patriots franchise -- there are way more questions than answers for Belichick. And not doubting the Pats, now 1-4 after back-to-back 30-point losses for the first time since 1970, feels like an impossible leap of faith. Belichick lost by 30 once in his first 453 games as an NFL head coach and he's had it happen twice in the last two weeks.
This loss to the Saints wasn't just a bad loss or a bump in the road. It feels like something more coming on the heels of a 38-3 bloodbath in Dallas against the Cowboys last week. It was the second-largest loss of Belichick's career, with the worst loss coming the week before. The Pats have been outscored 72-3 the last two weeks, each of which featured a healthy dose of Bailey Zappe, because things were so out of control in each game.
Mac Jones isn't being benched and Belichick even went so far as to say there are other issues the Patriots are dealing with.
"Yeah, there are a lot of problems," Belichick said when asked if Mac was still the starter moving forward. "Certainly wasn't all him."
He's not wrong! The Pats finished with 156 total yards (3.1 per play) and averaged 2.5 rush yards per attempt. This isn't a high-octane, pass-first offense. If the Pats can't run the football, it's difficult finding a path for them to win. New England doesn't have much in terms of pass-game weaponry, so any kind of decent deficit basically puts the game away.
Mac starts pressing and mistakes happen. He's thrown four pick-sixes at home now, including one on Sunday, which is the same number Brady threw at Gillette Stadium ... in his entire career.
Let's not pretend the Saints offense was prolific in this game either. Derek Carr threw a pair of touchdowns but he failed to top 185 pass yards for the third straight start. The Saints ran the ball OK, banged down a bunch of field goals and basically leaned into the fact the defense was going to outscore the opponent. This was the first time since Week 7 of last year the Saints topped 30 points.
Anything can happen on a Sunday afternoon in the NFL, but the Patriots are staring down the barrel of a lost season with a road trip to Vegas next week followed by matchups against explosive divisional rivals in the Bills and Dolphins on back-to-back weeks.
We'll see what happens with the Raiders, but they're not a pushover and Josh McDaniels should be just as desperate as his mentor for a win in Week 6. But lose that game and both Buffalo and Miami will absolutely smell a chance to formally snuff out the Pats' 2023 season over the next two weeks.
All of which might lead to a bigger question: what does the future hold for Belichick in New England? Using the phrase "hot seat" with Belichick -- easily the greatest coach in the history of football -- isn't something anyone should take lightly. But with the Patriots continuing to struggle, and actually get worse, in the post-Brady era, would Belichick and owner Robert Kraft consider some kind of "mutual decision" before things get worse? Belichick is bearing down on Don Shula's record for most wins all time by a coach. And clearly everyone involved wants it to happen.
There's almost no way the Patriots keep getting bludgeoned and are unable to find any semblance of offensive production moving forward. Almost no way. But if it does, things might get extremely awkward in Foxborough.
Lions look legitimate
Detroit closed as a 10-point home favorite against a winless Panthers team that is struggling across the board right now, so I don't want to put too much into the Lions victory on Sunday. Declaring them "legitimate" based on beating Carolina would be silly. How they beat Carolina is much more interesting to me.
The box score really doesn't do this beatdown justice: 14 of the Panthers 24 points came in the fourth quarter amid mostly garbage time after the Lions extended their lead to 35-10 (they would eventually win 42-24).
Jared Goff was outstanding, going 20-for-28 for 236 yards and three touchdowns, while adding another rushing touchdown on a goal-line sneak. Sam LaPorta, who has been coming on like gangbusters the last few weeks, caught a pair of touchdowns. He's a sneaky OROY candidate right now. Amon-Ra St. Brown wasn't even active for this massacre, but it didn't matter, with Josh Reynolds stepping up in his spot. David Montgomery continues to be an impressive revelation in this rushing offense, rumbling for 109 yards on 19 carries with Jahmyr Gibbs inactive.
Defensively, the Lions put the clamps on the Panthers anemic offense early and didn't even consider letting up until the game was completely out of hand. Aiden Hutchinson is really shaping up to be an all-time "really overthought that one because you hate Jim Harbaugh" situation for Jags GM Trent Baalke.
This is back-to-back weeks where the Lions have slaughtered an inferior opponent. That's a strong mark of a great team. The Lions are CLEARLY the class of the NFC North at this point and have a formula built in Dan Campbell's likeness, with their biggest strengths coming in the trenches. Two straight road games are on deck for Detroit (Tampa Bay and Baltimore, respectively) and those are never easy in the NFL, but there isn't a reason to think the Lions can't win both or even go 1-1 to keep their stranglehold on the division.
Put on a different uniform -- because of the Lions lengthy history of being terrible -- and you could envision this team representing the NFC in Vegas come February.
AFC South Shakeout
I was eying the southernmost American Football Conference division heavily during the early slate of games, especially after my bold prediction last week that we might see multiple AFC South teams in the postseason. I still stand by it, although it may be tougher as a result of some of Sunday's action.
The Jaguars bolstered their case as a playoff squad by beating the Bills on Sunday in London at Tottenham. Buffalo's travel schedule is certainly worth scrutinizing, but the Jags defense did its job on Sunday morning, particularly in the first half, by holding the Bills to just a single score before the break. Locking down Josh Allen for just 20 points is a strong effort, but the Jags created multiple turnovers and sacked Allen five times, an impressive number for someone as strong and fast as Allen. Trevor Lawrence threw the ball really well, especially considering he dealt with some kind of calf injury in the second half, and used his legs in very efficient fashion. Calvin Ridley was dominant, particularly on third down. Travis Etienne played so well he apparently beat himself in fantasy.
I played against myself in fantasy fb today 😭— Travis Etienne Jr⁶𓅓 (@swaggy_t1) October 8, 2023
The Jags managed to go 2-0 over in London and look like they righted the ship nicely after an extremely sus start to the season. Next up is a matchup against the Colts which looks like it might not feature Anthony Richardson.
That's because the Colts rookie quarterback got hurt again. While executing a designed run, again. This is the third time so far this year, with two of the injuries coming to his shoulder and one in the form of a concussion. Three different injuries, three different games, three designed runs ... and we're five weeks into his career. Gardner Minshew, who helped to orchestrate a win over the Titans that moved Indy to 3-2. You know the Colts feel they can win if they're handing out huge contracts to Jonathan Taylor after four weeks on the PUP. But the contract looks a little questionable when Zach Moss dominates the Titans on the ground, carrying the ball 23 times for 165 rushing yards. If the Colts are back as a dominant run team a division and/or playoff run isn't off the table at all.and consider this a full-blown red flag for Richardson's long-term viability in the NFL. He's an athletic freak who looks like he could become a dynamic, versatile weapon ... if he can stay healthy. Yes, it's a small sample size, but it's a LOT of injuries inside that sample size, especially when it's in an offense that asks him to run aggressively. The good news for Indy is they have
The Titans are endlessly frustrating. Now 2-3, they've basically gone as Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry have gone. They slaughtered the Bengals last week, got slaughtered by the Browns the week before and split a pair of one-score games prior to that. Mike Vrabel's one of the best coaches in the NFL and I think he'll keep this team competitive on a week-to-week basis, but the Titans have to figure out ways to steal some of these one-score games if they want to stay in the AFC mix. One thing to note: DeAndre Hopkins really flashed on Sunday for the first real time as a Titan.
The Texans nearly got themselves to 3-1 as well on Sunday, but the Falcons and Desmond Ridder managed to sneak out yet another home win as a small favorite, beating Houston 21-19 on a last-second field goal. No one wants to lose one-score games and moral victories are for losers, but the Texans have to feel good about where they are as a team. Week 1 against Baltimore feels like an aberration. C.J. Stroud continues to add to his record for most pass attempts without an interception to start a career.