The Patriots should be losing, but does it have to be this bad?

Patriots

It’s disheartening to see how mindless the Patriots have become.

Bill Belichick
AP

  • Receivers let Mac Jones down on the biggest plays, and other final thoughts from Patriots-Commanders

  • J.C. Jackson, Jack Jones refuse to speak to media after apparent benching in Patriots’ loss to Commanders

Welcome to the Unconventional Review, an instant reaction to standouts, stats, and story lines from the Patriots’ most recent game . . .

It’s best for the Patriots’ long-term future to lose as much as possible from here on out. But do they have to be so exasperating while doing so?

The Patriots are devoid of top-notch talent, especially with Matthew Judon, Christian Gonzalez, and Kendrick Bourne lost to injury. We know this. That reality is easy enough to face. What’s hard to accept is that the Patriots make mental blunders compounding their physical failings over and over and over again.

A Mac Jones pass thuds off JuJu Smith-Schuster’s hands — while within game-tying field goal range — for a game-ending interception. Mack Wilson Sr. commits a silly offside penalty on fourth and 2, giving the Commanders a first down late in the fourth quarter. The special teams units come up with new and inventive mistakes each week.

The Patriots are nowhere near a good team. They’ve trailed by double digits in seven of nine games this season. They’re actually trying to win! Yet they will lose more often than not because of a talent discrepancy. It’s disheartening to see how mindless they have become.

Some further thoughts, upon immediate review . . .

THREE PLAYERS WHO WERE WORTH WATCHING

Players suggested in the Unconventional Preview: Christian Barmore, Demario Douglas, Terry McLaurin.

Rhamondre Stevenson: This has been a baffling season for Stevenson, a 1,000-yard rusher a year ago who seemed certain to continue emerging as one of the league’s best backs. He entered Sunday with just 302 yards, two touchdowns, and a Marion Butts-like 3.2-yard rushing average. He’s looked more like his ‘22 self lately, adding to the suspicion he was fighting through an injury earlier in the year. He finally broke loose, breaking off a 64-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, the Patriots’ second touchdown in a span of 3 minutes, 20 seconds of game clock. That gave the Patriots a 14-10 lead and seemed to signal that Stevenson – who hadn’t had 60 rushing yards in a game this season – was due for a big day. But another strange thing happened. The Patriots, devoid of weapons, still were — I don’t know, reluctant? Hesitant? — to use him. He ran hard — he had a particularly nifty move with just under two minutes left in the third quarter, when he dodged a Commanders lineman in the backfield and trucked safety Kamren Curl on a 7-yard gain. But he ran just nine times, finishing with 87 yards, while getting four more touches on receptions that totaled 42 yards. That usage makes no sense.

Ja’Whaun Bentley: The Patriots dressed seven players who played for the 2018 Super Bowl champs: David Andrews, Matthew Slater, Deatrich Wise Jr., Jonathan Jones, Lawrence Guy, Joe Cardona, and Bentley. Bentley played just three games that season, his first, before landing on injured reserve. But he is one of the few current Patriots whose consistent performances remind you of better times. Bentley, who has been dealing with a hamstring injury, was excellent, racking up 13 tackles (10 solo) and sacking Sam Howell twice in the fourth quarter, once on a third and 6 midway through the final period. Bentley is a tough, reliable player who knows his role and deserves better.

Terry McLaurin: The Commanders had enviable balance in their passing game, at least among their receivers. McLaurin had five catches for 73 yards and Jahan Dotson four for 69, including a 33-yard touchdown grab with 6:51 left in the third that tied the game at 17. McLaurin had a broader impact, making back-to-back catches for 26 and 36 yards on a late third-quarter drive that ended with the go-ahead field goal and the game’s final points. The fifth-year receiver also blocked Kyle Dugger out of the play on Brian Robinson’s first-quarter touchdown run. He seems like a player Bill Belichick would appreciate, and now I am obligated to mention yet again that he was drafted 44 picks after N’Keal Harry.

GRIEVANCE OF THE GAME

You mean a grievance beyond everything I’ve already complained about? All right, try this one on: Patriots receivers Tyquan Thornton and Jalen Reagor combined for two catches for 18 yards on 10 targets. I’m not as up to speed on NFL analytics as many, but I’m pretty sure a combined 1.8 yards per target is not good.

Reagor was bad, which does not deviate from the scouting report at his previous stops in Philadelphia and Minnesota. He dropped a beautiful deep ball by Jones in the final minute of the third quarter. I’d suspect he may be Nelson Agholor in disguise, but Agholor was better.

Thornton was worse. He was terrible. He didn’t fight for a first down on a third-and-10 catch early in the game, and on the ensuing fourth and 3, Jones’s pass in his direction fell in complete. Three straight early drives ended with incomplete passes aimed his way, and I’m not sure he saw the field after the 11-minute mark of the second quarter. He looks worse than lost. He looks hopeless. Hard to believe this is the player everyone was raving about during his early days in 2022 training camp.

THREE NOTES SCRIBBLED IN THE MARGINS

Predicted score: Patriots 20, Commanders 19

Final score: Commanders 20, Patriots 17

Davon Godchaux continued his unheralded strong season, finishing with nine tackles and recovering a Brian Robinson fumble in the second quarter after Jahlani Tavai – another on the brief list of Patriots worthy of more heralding — punched the ball loose . . . Jonathan Vilma’s performance on CBS’s broadcast was as mistake-prone as the Patriots’ passing game. Among his many transgressions: he said Stevenson was the best running back you’ve never heard of, circled the wrong player while highlighting Kyle Dugger’s interception, and, most annoyingly, blamed Mac Jones for Jartavius Martin’s late interception that ricocheted off JuJu Smith-Schuster’s hands … Neither Jack Jones nor J.C. Jackson started, and there was plenty of mystery as to why. I’m just going to assume they were being punished for making Rex Ryan feet jokes.


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