The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Fire Matt Patricia?

Posted on | December 14, 2022 | 1 Comment

The New England Patriots beat the Arizona Cardinals on Monday Night Football, a victory that moves the Patriots into the 7th spot in the playoff scenario. At 7-6 with four games left to play, right now they’d be the third wild card in the AFC, thanks to their tiebreakers against the Jets and Chargers (both also 7-6). It’s been a rough season for New England fans, primarily because the Patriots offense has been a flaming dumpster fire of ineptitude and inconsistency. The blame for this has been focused largely on assistant coach Matt Patricia, whom head coach Bill Belichick assigned the duties of offensive play-caller, even though Patricia had no previous background that would qualify him for this job.

How bad has the offense been for New England this season? So bad that, last week, Boston sportswriter Greg Bedard was hearing from his sources that Belichick’s job could be on the line in the Monday game — beat the Cardinals, or else it’s retirement time. The good news is, the Patriots won. The bad news is, the offense still sucks. And while the fans and sports talk-radio personalities in the football-crazed Boston market have mainly pointed the finger of blame at Patricia, many of them have also noticed that the responsibility ultimately rests on Belichick’s shoulders. It was Belichick’s choice, after longtime Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels left to take the head coaching job with the Raiders, to hire Patricia, a former assistant for New England who failed as head coach during a three-season stint with the Detroit Lions. So if Patricia can’t get the job done running the offense, it’s Bill’s fault for hiring him.

Despite Monday’s victory, the heat is still on. To make it to the playoffs, the Patriots will have to win at least two, and probably three, of their remaining four games — Sunday on the road against the Raiders, Christmas Eve at home against the Cincinnati Bengals (9-4 and the defending AFC champions), New Year’s Day at home against the Miami Dolphins (8-5), and Jan. 8 in Buffalo against the 10-3 AFC East-leading Bills. They’re facing Murderer’s Row, really. In their last four games against the Dolphins, the Patriots are 0-4. In their last six games against the Bills, the Patriots are 1-5. So even if New England can survive against the Raiders and pull some kind of miracle upset against the Bengals, they’ll still be facing an uphill battle in their two final games against AFC East rivals. And have I mentioned their offense sucks?

New England’s rudimentary offense has been a chore to watch all season and the regression of sophomore quarterback Mac Jones is concerning. We recently said Bill Belichick’s experiment with Patricia as a play-caller has been a predictable failure, and it’s a take shared by many who cover the Patriots.
But the criticism has ramped up in recent weeks with the Patriots’ teetering on the edge of playoff contention. Fueled by in- and post-game outbursts by players — and comments from the likes of Cardinals defensive coordinator Vance Joseph — the calls for Patricia to lose his job never have been louder. And Monday night’s 27-13 road win over the Arizona Cardinals likely won’t change anything.

Exactly. Mac was the best rookie QB in the league last season, and he’s shown occasional flashes of excellence this year, despite missing three games with an ankle injury, but overall the Patriots offense has had a distinct fragrance of manure, to put it as politely as possible.

Monday night’s game illustrated the problem pretty well, If you just look at the statistics, Mac had a pretty good game — completing 24 of 35 passes (69%), marred by just one interception that wasn’t his fault (his arm got hit by a Cardinals defender while he was throwing) — and he made a few excellent throws, twice hitting tight end Hunter Henry on seam route for big gains, and overall made 13 first downs passing. But it was the defense that really won the game for New England, recording six sacks and adding an interception and a “scoop-and-score” fumble recovery for a touchdown. On the offensive side, the play-calling was . . . well, here’s Evan Lazar’s take:

It’s a work-in-progress, to put it charitably. Because of problems with their offensive line, New England has to do something to keep Mac from getting buried by blitzers, and part of the answer that Patricia has apparently found is to run a lot of screen passes. So if the opponents get too aggressive in rushing the passer, the screen pass takes advantage of that aggressiveness. And while these plays gained an average less than five yards per attempt Monday, they helped keep the Cardinals defense off-balance. And future Patriots opponents, watching the film of this game, will have to take this into account, so it may yield dividends going forward. But it’s WEEK FOURTEEN, people! Your offense shouldn’t be operating at a training-camp level this late in the season.

Oh, the agonies of being an NFL fan! Your team’s in playoff contention, and you find yourself not only rooting for your team to win, but also cheering for their potential rivals to lose. Like, it’s important to me this coming Sunday that the Lions beat the Jets and the Titans beat the Chargers. But then there are other games — Dolphins vs. Bills and Browns vs. Ravens — where I’m not certain which outcome would help the Patriots more. The main thing, of course, is that the Patriots beat the Raiders. Just win this one game, and then New England will be 8-6 with three games to go. And even if you say there’s a near-zero chance that the Patriots will win any of those last three games, miracles still happen in the NFL, and it’s at least theoretically possible that New England could win them all, to finish 11-6. For that matter, the Bills might lose all four of their remaining games, to finish 10-7, so that the Patriots still have a shot at the AFC East title — in theory, at least: “Never say never.”

Speaking of miracles, have you heard about Marcus Jones? A diminutive 5-foot-8 defensive back, Jones was drafted in the third round by the Patriots this year and was mainly expected to play on special teams his rookie season, but then the defense suffered some injuries, and the offense needed some help, too, so Marcus (to distinguish him from the three other players named Jones on the New England roster) has become dang-near the proverbial “60-Minute Man.” On defense, Marcus was in for 67 plays (89% of defensive snaps), recording seven solo tackles, two pass break-ups and an interception, and he also appeared on offense as a receiver for eight plays (14% of offensive snaps), catching one pass for 12 yards, not to mention special teams, where he returned two kickoffs and a punt for a combined 54 yards. The rookie made NFL history:

There are glimmers of light amid the pervading gloom. Even if the offense sucks, there is still room to hope. Just beat the Raiders.

And yeah, of course, eventually, fire Matt Patricia.



One Response to “Fire Matt Patricia?”

  1. People Never Ask Me for Advice : The Other McCain
    December 21st, 2022 @ 8:03 am

    […] of what Patriots owner Robert Kraft should do — i.e., give Bill Belichick an ultimatum to get rid of Matt Patricia, who is hated by New England fans like God hates sin — until finally I interrupted: […]