The Other McCain

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

‘The Patriot Way’ Has Turned Toxic

Posted on | December 7, 2023 | Comments Off on ‘The Patriot Way’ Has Turned Toxic

Tonight, the New England Patriots play in prime time against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and bid fair to set an unwelcome NFL record:

The betting over/under total on the “Thursday Night Football” game between the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers is testing a 30-year low, and weather isn’t even a factor.
The total on the Patriots-Steelers game dipped to 29.5 earlier this week at ESPN BET before settling at a consensus 30 at sportsbooks as of Thursday morning. That would be the lowest over/under since a 2006 divisional playoff game between the Carolina Panthers and Chicago Bears (30).
There hasn’t been a total under 30 since Dec. 26, 1993, when frigid temperatures contributed to three games having sub-30 totals. That Sunday featured the lowest total on a game in ESPN Stats & Information’s database: 28 on Colts at Patriots in New England, where temperatures were in the low 20s with 23 mph winds. The Patriots won that game 38-0.
Temperatures on Thursday in Pittsburgh are expected to be in the 40s with light winds.
The Steelers will start backup Mitch Trubisky at quarterback against the Patriots’ stingy defense because of Kenny Pickett being out with a high ankle sprain, while New England has scored seven points or fewer in three straight games. Bailey Zappe took over as the starting quarterback for Sunday’s 6-0 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.
The Patriots-Steelers total was attracting more betting interest than usual at sportsbooks, the bulk of it on the under.

The Patriots could make the record books (not in a good way):

The New England Patriots made history in their loss to the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 13, but for all the wrong reasons. They are now the first team in the NFL’s Super Bowl era to go winless through a three-game stretch in which they surrendered no more than 10 points in each contest, according to Boston Sports Info.
After losing 10-6 to the Indianapolis Colts and 10-7 to the New York Giants, the Patriots were shut out by the Chargers 6-0 on Sunday. No squad in the 58 years since the first Super Bowl has managed to accomplish a feat like that.
In fact, you have to go all the way back to the 1938 Chicago Cardinals — the team that later relocated to St. Louis and is now playing in Arizona — to find a similar streak of offensive ineptitude. Those Cardinals lost four games in a row in a similar manner, dropping those matchups 10-0, 7-0, 6-0, and finally 7-3.

The other day, Wombat asked why I haven’t written about football since September, and the simple answer is: Depression.

Any fan of a team as bad as this would be depressed by New England’s bleak and hopeless season, but I have special reasons to be glum, as I explained back in September:

Football is a team sport, but I became a New England Patriots fan in 2021 because of one player. When the Patriots drafted Alabama quarterback Mac Jones, they also acquired me as a fan: Roll Tide.
Jones had led the Crimson Tide to an undefeated season and the National Championship after spending three years on the bench behind Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa, stepping in after Tua suffered a season-ending injury late in 2019. . . . Mac led the Patriots to the playoffs as a rookie, finished second in Rookie of the Year voting, and seemed destined for future greatness.

To explain what went wrong — well, there is an army of sports writers in Boston trying to explain it, and their explanations don’t satisfy me. Don’t even mention the name “Bill Belichick” to my brother Kirby, who has developed an implacable hatred of the Patriots coach. Kirby’s basic analysis of what’s gone wrong in New England is simple: Belichick has become a dictator and, like other totalitarian leaders, has surrounded himself with “yes men.” Furthermore, Kirby finds fault with Belichick’s approach to roster-building, an approach that Kirby summed up in a memorable phrase: “Gucci defense, Dollar General offense.”

None of these genius sports writers in Boston know as much about football as my brother, or they’d have figured this out themselves. Before examining in detail the evidence in support of Kirby’s analysis, however, let’s first address the elephant in the room:

The New England Patriots are noted for the following characteristics under Belichick’s tenure, dubbed as the “Patriot Way”:

• Their self-critical, perfectionist, and militaristic approach;
• Their emphasis on team, equality among players and lack of individual ego;
• Their strong work ethic, intelligence and high level of focus and preparation for each individual game;
• Their versatile players, able to play multiple positions; and
• Their multiple schemes intended to take advantage of their opponent’s weaknesses.

Since 2000, the philosophy in making personnel decisions and in game planning has focused on the “team” concept, stressing preparation, strong work ethic, versatility, and lack of individual ego.

Is there anything wrong with that? Not really. I’m all in favor of a “militaristic approach” to football, and nothing else in this description of “The Patriot Way” really bothers me. The problem is that Belichick’s philosophy is insufficient explanation of New England’s “dynasty” with Tom Brady at quarterback. In the era of the NFL salary cap, Brady’s willingness to be underpaid — his salary was always less than his value to the Patriots — was crucial to their ability to remain competitive. This was how “emphasis on team, equality among players and lack of individual ego” manifested itself so powerfully during New England’s glory years, when they played in 10 Super Bowls and won six of them.

Unfortunately, this success led Belichick to think he’d hit upon some kind of magic formula that could produce victory without regard to personnel and — this is the real killer — subsequent years have demonstrated that Bill Belichick is a very poor judge of personnel, particularly on offense.

Andrew Callahan makes a key point about this:

Do you know the last college receiver the Patriots selected who became a multi-year NFL starter?
That would be Deion Branch in 2002. That’s right.
It’s been more than 20 years since Belichick drafted and developed a true wideout. Tom Brady papered over that problem for two decades, as he did many dynasty-era deficiencies.

This is where Kirby’s phrase “Gucci defense, Dollar General offense” is most glaring: Every sports writer in Boston has bemoaned the lack of what they call a “true Number One” wide receiver and, as Callahan points out, it’s Belichick’s inability to find such a talent in the draft that has put the Patriots into such a deficit on offense. Because top wide receivers — speed demons whose downfield threat keeps the defense honest — are so valuable in the NFL, if you can’t get one in the draft, you’re going to have to bleed yourself dry to get one via trade or free agency. And when it comes to evaluating collegiate receivers, Bill Belichick sucks.

Here’s where the “dictator surrounded by cronies” factor boomerangs around to whack New England in the back of the skull. Not only is Belichick the head coach of the Patriots, he’s also the general manager. Everybody on the staff — assistant coaches, front office personnel, etc. — answers to Belichick, so that the scouts and other people assigned to evaluate draft prospects is handpicked by Belichick, who has the final say-so on all such matters. Belichick’s coaching specialty is defense; he was defensive coordinator under Bill Parcells with the New York Giants when they won two Super Bowls. When it comes to picking linebackers or cornerbacks, Belichick does just fine. Wide receivers? Not so much.

Infamously, in 2019, the Patriots spent their first-round pick on N’Keal Harry out of Arizona State. Harry was a complete bust, who’s never had more than 33 catches in a season; Harry was traded in 2022 for a seventh-round pick, and is nowadays a member of the practice squad for the Minnesota Vikings. Wasting a first-round pick on a total failure is made all the more painful by the fact that, four picks after the Patriots chose Harry, the San Francisco 49ers picked Deebo Samuel from South Carolina, who in 2021 caught 77 passes for 1,405 yards, and led the NFL in average yards per catch. If N’Keal Harry was an isolated incident — hey, anybody can make a mistake — that would be one thing, but as Callahan says, it’s been more than 20 years since the Patriots drafted a top wideout. “But what about Julian Edelman?” you say. Edelman was a one-off — a seventh-rounder from Kent State who, while lacking outstanding speed, was an excellent route-runner with great hands.

Something I forgot to mention: Belichick has two of his sons working as assistant coaches on defense. Steve Belichick is the play-caller and Brian Belichick coaches the safeties. Neither of them has ever worked for any other team but the Patriots, which raises the question whether any other team would hire them, or if their employment in New England is nothing but nepotism. Returning to the dictator motif, is it fair to say the Belichick boys are the Qusay and Uday Hussein of Foxborough?

You could ask my brother Kirby his opinion, but brace yourself for an expletive-filled rant whenever you say the word “Belichick” around him.

The bottom line is, the Patriots offense sucks, and the architect of this disastrous 2-10 season is evading responsibility because the Boston sports media have bought into a narrative that makes Mac Jones the scapegoat. Every one of them are now engaged in a delusional fantasy in which the Patriots draft a quarterback — Caleb Williams of USC, Drake Maye of North Carolina, Jayden Daniels of LSU — and instantly become competitive. The problem with that pipe dream? Mac Jones was (and, I would argue, still is) better than any of the QBs the Boston media are fantasizing about as New England’s coming savior.

Let’s just take Caleb Williams for example. In two seasons at USC, Williams has completed 599 of 888 passes (67.5%) for 7,870 yards (8.9 yards per passing attempt) with 72 TDs and 10 interceptions, winning 18 games and losing 8. In his final two seasons at Alabama — including three starts his junior year, after Tua Tagovailoa was injured — Mac Jones completed 408 of 543 passes (75.1%) for 6,003 yards (11.1 yards per passing attempt) with 55 TDs and 7 interceptions, winning 15 games and losing 1. His senior year, of course, Alabama was undefeated and won the National Championship, as Jones set NCAA records for completion percentage and passer rating. None of the would-be saviors about whom the Boston pundits are drooling have anything close to the pedigree that Jones brought to New England when he was drafted in 2021. Belichick and “The Patriot Way” have ruined Jones’s career, and if anyone in Boston thinks it’s going to get better with a new first-round draft pick at quarterback, they need to seek psychiatric help. Probably the Patriots will start Bailey Zappe the rest of the season, and if the Mac Jones era in New England is over, that’s the best thing that could happen for Mac Jones.

Fuck New England, fuck the Boston sports media, and fuck “The Patriot Way.” Kirby ain’t the only one who can cuss a blue streak, y’know.



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