With the new year on the horizon, here are the five biggest storylines that surrounded the 2020 team:
2019 SEASON ENDS PREMATURELY
Patriots fans should have known that something was amiss last season when the team participated in the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2009. The 2019 Patriots went 12-4 but finished 4-4 and couldn’t clinch a first-round bye with a Week 17 loss to the Miami Dolphins. They went on to lose to the Tennessee Titans in the wild-card round of the playoffs.
It’s easy to say now that the writing was on the wall for a downturn in 2020, but it wasn’t quite as obvious at the time.
TOM BRADY DEPARTS FOR BUCCANEERS
Here’s where things really started to turn. Even in early March, it seemed unlikely that Brady would really sign elsewhere in free agency. Then Brady announced he’d be leaving the Patriots on March 17 and officially confirmed he would sign with the Buccaneers on March 20.
Suddenly, an incredible 20-year run was over. Brady’s Buccaneers are 10-5, and the Patriots are 6-9 with one week left to go in the 2020 season.
CAM NEWTON SIGNS IN EARLY JULY
The Patriots initially planned to roll with Jarrett Stidham, Brian Hoyer and undrafted rookies Brian Lewerke and J’Mar Smith at quarterback until they signed Newton in early July. There was a brief quarterback battle in training camp before Newton was named a captain/starter in late August.
The experiment started out great with a win over the Miami Dolphins in Week 1 and an impressive passing performance Week 2 against the Seattle Seahawks, but Newton’s progress stalled after testing positive for COVID-19 prior to Week 4. Overall, Newton and the Patriots’ offense had a spotty season to put it mildly.
EIGHT PLAYERS OPT OUT OVER COVID-19 CONCERNS
It didn’t help the Patriots’ prospects this season when Dont’a Hightower, Patrick Chung, Marcus Cannon, Brandon Bolden, Matt LaCosse, Marqise Lee, Danny Vitale and Najee Toran opted out for the 2020 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Obviously, it’s unclear how much those players would have actually helped New England’s fortunes, but the Patriots’ defense certainly would have been better with Hightower and Chung in it, and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the team could have won one or two more games.
NO PLAYOFF BERTH FOR FIRST TIME SINCE 2008
The Patriots officially were eliminated from the playoffs after they lost to the Miami Dolphins in Week 15. The Patriots haven’t missed the postseason since 2008, when Matt Cassel started at quarterback for an injured Brady. The Patriots also are guaranteed to have a losing season for the first time since 2000, Bill Belichick’s first year as head coach.
The Patriots’ upcoming offseason is perhaps the most important in franchise history. We’ll see how they can turn things around quickly in a rebuild.