The New England Patriots were playing to win Monday night. That’s why Cam Newton started at quarterback. That’s why the starters began the night on the field. That’s why Bill Belichick was smashing innocent landline phones on the sideline after failed challenges.
They didn’t. And they were swept by a divisional foe for the first time since 2000 in their 38-9 Week 16 loss to the Buffalo Bills.
There’s a new beast in the AFC East, and it’s the Bills. For 19 seasons, it seemed like the Patriots never would lose their perch atop their division, but it was bound to happen one day. There’s a new king of the hill.
Here lies the Patriots’ AFC East dominance: 2001-2020. It was a good run.
So, what did we learn in the Patriots’ latest and worst defeat of the season?
— The Patriots honestly might have been lucky to even win six games this season. They seemingly tricked themselves into thinking they were a good team midway through the season when they were able to rip off wins against quality opponents. This roster never was built to win longterm, and the Patriots need to be overhauled at quarterback, wide receiver, tight end and in their front seven. We’ll see who sticks in the secondary as JC Jackson and Jason McCourty hit free agency and Stephon Gilmore needs a pay raise.
— Quarterback Cam Newton (5-10, 34 yards) has been unfairly maligned at times this season, but it was telling that the Patriots gave up on him and put in Jarrett Stidham (4-11, 44 yards) as early as the third quarter. Neither quarterback was good. Neither quarterback should probably be in the Patriots’ plans for 2021. New England’s weapons stink, and the defense isn’t doing the offense any major favors.
But to say the Patriots’ passing game this season has been anything better than mediocre would be an overstatement, and that starts with the quarterback. Newton fans were chirping when the QB ran in for his 12th touchdown of the season early in the second quarter. Yes, you have to add those 12 scores to his five passing touchdowns to paint a full picture of Newton’s performance this season. But in what world is 17 total touchdowns to 10 interceptions anything close to acceptable from a quarterback?
And clearly, there’s also a reason why Stidham never earned a start through the first 16 weeks of the season. The Patriots did, at one point, have high hopes for Stidham. It’s unclear when those died down, but there’s almost no chance that he’ll be the starter when the 2021 season begins. And Patriots fans will have every right to moan and complain if Newton or Stidham is heavily involved in the Patriots’ quarterback plans next season. They need to add a proven starter, take a quarterback high in the 2021 NFL Draft or both.
The Patriots are 6-9 on the season. They’ll finish with a losing record for the first time since 2000. It’s fitting that there are so many ties to that 2000 season, Belichick’s first as head coach. He had to rebuild the team then just like he does now. And it might not be as simple of a job as he had that first season.