Patriots Mailbag: Why It’s Too Early To Give Up On Pats’ Season

Plus: A looming question for New England's receiving corps


Sep 30, 2022

In this week’s Patriots mailbag, we tackle the fallout from Mac Jones’ high ankle sprain, an important loss for New England’s defensive line, some looming questions at wide receiver and more.

Without further ado:

Why don’t they just play Zappe to see what they have? Worst case he stinks and just tank now that the season is over.
I’ll be very interested to see what happens if Brian Hoyer comes out this Sunday against the Green Bay Packers and delivers another mistake-riddled performance like the one he had when Cam Newton was sidelined in 2020.

In that game — a 26-10 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs — it took three quarters for the Patriots to bench Hoyer and hand the reins to Jarrett Stidham, who was in his second season at the time. If he struggles again, how long before they give rookie Bailey Zappe a look? Would one bad game be enough to get Hoyer demoted again? Two? More?

But all of this “season’s over, let’s tank for a high pick” talk I’ve seen on Twitter in the wake of Jones’ injury is a little premature. It’s Week 4. The Patriots have not looked good so far. Certainly not playoff-caliber. There’s no denying that. But even if they can’t pull off a major upset this Sunday at Lambeau Field and fall to 1-3 on the season, they follow that up with a string of winnable games:

vs. Detroit Lions (likely without running back D’Andre Swift)
at Cleveland Browns (with Jacoby Brissett at quarterback)
vs. Chicago Bears
at New York Jets
vs. Indianapolis Colts
vs. New York Jets

Could the Patriots completely collapse with Hoyer — who’s lost his last 11 starts and hasn’t won one in six years — and/or Zappe filling in for Jones? Yep. This season could get ugly in a hurry. But it’s also not too difficult to envision them coming out of that stretch at or around .500. That would at least keep them in the mix in the AFC playoff picture.

The tail end of New England’s schedule looks punishingly difficult, so having a respectable record in late November might not amount to much. But it’s too early to write this season off before we even hit October.

(It’s also worth noting the Patriots haven’t officially ruled Jones out for Sunday — though it seems highly unlikely he’ll be healthy enough to suit up — and that Hoyer should be more prepared for this game than he was as a last-minute Newton fill-in.)

what is the Patriots key to victory against the Packers this week?
On Thursday, I laid out a four-point plan for a Hoyer-led Patriots team to pull an upset over the Packers, who were pegged as 9.5-point favorites as of Thursday night. Point No. 1: Hoyer absolutely must avoid the disastrous mental errors he committed in his most recent start.

Check out the full blueprint here:

Is Guy out for this week?
No official word yet, but at this point, it’s looking unlikely that Lawrence Guy will be able to play this weekend. He missed practice Wednesday and Thursday after leaving last week’s game with a shoulder injury.

That would be an unfamiliar situation for New England. Since Guy arrived in 2017, he’s played in 82 of a possible 84 regular-season games, starting 80 of them. The only games he missed came during the 2020 season, typically playing around or above 50% of the Patriots’ defensive snaps.

Guy’s effectiveness has waned in recent years, but you don’t want to be down a starting defensive tackle when you’re facing a rushing attack as potent as the Packers’. Bill Belichick this week called Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon “as good of a combination of backs as we’ve seen.”

Losing Guy could lead to larger roles for players like Carl Davis, who’s played just 47 defensive snaps through three games, and Daniel Ekuale, who returned from a two-game suspension last week. It could also lead to the first career activation for sixth-round rookie Sam Roberts, a healthy scratch in Weeks 1-3.

What happens when Thornton comes back? Humphrey can’t be out there still with either 2 of Bourne/ Thornton/ Parker on bench
For starters, we don’t know exactly when Tyquan Thornton will be back. He’s eligible to return from injured reserve next week, but we don’t know whether he’ll be healthy enough to do so. Depending on where he is in his recovery from a broken collarbone, it could be another few weeks before he’s able to get back on the field.

But once he is ready, yeah, it’s going to be very interesting to see how that situation shakes out.

Part of it will depend on how Thornton looks post-injury. The second-round rookie showed plenty of promise during training camp and the preseason, but he still was behind at least three of the Patriots’ veteran wideouts at the time of his injury, maybe four. He also will have been away from the practice field for at least six weeks during a pivotal period in his development. Patriots fans saw with N’Keal Harry — who also showed potential in his rookie summer — how detrimental a layoff like that can be.

Let’s say, though, that Thornton comes back and looks ready to immediately contribute. There probably isn’t room for him, Jakobi Meyers, DeVante Parker, Nelson Agholor, Lil’Jordan Humphrey and Kendrick Bourne in the Patriots’ receiver room. Do they boot out Humphrey, who has just one catch this season but whom Bill Belichick really likes as a run blocker? Do they trade Bourne, who’s produced every time he’s been on the field but ranks a distant ninth among Patriots skill players in snaps played.

Unless the Patriots want to treat this as a redshirt season for Thornton — which is a realistic possibility — something will have to give once he returns.

Day by day??

Day. By. Day.

Thumbnail photo via Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY Sports Images
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