The Patriots had no business taking the Packers to overtime Sunday at Lambeau Field.
New England entered the Week 4 matchup as 9.5-point underdogs, with longtime backup Brian Hoyer at quarterback in place of injured starter Mac Jones, and quickly needed to call upon fourth-round rookie Bailey Zappe after Hoyer went down with a head injury on the Patriots’ second offensive series.
To say the deck was stacked against Bill Belichick and company, with an all-time great QB and an immensely talented Green Bay defense on the other side, would be an understatement. And yet the Patriots pushed the Packers to the limit, losing 27-24 only after Aaron Rodgers drove Green Bay down the field for a game-winning field goal by Mason Crosby as time expired in OT.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve been as proud of a group as I am tonight,” Patriots special teams captain Matthew Slater told reporters after the game. “Just to go out there with everything that was going on in the game, all the odds stacked against us, to come out and compete. Says a lot.”
The optimism is warranted, no doubt. Zappe held his own in his first taste of the NFL, the Patriots received major contributions from their young players and New England is about to embark upon a stretch of winnable games — with the Detroit Lions, Cleveland Browns, Chicago Bears, New York Jets and Indianapolis Colts on the schedule between now and Thanksgiving — feeling good about its progress despite sitting at 1-3.
“Just telling us to keep our heads up,” Patriots wide receiver Kendrick Bourne told reporters Sunday of Belichick’s postgame message. “We fought well and competed well. I think that’s a moral victory. We didn’t just get blown out. We didn’t just give up. We fought to the end. That’s a good team over there. ? We just gotta keep our heads up and keep working.
“You want to win every game, but sometimes it’s good to lose,” he added. “You get to learn where you need to improve. You get to learn a lot about your team. Who’s like what. It’s all good when you’re winning every game, but when you go through adversity — and it’s still early. We’re playing quarters. This is the end of the first quarter of the season. So I think we just learned a lot about ourselves. Everybody’s just finding that role, man, and trying to excel in that role. So it’s just all about growing.”
Now, ready for some pessimism?
The rah-rah mindset is nice and all. And maybe we’ll look back on Sunday’s losing effort in Green Bay as a galvanizing, momentum-shifting moment in New England’s season. But if that’s the prevailing bigger-picture thought inside the Patriots’ locker room, allow us to zoom out even further.
Talk of “moral victories” would’ve been met with laughter in this region a few short years ago. That we’re suddenly searching for silver linings — even against a legitimate Super Bowl contender — speaks to the rough reality facing the Patriots: They are an OK, run-of-the-mill, second- or third-tier team in need of a massive talent influx to recapture their previous aura and reestablish themselves as a preeminent franchise.
“There ain’t no moral victories,” Patriots linebacker Matthew Judon said after Sunday’s defeat, per The Athletic. “We want to win. The only good comes with a W.”
Judon wasn’t alone in preaching the importance of tangible wins, relative to moral victories, with center David Andrews adding “no participation trophies” and safety Devin McCourty making clear it’s a “win-loss league.” Even Slater emphasized the need to build upon Sunday’s effort for it to truly be a positive in the grand scheme of the 2022 season and beyond.
“I don’t get too big on moral victories,” Slater said. “Maybe for my son playing peewee soccer, but that’s about it. I think we have to be encouraged by this. I think we have to try to find a way to build upon it, and eventually we need to get the results that we want, which are wins. And hopefully we can do this.”
Should we overlook the good from the Patriots’ performance Sunday? Of course not. But let’s not throw a parade, either.
Actual wins used to be all that mattered. And even then, we’d nitpick certain aspects of each New England beatdown. Clinging to positives, in a sea full of negatives, just speaks to how far the Patriots have fallen in the NFL landscape.