FOXBORO, Mass. — Shortly after the Patriots’ latest humbling loss to the division rival Buffalo Bills, Kendrick Bourne voiced his frustration over the current state of New England’s stagnant offense.
The Patriots’ offensive players need to perform better, the typically upbeat wideout said. The receivers need to pull down more contested catches. Quarterback Mac Jones needs to fit his passes into those tight windows. The offensive line needs to protect Jones better and give him the time he needs to throw.
Bourne directly calling out New England’s O-line raised eyebrows. It’s rare for a player to single out another position group for its poor performance. But not as rare as the comments that came later in his media session.
Speaking with reporters in front of his locker, Bourne blamed “scheme” for the Patriots’ ongoing struggles on third down — a direct shot at offensive play-caller Matt Patricia.
“We just need to scheme up better,” Bourne said after Thursday night’s 24-10 defeat at Gillette Stadium. “We need to know what they’re doing. We need to know what they want to do on third down, you know what I mean? We’re kind of sporadic. They call this and we call that and it falls into what they want. We need to have it where they’re falling into what we want. That’s not my job. It’s my job to just run the call.
“But as we all could see, they had, what, 30 first downs? And we only had eight. So something they were doing against us was working, and something we were doing against them wasn’t working. It’s just about figuring it out each week. We’ve still got life, but we need to hurry up and figure it out.”
The Patriots went 3-for-12 on third down against Buffalo, with two of those conversions coming on their final possession. That came on the heels of a 3-for-10 showing last week in Minnesota that helped derailed an otherwise encouraging offensive showing against the Vikings. Entering Thursday night, New England ranked 25th in the NFL in third-down conversion percentage, repeatedly sputtering in gotta-have-it situations.
The Patriots have regressed, often sharply, in nearly every offensive category this season under Patricia, the de facto replacement for longtime coordinator Josh McDaniels who is calling offensive plays for the first time.
Bourne also said the Patriots should have been more aggressive early in the second half. Their lone third-quarter drive opened with four positive running plays, followed by a run that was blown up in the backfield, a near-interception by Jones, a short completion to wide receiver Jakobi Meyers and a punt on fourth-and-9 from the Buffalo 44.
“That’s funny how we were able to move it the last drive,” Bourne said, referring to the 17-play, 60-yard series in the fourth quarter that produced a garbage-time field goal. “I was just saying, like, ‘Man, we need to do that the whole time.’ I don’t know. That’s frustrating. We need to be urgent, for sure. Especially after the half, I feel like we should have been more attacking. But I’ve just got to play.”
He added: “We can attack more, I think. I mean, it’s not my job, so it’s really just me playing the play that’s called.”
The Bills boast one of the NFL’s top defenses, but they were playing without star pass rusher Von Miller and starting safety Micah Hyde and had looked vulnerable in recent weeks. Bourne said the Patriots should have been able to capitalize on those absences. Instead, they scored just one offensive touchdown — a 48-yarder off a screen pass to rookie cornerback Marcus Jones — and did not run a play in Buffalo’s red zone until there were less than four minutes remaining in the game.
“Honestly, compared to last year, they’re a different team,” Bourne said. “No Von Miller, we’ve got to take advantage of that. No Micah Hyde. Things like that. We’ve just got to take advantage of those things. They’re playing a different scheme. They’re more soft in what they’re doing, so they’re more conservative, and we’ve got to take advantage and not just have 5-yard throws and moving slow. We’ve got to be able to attack and put pressure on the defense.”
Multiple times, Bourne mentioned the important “balance” between players and coaches.
“We’ve got to make the plays,” Bourne said. “We’ve got to make the bigger plays as players. We’ve got to make the tough catches, things like that. We’re not getting wide open, so we’ve got to make the tough catches, we’ve got to make the tight throws and have more plays like Marcus had — using our ability more just to help the coaches out. It’s a balance.”
Later, after being asked whether the Patriots are receiving the coaching they need, he added:
“Coaches can only do so much, so we’ve got to make the plays. We’ve got to get open. We’ve got to give Mac time. It’s a whole balance. It’s not just coaches; it’s everyone. It’s just frustrating, bro. As players, we all want to contribute. We all want to make plays. We all want to do good. But it’s just hard when there’s no rhythm or nothing like that.”
The Patriots have scored one or zero offensive touchdowns in four of their last five games. They’re still in the AFC playoff mix at 6-6 but have yet to beat a playoff-caliber opponent outside of the Zach Wilson-led New York Jets.