The Patriots avoided a third consecutive blowout loss on Sunday. Victory, however, remained elusive.

The Las Vegas Raiders and their squadron of Patriots alums defeated New England 21-17 at Allegiant Stadium, dropping Bill Belichick’s squad to 1-5 on the season.

The last time the Patriots opened a season with five losses in their first six games? Way back in 1995. How many teams have reached the playoffs after such a start? Just four since the AFL-NFL merger.

Oh, and the Patriots now get to face the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins in back-to-back weeks. They showed some improvement on Sunday, but pulling themselves out of this hole will be monumentally difficult.

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Here are eight rapid-fire thoughts on the Week 7 result:

1. Offense shows life after halftime, but can’t close
After an ineffective first half that featured yet another awful Mac Jones interception — Tony Romo called it “horrendous” — the Patriots’ much-maligned offense finally found its groove. It marched 70 yards in 10 plays to open the second half with New England’s first touchdown since Week 3.

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Ezekiel Elliott provided 27 of those yards and the touchdown — his first as a Patriot — which he scored on a direct snap.

Rhamondre Stevenson kicked off the drive with a 15-yard carry before suffering head and ankle injuries that forced him to the sideline. Jones also had success on short passes to tight ends, with Mike Gesicki and Pharaoh Brown combining for three of the QB’s four completions on the drive.

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Elliott’s touchdown snapped a streak of 12 consecutive quarters without one for the Patriots, who went 40 drives and more than 197 minutes of game time without finding the end zone.

Stevenson punched in another short-yardage touchdown two drives later, but it took the Patriots 17 plays and 9:30 of game time to get there. That series featured one heart-stopping moment, as Jones fired a pass straight to linebacker Robert Spillane that somehow was caught by Ty Montgomery. The Patriots also benefited from a roughing the passer penalty on star edge rusher Maxx Crosby.

The Patriots got one final chance, regaining possession at their own 9-yard line with 2:23 remaining and needing a field goal to win. On second-and-12 after a holding penalty, Jones uncorked a perfect deep ball to DeVante Parker — one of his best passes of this frustrating season — and Parker dropped it.

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Moments later, Crosby shot past overmatched right tackle Vederian Lowe for a game-clinching safety.

2. Kendrick Bourne carries the passing attack
Jones leaned on his tight ends during the Patriots’ first touchdown drive. The rest of the game, he fed Bourne. The veteran wideout finished with 10 receptions on 11 targets for 89 yards, with seven of those catches coming on touchdown drive No. 2.

No other New England wideout caught more than one pass, with Parker and Tyquan Thornton combining for two on five targets for 13 yards.

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3. Malik unleashed? Not so much
The Patriots raised eyebrows during the lead-up to this game when they promoted intriguing rookie Malik Cunningham to the 53-man roster from the practice squad, then installed him as Jones’ primary backup, leapfrogging both Bailey Zappe and Will Grier.

Cunningham’s actual role Sunday, however, was minimal. He logged a handful of snaps, playing both QB and wideout, and touched the ball just twice: a first-quarter handoff to Stevenson and a fourth-down play that resulted in an immediate sack. His most notable contribution was lining up under center and then motioning out to receiver on Elliott’s direct-snap touchdown.

It seems unlikely that the Patriots would have been willing to hand the offense over to Cunningham, but he would have been their only option if Jones was injured or benched. Jones and Cunningham would’ve needed to suffer injuries for Zappe, the emergency third QB, to enter the game.

Jones attempted all 33 of the Patriots’ passes, completing 24 for 200 yards and no touchdowns with one interception.

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4. Revenge games for old friends
Former Patriots quarterback Brian Hoyer took over for an injured Jimmy Garoppolo at halftime and piloted the Raiders to victory over the team that released him in March. The 38-year-old journeyman was efficient in relief, going 6-for-10 for 102 yards, including a 48-yard bomb to rookie Tre Tucker.

Las Vegas’ lone touchdown came courtesy of another Patriots castoff: Jakobi Meyers, who caught five of his seven targets for 65 yards and a score in a characteristically efficient performance. Meyers had more receiving yards before halftime than his New England replacement, JuJu Smith-Schuster, recorded over the last three games. Smith-Schuster missed Sunday’s contest with a concussion.

5. More O-line woes
Right guard Mike Onwenu was in uniform Sunday but evidently unfit to play. So, the Patriots trotted out their fifth different starting offensive line in six games this season, with rookie Sidy Sow filling Onwenu’s usual spot between center David Andrews and Lowe.

Problems immediately arose. Lowe, who’s struggled all season, was flagged for a false start on the Patriots’ first snap. Left tackle Trent Brown was penalized for illegal man downfield one play later. New England’s second drive ended when left guard Atonio Mafi allowed a third-down sack to ex-Patriot Adam Butler.

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Sow jumped offsides on second-and-goal late in the game. One drive later, Mafi was whistled for holding. Then Lowe surrendered the safety that clinched the win for Vegas.

New week, same problems up front.

6. Jabrill Peppers lowers the boom
One of the few first-half highlights for the Patriots came courtesy of their hard-hitting veteran safety. Peppers pummeled star receiver Davante Adams late in the first quarter to create a Jahlani Tavai interception and snuff out a promising Raiders drive.

It was the Patriots’ first takeaway since Week 3 and just their third of the season. Las Vegas scored points on three of its other four first-half possessions — including a 16-play, eight-minute field goal drive to open the game — and led 13-3 at halftime.

The Raiders outgained the Patriots 348-259, but New England’s undermanned defense held up well in the red zone. Vegas scored just one touchdown in six trips inside the 20. The Patriots also limited Adams, one of the NFL’s best receivers, to two catches on five targets for 29 yards.

7. Another rookie goes down
Defensive end Keion White, whom Jerod Mayo said would need to play more and play well with Matthew Judon on injured reserve, left the game in the first quarter and did not return after taking a helmet-to-helmet hit from teammate Kyle Dugger. The Patriots announced White had a head injury and ruled him out before halftime.

With cornerback Christian Gonzalez (shoulder) and wide receiver Demario Douglas (concussion) both unavailable Sunday, New England was without its three most promising rookies for most of this game.

8. Injuries (cont.)
White’s injury was just the start. Stevenson missed a long stretch in the second half before returning. Cornerback Jonathan Jones suffered a knee injury and later returned. Tight end Hunter Henry (ankle) went down early in the fourth quarter. So did linebacker Josh Uche (foot).

Remember, this was a Patriots team that already was playing without Gonzalez, Douglas, Smith-Schuster, Matthew Judon, Cole Strange, Riley Reiff, Jack Jones and Marcus Jones, all of whom were inactive Sunday. It doesn’t excuse their struggles, but this roster has been decimated by injuries all season.

Featured image via Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports Images