FOXBORO, Mass. — Rock bottom keeps getting lower for Bill Belichick’s Patriots.

New England suffered their seventh loss in nine tries on Sunday, falling to an eminently beatable (and borderline tanking) Washington Commanders squad 20-17 at Gillette Stadium.

At 2-7, the Patriots hold the worst record in the AFC for the second consecutive week. They sit five games below .500 for the first time since 2000, Belichick’s first year as head coach. And they’ll now need to deal with a funky week of international travel, as this Sunday’s matchup with the Indianapolis Colts will be played at Deutsche Bank Park in Frankfurt, Germany.

As the Patriots get their passports sorted and itineraries finalized, here are four takeaways from their latest ugly outing in Foxboro:

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1. The Patriots can’t even beat bad teams anymore
The Commanders aren’t complete pushovers, but they came into Sunday with a 3-5 record — just a game better than New England’s — and just traded away two of their best players in pass rushers Chase Young and Montez Sweat. They’re clearly not a team that’s prioritizing winning in the short term. It would be a surprise if head coach Ron Rivera was not fired after the season.

The Patriots, who opted not to sell off pieces ahead of last week’s NFL trade deadline, used to clean up against these kinds of opponents. Even in their post-Tom Brady malaise, they were able to beat untalented, injured and otherwise undermanned teams. We saw that as recently as last season. This should have been an ideal get-right situation, even if it was too late to make any real difference in terms of New England’s nonexistent playoff hopes.

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Now? You can’t feel confident in this Patriots group against any foe, even the string of non-contenders they’ll see over the final nine weeks. (Their next three opponents all are below .500.) Two of their last three losses were to a deadline seller and a team that canned its head coach less than a month later (Las Vegas).

It’s becoming increasingly clear that the Week 7 upset over Buffalo was an anomaly, not a sign of progress. And with no obvious fixes to their myriad problems, things could get even worse in the back half of the season.

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2. Things are looking bleak at wide receiver
Nine weeks in, no Patriots wideout has a 100-yard game this season. The only one to even crack 60 yards is Kendrick Bourne (three times), who tore his ACL last week and won’t play again until 2024.

With Bourne and DeVante Parker (concussion) both sidelined, here’s what New England got from that group against Washington:

Demario Douglas (53 snaps): seven targets, five catches, 55 yards
That stat line would’ve looked better if Douglas was able to haul in a 22-yard completion that was successfully challenged by the Commanders. The rookie slot receiver has been a clear bright spot this season and should be a foundational piece in this offense moving forward, but he’s not equipped to carry it yet.

JuJu Smith-Schuster (23 snaps): six targets, five catches, 51 yards
This was nearly a redemptive effort from the much-maligned free agent signing, who caught each of his first five targets and had a key fourth-down conversion on the final drive. But two plays later, Smith-Schuster had a pass bounce off his hands and straight to a Washington defender for an interception that iced the game. A catch there would have put the Patriots at least in range for a tying field goal.

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Jalen Reagor (49 snaps): six targets, one catch, 11 yards
Oof. Reagor saw a ton of playing time in this game, and outside of a great block on Rhamondre Stevenson’s 64-yard touchdown run, he didn’t provide much value. The recently promoted practice squadder let a well-placed Mac Jones deep ball slip through his gloves on a drive that ended in a Patriots punt.

Tyquan Thornton (12 snaps): four targets, one catch, 7 yards
Jones took the blame for missing an open Thornton on an early fourth down, but the 2022 second-round pick didn’t do much to impress after his healthy scratch last week. He lacked burst, ran sloppy routes and was exiled to the bench early in the game, playing zero snaps in the second half. It wasn’t clear whether any of that was injury-related, as Thornton was questionable with a foot ailment and appeared to be a game-time decision. Either way, he’s played three games this season and has just three total catches.

Kayshon Boutte: DNP
Even injuries to Bourne and Parker weren’t enough to get Boutte back in the lineup. The sixth-round rookie remained a healthy inactive despite having what Belichick called probably his best practice week of the season. The Patriots clearly aren’t high on Boutte, who made a few key mistakes in Week 1 and hasn’t played since. But he can’t be any worse than what they have out there.

Mike Gesicki (55 snaps): one target, no catches
We’ll include Gesicki here because Belichick referred to the tight end as New England’s “fifth receiver” after the game. He’s been largely invisible this season outside of his game-winning touchdown against the Bills, averaging less than two receptions per game.

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The Patriots could get Parker back this week, but he’s given them next to nothing this season, either. There wasn’t enough talent in this group even when Bourne was healthy. Without him, it’s downright barren.

No one can get open on a consistent basis — which Jones subtly acknowledged after the game — and two of the biggest plays of Sunday were drops by Patriots wideouts. New England can’t expect to field a decent offense unless this group receives a massive offseason makeover.

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3. The secondary suddenly is a mess
Just two weeks ago, the Patriots appeared to have successfully restocked their cornerback group. They missed stud rookie Christian Gonzalez, sure, but seemingly had found a solid setup with Jonathan Jones, J.C. Jackson, Jack Jones and Myles Bryant.

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Well, that group proceeded to get torn to shreds by Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle in Week 8, and two of its key members saw surprise role reductions on Sunday.

Jackson, a starter the previous three weeks, sat out the first two defensive series before resuming close to a normal workload. Jack Jones didn’t see the field until the fourth drive, then spent most of the second half on the sideline. Shaun Wade — a break-glass-in-case-of-emergency player throughout his Patriots career — made just his second NFL start after not playing a single defensive snap against Buffalo or Miami.

Neither Jackson nor Jack Jones addressed the media after the game, and Belichick wouldn’t explain their apparent early-game benchings, saying only that the Patriots “played everyone.” The Athletic’s Jeff Howe reported they were “due to recent performance issues.”

New England allowed six pass plays of 20-plus yards in the loss, with Commanders quarterback Sam Howell repeatedly finding open receivers while scrambling. A rash of missed tackles also contributed to this. The Patriots’ previous season high was five, set one week earlier against the Dolphins.

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Jahan Dotson beat Bryant for a 33-yard game-tying touchdown midway through the third quarter, and Washington never trailed again. The Commanders converted seven of their first 10 third downs and started 5-for-5 on third-and-7 or more before the defense got some stops late.

4. Special teams failed the Patriots
Remember when New England consistently dominated in the kicking game? When Belichick’s often-mocked emphasis on that area would pay real dividends on gameday? That hasn’t been the case in quite some time.

The Patriots’ special teams have been inconsistent at best and downright detrimental at worst over the past two seasons, and Sunday’s effort was one of their worst of 2023.

The punt return team alone was responsible for five negative plays in the fourth quarter alone: four penalties, including two by the typically reliable Brenden Schooler, and an ill-advised return by Douglas that lost yardage deep in New England territory.

Thanks to those errors, the Patriots’ offense had to start its final three possessions at its own 5-, 9- and 9-yard lines. They also were forced to burn their last two timeouts because linebacker Mack Wilson was flagged for offsides on a Commanders punt, giving Washington a free first down.

“Too sloppy,” special teams captain Matthew Slater said postgame. “… I know we want to make plays, but just too sloppy.”

Washington also ripped off a 37-yard return on the game’s opening kickoff, and Bryce Baringer sent a punt into the end zone for a touchback.

Featured image via Paul Rutherford/USA TODAY Sports Images