EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The 2023 Patriots keep finding new and creative ways to lose football games:

Week 1: Kayshon Boutte forgets he’s not in college, can’t get both feet in on fourth down, and the Patriots lose to the Eagles 25-20.

Week 2: Mike Gesicki laterals the ball to Cole Strange, who comes up just short of a first down in the final minutes. Patriots lose to the Dolphins 24-17.

Week 4: Most lopsided loss of the Bill Belichick era, 38-3 to the Cowboys.

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Week 5: Second-most lopsided loss of the Belichick era, 34-0 to the Saints at home.

Week 6: DeVante Parker drops a well-placed Mac Jones deep ball, Maxx Crosby proceeds to drop Jones for a safety, and the Patriots lose 21-17 to the Raiders, who go on to fire their head coach two weeks later.

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Week 8: Garden-variety 31-17 road loss to the Dolphins, one week after upsetting the Bills.

Week 9: Pass that would have put the Patriots in field-goal range clangs off JuJu Smith-Schuster’s hands for a game-sealing interception. Patriots lose 20-17 to a Commanders team that had just traded away its two best defensive players.

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Week 10: Jones misses a wide-open Gesicki in the end zone and throws an unconscionable interception with less than five minutes remaining. Bailey Zappe comes in for the final two-minute drill and throws his own mind-numbing INT into triple coverage off a poorly executed fake spike. Patriots lose 10-6 in Germany to the Gardner Minshew-led Colts.

Week 12: Jones plays the first half. Zappe plays the second. They combine for no touchdowns and three picks, and Chad Ryland misses a 35-yard field goal in the final minutes. Patriots somehow lose 10-7 to Tommy DeVito and the Giants in a battle of two of the NFL’s absolute worst teams.

It’s jarring to see how far this franchise has fallen. And things could get even worse over the final six games, as four of those are against teams that currently are at or above .500.

Here are six thoughts on Sunday’s defeat:

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1. Honestly, this was the best outcome for the Patriots
As embarrassing as it was to lose to a 3-8 team led by a third-string rookie quarterback, a win Sunday would have been more detrimental to the long-term success of the franchise.

Beating the Giants would have made it extremely difficult for the Patriots to land a top-two pick in the 2024 NFL Draft — and, in turn, have a shot at drafting USC’s Caleb Williams or North Carolina’s Drake Maye, stud quarterback prospects who are projected to go 1-2. The loss greatly increased their chances of doing so.

ESPN Analytics now gives New England a 38% chance of picking first or second. Had it won, that probability would have dropped to 9%.

Obviously, that’s not a lock, and the Patriots enter Week 13 outside that range. As of Monday, they owned the No. 3 overall selection. But barring a surprise late-season surge, they’ll be in line to land a premier player at QB, wide receiver or offensive tackle — by far their three biggest positional needs.

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2. This game lived up to the hype
And not in a good way. This battle between two bottom-five teams featured more turnovers (four) than scoring plays (two touchdowns, one field goal). Bryce Baringer and Jamie Gillan combined for 14 punts. The Giants became only the second NFL team this season to win despite gaining 10 or fewer first downs (they finished with an even 10, including just two in the second half).

It was gross, ugly, borderline unwatchable football. Patriots fans have seen a lot of that this season.

3. What was Bill Belichick thinking with this QB plan?
Mac Jones and Bailey Zappe split first-team practice reps during the leadup to this game, and Belichick did not inform either quarterback (or the rest of the team) about who was starting until late in the week.

With that setup, neither QB received a full starter’s workload in practice, which likely contributed to New England’s overall offensive dysfunction on Sunday. Jones played the first half, Zappe replaced him at halftime, and neither was especially impressive.

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Belichick did not offer any legitimate explanations for why he handled the position the way he did, but here’s one theory: The Patriots couldn’t justify installing Zappe as QB1 at the start of the week based on how he’d performed up to that point, so they gave both players extended looks in practice with the hope that Zappe would show he deserved to replace the struggling Jones.

That didn’t happen — ESPN’s Mike Reiss reported before the game that Zappe threw multiple interceptions in one of the practices — so the Patriots stuck with Jones. After he endured one of the worst halves of his career (two interceptions, one fumble that New England recovered, one delay of game penalty), they turned things over to Zappe, who wasn’t much better.

Zappe steered the Patriots’ lone touchdown drive on his first series, but he later threw a critical interception that set up what proved to be New York’s game-winning field goal. He also relied almost exclusively on screens and quick passes. All nine of his completions were to targets within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage, and five were caught behind the line.

The second-year pro became just the second NFL QB this season to complete nine or more passes in a game and finish with fewer than 60 passing yards. Nothing he’s shown over the past four months has inspired confidence that he can be a viable starter for this New England team.

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But there’s no way the Patriots can continue to start Jones after benching him with two minutes remaining in one game and then yanking him at halftime of the next, especially when both of those games were one-score losses. They need to try something — anything — different this Sunday against the Los Angeles Chargers.

Unless they want to roll the dice with practice squadder Malik Cunningham, who reportedly hasn’t repped at QB in weeks, Zappe is their only other option. Belichick wouldn’t rule out signing a quarterback and inserting him into the starting lineup, but he said he “(doesn’t) really see that right now.”

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4. You’ve got to feel for the Patriots’ defense
The Patriots weren’t perfect defensively in this game. J.C. Jackson had a rough go against rookie wideout Jaylin Hyatt (five catches, 109 yards) in his first game back from suspension, and poor tackling remained a problem for the unit as a whole.

But for the second straight week, New England held its opponent to 10 points and still lost.

How rare is that? NFL teams are a combined 50-2 this season when allowing 10 or fewer points, with the Patriots taking the only two L’s in back-to-back games. Teams are 314-10 in such games over the last five seasons, playoffs included.

The Patriots now are 11 games into their season, and they’ve scored more than 20 points exactly once: the 29-25 upset of Buffalo in Week 7. They’ve scored 17 or fewer in four straight and nine of the last 10. They’ve been held to single digits four times, including each of their last two outings.

Want to know how many times New England failed to reach 10 points during the entire Tom Brady era? Ten, including two games Brady did not start and another he didn’t finish.

This trend clearly is frustrating New England’s defenders.

“We’ve gotta give up zero (points),” a resigned Adrian Phillips told the Boston Herald’s Andrew Callahan after the game.

Safety Jabrill Peppers, who had a sack and a fumble recovery in the loss, continued to say the right things but did so through gritted teeth. Asked how high the frustration level is for his unit, Peppers grimaced, paused for three seconds and replied: “Like I said, we’ve just got to make more plays on defense.”

5. Chad Ryland has been “not good enough”
That’s how Belichick described what New England has gotten from its rookie kicker, who now has missed 35-yard field goals in back-to-back games.

“This is two weeks in a row that we basically missed extra points,” Belichick said Monday on WEEI’s “The Greg Hill Show.” “It’s not good enough.”

Wanting to find a successor for the 39-year-old Nick Folk made sense, especially since Folk can’t kick off and showed signs of decline in 2022. But Ryland, whom the Patriots traded up to take in the fourth round of this year’s draft, has made just 66.7% of his field goals, second-worst among all qualified kickers.

Folk? He’s converted 95.7% of his field-goal attempts since New England traded him to Tennessee for a 2025 seventh-round pick before the season, tied for third-best in the league.

6. The run game was humming again
It helped that they were playing a Giants team that was without star defensive tackle Dexter Lawrence, but the Patriots ran the ball well for the second consecutive week.

Rhamondre Stevenson just missed his first 100-yard game of the season, finishing with 98 and a touchdown on 21 carries. Running mate Ezekiel Elliott carried nine times for 46 yards. The duo averaged 4.8 yards per attempt and accounted for 10 of New England’s 18 first downs.

The Patriots have found a successful formula on the ground despite not having a full-strength Trent Brown at left tackle. (Brown, who’s dealing with multiple injuries, came off the bench Sunday and rotated with Conor McDermott.)

Unfortunately for them, it’s hard to compete in the modern NFL without at least a respectable passing attack, and theirs is miles behind.

Featured image via Vincent Carchietta/USA TODAY Sports Images