In an alternate universe, the 2023 season for the New England Patriots doesn’t play out as bad or as embarrassing as it has in reality.

Sure, the Patriots might not have been anywhere near Super Bowl contenders, but it’s not far-fetched to think New England could have accomplished what it has done ever since Tom Brady departed and just be a mediocre football team at best that is on the cusp of a playoff spot.

Even after an ugly 2-6 start, things lined up perfectly for the Patriots to go on a winning streak. They faced subpar team after subpar team, which was an inviting opportunity to make a run, much like New England did last season when it won five of six games during the middle of the campaign after a 1-3 start or in 2021 when it won seven straight. In years past without Brady, the Patriots feasted on inferior competition. This season, they fell flat on their face with no sign of getting up.

The last four-game stretch has been abhorrently bad with the Patriots trotting out an epically inept offense that looks like a teenage boy fumbling and stumbling around as he tries to awkwardly land a first kiss.

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New England’s last four opponents — Washington Commanders, Indianapolis Colts, New York Giants and Los Angeles Chargers — have a combined 20-29 record. The Patriots lost those four contests by a combined 16 points — New England has lost six games by five points or less this season. That alternate universe has the Patriots winning these last four games, especially since in real life they had all the opportunities in the world to come out on top.

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They could have stayed on a winning path this week, too, even though they have to travel to Pittsburgh on a short week and play the Steelers. The Patriots typically own the Steelers and that’s before Pittsburgh was forced to go to Mitch Trubisky at quarterback with Kenny Pickett injured. In almost any other year, Trubisky gift wraps a win for the Patriots, who wouldn’t have to do much except wait for the signal-caller to mess up. And Trubisky still might do much of the same this season, but the Patriots will find some way to come out on the losing side.

It seemed unfathomable entering the year that the Patriots would lose to such a trash collection of quarterbacks. Here’s the list of the worst QBs who have bested the Patriots this season:

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Jimmy Garoppolo/Brian Hoyer
Derek Carr
Sam Howell
Gardner Minshew
Tommy DeVito

The Patriots have fallen so much that they can’t even beat these quarterbacks who are fringe starters or even backups. Even Hoyer, who has lost his last 13 games in which he started, led the Raiders to a win in the second half in Week 6 after Garoppolo exited with an injury. And now, Trubisky might get added to this list. Gross.

The Patriots failed mightily to put together a respectable season by not taking advantage of this soft part of their schedule. If the Patriots could beat the Steelers and had won their previous four games — all doable by the way — they would be right in the hunt for a playoff spot. Even if they won four out of five following Thursday’s game against the Steelers, at least they would be hanging around the playoff picture.

But instead, the Patriots threw up all over themselves. And now, they have to play meaningless and depressing football in December. It truly didn’t have to be this way.

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Featured image via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images