FOXBORO, Mass. — Maybe Robert Kraft already has decided how to proceed with Bill Belichick after this godforsaken Patriots. Maybe he hasn’t. There have been conflicting reports on whether New England’s legendary head coach is a dead man walking or still has a chance to save his job.

But the Patriots again looked like a team in need of sweeping, wholesale changes on Sunday, losing to the Kansas City Chiefs 27-17 at Gillette Stadium after a noncompetitive second half from their much-maligned offense.

New England has three games remaining: at Denver on Christmas Eve, at Buffalo on New Year’s Eve, and home against the New York Jets in Week 18. It seems more likely with each passing week that those games will be Belichick’s last on the Patriots sideline.

Here are seven takeaways from Sunday’s defeat:

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1. Draft implications
The 3-11 Patriots now have a better-than-50% chance of landing a top-two pick in the 2024 NFL Draft, according to ESPN Analytics. And thanks to the Carolina Panthers’ upset of the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday, they’re even within striking distance of the No. 1 overall selection.

Claiming the top pick still isn’t likely for New England, as that would require the 2-12 Panthers to win one more game than the Patriots over the final three weeks and, if the teams finish tied, have a stronger strength of schedule than Belichick’s club.

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As of Monday morning, the Panthers were at .519 SOS to the Patriots’ .523, though both of those marks will change based on how Weeks 16 to 18 play out. In draft order tiebreakers, the team with the lower opponents’ winning percentage gets the higher pick.

Every team ranked second to 10th in the draft order lost this week. The Patriots currently own the No. 2 overall pick thanks to a tiebreaker with the 3-11 Arizona Cardinals. The Washington Commanders are 4-10, and five teams sit at 5-9.

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2. A tale of two Zappes
Three weeks into his tenure as New England’s starting quarterback, Bailey Zappe has yet to put together a complete performance. He struggled mightily in the opening half of his first start (against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 13) before settling in after halftime. Then, he did the opposite in starts No. 2 and 3.

Here were Zappe’s stat lines against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Chiefs:

First half
vs. PIT: 14 of 21, 196 yards, three touchdowns
vs. KC: 17 of 19, 141 yards, one touchdown

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Second half
vs. PIT: 5 of 7, 44 yards, one interception
vs. KC: 6 of 12, 39 yards, one interception

More than 80% of Zappe’s passing yards and all four of his touchdown passes over the last two weeks came before halftime, and both of his turnovers occurred in the second half. His passer rating in the first half of those games: 135.1. In the second half? 29.0.

One good half was enough to beat a bad Steelers team. It didn’t cut it against the defending Super Bowl champs. The Chiefs trailed 10-7 late in the second quarter but scored 20 of the final 27 points.

Zappe’s interception on New England’s first second-half snap Sunday was the biggest play of the game. He did well to evade pressure while scrambling, then fired a pass straight to linebacker Willie Gay, who returned it to New England’s 7-yard line. The Chiefs scored two plays later to quickly turn a four-point halftime lead into a 14-point cushion, and the Patriots never got back within 10.

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“Just simply not good enough,” Zappe said after the game. “Started out hot in the first half again, like we did the previous week. Came in here, made adjustments, understood what we wanted to attack. Went out in the second half, threw an interception on the first play of the second half, which is terrible on my part. You take away that, you take away seven points, it’s a whole different game.”

Zappe, who also fumbled once Sunday and had a few other ugly throws, seemed to realize that he squandered a prime opportunity against Kansas City’s stout defense. With Mac Jones permanently benched, he has a chance to prove during this home stretch that he deserves a job next season, either with the Patriots or elsewhere.

Mistakes like his back-breaking INT won’t help the 24-year-old’s cause.

3. Bill Belichick showed little interest in a comeback
After the Chiefs kicked a field goal to go up 27-10 with 3:40 left in the third quarter, Belichick essentially waved the white flag. The Patriots’ next two drives were three-and-outs culminating in punts on fourth-and-3 from their own 42 and fourth-and-4 from their own 33.

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Belichick pointed to New England’s mounting injury count when explaining those conservative decisions (more on that below) and noted the Patriots’ defense immediately forced a turnover after the second punt, setting up their lone second-half touchdown. Backup running back Kevin Harris ran it in from 18 yards out with 8:24 remaining to close out the scoring.

But the Patriots’ offense also lacked urgency and tempo after falling behind by three scores, which running back Ezekiel Elliott lamented after the game. Overall, Belichick seemed to lack faith in his team’s ability to mount a comeback and instead played to keep the scoreline respectable and avoid a blowout.

The final margin would have been larger had Chiefs head coach Andy Reid not taken pity on the Patriots and called three straight kneeldowns after starting a drive on New England’s 6-yard line with 2:35 remaining.

“It was the right thing to do,” Reid told reporters postgame, saying the move was out of respect for Belichick.

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The Patriots gained just three first downs on their eight second-half possessions.

4. What we know about J.C. Jackson’s DNP
Few details about Jackson’s situation had been reported as of Monday morning. The cornerback’s agent, Neil Schwartz, told ESPN that Jackson was dealing with mental health issues. Belichick declined to elaborate in his Monday media availability.

Jackson was active for Sunday’s game but did not play a snap and was not spotted on the sideline. Whatever prevented him from playing occurred after the Patriots finalized their inactive list 90 minutes before kickoff and designated reserve corner Shaun Wade as a healthy scratch.

With Jackson and Wade both unavailable, seventh-round rookie Alex Austin started and played every snap against Kansas City. Austin, who made his Patriots debut one week earlier, said he found out just before the game that he’d be starting. The 22-year-old was penalized twice, but Belichick said he “played competitively.”

Belichick would not say whether he expects Jackson to suit up for the Patriots again. The team can release him this offseason with no financial penalty.

“I’ve said all I can say about it, so I don’t have anything to add,” the coach said.

5. The Patriots took away Travis Kelce
New England’s shorthanded secondary did its job against the Chiefs’ top weapon, limiting Kelce to 28 yards on five catches while girlfriend Taylor Swift looked on from a luxury box.

Quaterback Patrick Mahomes still threw for 305 yards in the win, however, thanks in large part to a stellar performance from rookie wide receiver Rashee Rice (nine targets, nine catches, 91 yards, one touchdown). Running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire also exploited a Patriots coverage bust to pick up 48 yards on a screen pass and later caught a touchdown pass over Jahlani Tavai.

But this was another solid effort by New England’s defense. The Chiefs scored just two touchdowns, and one came after the Zappe interception that gave them an extremely short field. The Patriots forced two turnovers (INTs by rookie Marte Mapu and Tavai) and had another wiped out by a weak penalty call against Austin. They sacked Mahomes three times, and their NFL-best run defense allowed just 2.2 yards per carry on 20 KC attempts.

“You guys have seen it all year,” safety Jalen Mills said. “We’re a dominant defense. It’s hard to move a yard on us, let alone score a touchdown on us. So for us to be right in it, we expect nothing less.”

6. The penalties absolutely killed the Patriots
We already mentioned it in our instant-reaction postgame thoughts, but it bears repeating: Five pivotal penalties changed this game for the Patriots:

1. Brenden Schooler was flagged for holding on the opening kickoff, wiping out a 46-yard runback by Jalen Reagor. It was the fifth penalty in the last eight games for Schooler.

2. Demario Douglas was penalized for grabbing the facemask of a Chiefs defender before catching a red-zone slant. That catch would have given the Patriots the ball at Kansas City’s 6-yard line. Instead, the penalty stuck them with a first-and-25 from the 27. They wound up settling for a 41-yard field-goal attempt that Chad Ryland missed.

3. An illegal contact penalty on Jonathan Jones negated an intentional grounding by Mahomes. Jones strongly pleaded his case to an official, but to no avail. Edwards-Helaire ripped off his 48-yard catch-and-run on the next play, setting up the Chiefs’ first touchdown of the game.

4. A second-quarter holding penalty on left tackle Conor McDermott wiped out what would have been Zappe’s second touchdown pass to tight end Hunter Henry. The Patriots came out of that drive with three points rather than seven.

5. Austin’s holding penalty early in the third quarter erased a forced fumble by Jones and recovery by Jabrill Peppers. New England would have taken over near midfield down four. Instead, Kansas City went to kick a field goal to go up 17-10.

Were some of those penalties borderline calls? Yes. But stacked together, they were emblematic of the lack of discipline that’s plagued this Patriots team for several seasons.

7. Injuries keep stacking up
Left guard Cole Strange (ankle), McDemott (head) and Henry (knee) all left Sunday’s game and did not return. Strange was carted off and quickly ruled out, which typically indicates a serious injury. Jonathan Jones, Peppers, linebackers Ja’Whaun Bentley and Anfernee Jennings, and special teamer Matthew Slater all received medical attention, as well.

Injuries alone don’t explain the Patriots’ freefall into the NFL cellar, but they sure have dealt with a lot of them during this miserable campaign.

Beyond those aforementioned in-game ailments, the list of players who were unavailable for New England on Sunday included Rhamondre Stevenson, Trent Brown, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Kendrick Bourne, Matthew Judon, Christian Gonzalez, Marcus Jones, Daniel Ekuale, Riley Reiff and Calvin Anderson.

Featured image via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images