6 rings: What we learned from the Patriots' embarrassing 38-3 loss to the Cowboys on Sunday
How did we get here?
On February 3rd, 2019, Patriots owner Robert Kraft, quarterback Tom Brady, and head coach Bill Belichick hoisted their sixth Lombari Trophy at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta following a triumphant 13-3 Super Bowl win versus the Los Angeles Rams.
Just over four and a half short (or long, depending on how you look at it) years later, it truly wouldn’t be all that surprising to see a press release with the title: ‘Patriots fire head coach Bill Belichick’, in short order.
It’s that bad.
The Patriots are coming off of their worst loss of the Belichick era (a 38-3 loss to the Dallas Cowboys), are under .500 with a 26-29 since Brady bon voyaged to Tampa Bay (to win another Super Bowl), and your quarterback just had his worst performance of his young, roller-coaster career where he completed just 12 of 21 pass attempts, turned the ball over three times, and was benched in the third quarter for backup signal caller Bailey Zappe.
So when will enough be enough?
When Robert Kraft spoke at length with reporters back in March at the NFL owner's meetings in Phoenix, he relayed his expectations for his team heading into this season:
"My objective for our team is that we make the playoffs," New England’s owner said of his club's goal. "Because once you make the playoffs anything can happen, but if you don’t then your season ends in a way that doesn’t make me very happy."
At 1-3, the chances of postseason play are already very slim.
So what has to change? As mentioned above, New England’s quarterback Mac Jones was sat down during Sunday's loss to the Cowboys because, as Bill Belichick said, he "didn’t think there was any point in leaving him in the game."
While Kraft has no real say in who the team’s starting quarterback is, I'm not sure he’d be in favor of a switch:
"I’m a big fan of Mac," Kraft said in March when asked how he feels about his team's signal caller. "He came to us as a rookie... and did a very fine job, I thought. We made the playoffs. I think we experimented with some things last year that frankly didn’t work when it came to him, in my opinion."
Heads up on the ricochet, Matt Patricia.
Kraft continued: "Look, in the end, Bill [Belichick] is in charge of my football team and makes the decisions of who should start and who should play, and he’s done a pretty darn good job of it for the last, when you think about it, 24 years."
So let’s talk about Belichick, who Kraft does have the power to move on from. While there are certainly plenty of folks out there who are calling for the head coach's job after their start to 2023, Kraft admits that "when you make a change, you want to improve things":
"When you change your coaching staffs, it means the kind of players and the systems you have, it’s always-- it’s constant upheaval," RKK explained to media at the owner's meetings. "I decided I was going to do my best to have continuity and stability… When you find people you can trust and build on you try to stay with it, yeah a lot of things don’t go right and you want to make a change but I’ve tried to discipline myself not to do it and it’s worked out sort of okay."
Perhaps there is, however, an improvement on the current coaching staff. Kraft spoke very highly of the Patriots' current linebackers coach, Jerod Mayo, in Phoenix earlier this year:
“Jerod is an individual-- I think there’s no ceiling on his ability to grow and how competent he is… I was happy we were able to sit with him and try to keep him here long-term and I’m going to do everything I can to try to make that happen."
The Patriots extended Mayo this offseason as well as gave him a raise.
"There’s no ceiling on his ability to be a head coach, and he’ll be a head coach. And I’m sure of that. I hope he’s with us so, we’ll see what happens."
The elephant in the room with Belichick’s job security right now is the vaunted Don Shula all-time wins record. The former Dolphins coach won 347 total games, both regular season and playoffs, throughout his 32-year career. Belichick currently sits at 330.
“Look, I’d like him to break Don Shula’s record,” Kraft said in March when asked if the goal is for his coach to break the record with the Patriots. “But I’m not looking for any of our players to get great stats. We’re about winning and doing whatever we can to win. That’s what our focus is now… It’s very important to me that we make the playoffs so that’s what I hope happens next year.”
“In the end," Kraft also proclaimed. "This is a business. You either execute and win or you don’t. That’s where we’re at.”
So now, the question becomes: Does the record truly matter to Kraft? Or does the aforementioned playoff berth matter more?
These next 13 games will give us our answer.