The Patriots lost four of their last five games in the 2021 season, including an embarrassing 47-17 loss to the Bills on Wild Card Weekend.
When it comes to dissecting what went wrong, the bulk of the blame has been placed on the coaching staff.
Bill Belichick, Steve Belichick and the rest of the defensive coaches are getting crushed for allowing 47 points as the No. 2 ranked defense in terms of points allowed, special teams coordinator Cam Achord is under fire for all the miscues with the unit this season, and even Josh McDaniels is getting criticized for his play-calling in the blowout loss.
But, what about the players?
“This is not on Coach at all," Matthew Slater said following the regular-season against Miami when there were a few special teams problems. "I think this is on us as players. It’s not like we’re going out there and getting out-schemed, or being put in a bad position. He prepares us. We know what to expect. And it’s really about us executing better. This is not coaching at all.
“I think Cam and Joe [Houston] do a great job of having us ready, having us prepared. We feel confident going into every contest, but they can’t go out there and play. They can’t coach and play. The players have to do their job and let the coaches do theirs.”
It’s not Achord’s fault a veteran like Lawrence Guy lines up over the center, just like it’s not his fault nine-year pro Brandon Bolden gets a personal foul penalty when trying to tackle Miami’s punter.
Realting to McDaniels, it’s not his fault Nelson Agholor and Jonnu Smith were essentially busts in their first seasons with the Patriots and the offensive line wasn’t the dominant group many predicted over the summer.
Along the same lines, is it really any coaches fault for Matthew Judon’s lack of production down the stretch? In the first 13 games this season, Judon had 25 QB hits and 12.5 sacks. Over the last five the had one QB hit and no sacks. What about J.C. Jackson allowing 14 catches on 24 targets for 193 yards and two touchdowns over the last four weeks, including getting a 39 grade from Pro Football Focus, his worst of the season, on Wild Card Weekend?
And the same Patriots defense that allowed 108.8 yards per game on the ground the first nine games of the year, allowed 144.1 yards per game on the ground the fine nine games, including an average of 184.5 yards the final two games of the season.
Are the coaches responsible for Devin McCourty and Dont’a Hightower not playing to the levels they did in previous seasons, likely due to age?
And finally, the biggest issue against the Bills wasn’t the game plan, it was the lack of horses to stop Josh Allen and the Buffalo offense. It’s hard to stop an offense with Allen, Stefon Diggs, Dawson Knox, Cole Beasley, etc. when Joejuan Williams and Myles Bryant have to play 73 and 41% of the snaps respectively.
“We just couldn't keep up with them tonight,” Belichick said after the game.
Why are the players seemingly getting a free pass for what happened after the bye week and instead it’s on the coaches? The players are the ones who take the field every Sunday, aren’t they?
It’s not like the Patriots were losing by three points a game down the stretch where a coaching decision could have been the difference. Getting outscored 52-7 in the first quarter over the last five games feels like a player issue rather than a coaching one.
Sure, the coaching staff deserves some criticism for how things ended, but let’s not pretend the players didn’t have anything to do with it, either.