Must-win proclamations are a dime a dozen in the media.
They are not, however, quite as commonly dispersed by players and coaches themselves.
So it’s worth noting that struggling Patriots quarterback and team captain Cam Newton has indeed declared New England’s Sunday afternoon trip to Buffalo to take on the AFC East-leading Bills a “must win.”
He’s not wrong. In fact, Newton’s comment is more on target than most of his throws have been in recent weeks, continuing his trend of saying all the right things while failing to do them on the football field.
The Patriots are in the midst of a three-game losing streak. Have not scored more than 12 points in any of those three games. Got embarrassed in last Sunday’s 33-6 beatdown by the 49ers at Gillette Stadium.
Make no mistake, the first post-Tom Brady season is slipping away from Bill Belichick and Co., especially a Newton-led offense that’s literally among the worst in football.
But, the last hope for a team that has won just two of its first six games – the kind of losing that hasn’t been seen in Foxborough in nearly two decades – is that the teams ahead of it in the division standings remain within reach. At least for now.
After a hot start, Josh Allen and the Bills dropped a pair of games against the Titans and Chiefs that could have turned Buffalo into a true Super Bowl contender. Now, they bounced back for a dogfight win over the Jets, but many are still questioning whether Sean McDermott’s team is truly the cream of the AFC East crop and ready to receive the divisional torch that the Patriots seem oh so willing to pass along at this point.
In fact it could be argued that Sunday is in many ways a must-win game for the Bills as well.
(Told you us media types like to throw that term around.
Can a 5-2 team really face a must-win game with more than half the season left to play?)
But Buffalo, which made the playoffs last season and in two of the last three years, needs to prove that it’s ready to bury the wounded Patriots in the East. Ready to play the role of divisional frontrunner and steady playoff squad.
To do so, it must step on the throat of a Patriots team that has beaten the Bills seven straight times back to 2016 and eight straight games in Buffalo since 2011.
That’s a lot of history, most of it working against the Bills.
But in many ways we’ve already learned that Brady took plenty of the Patriots dynasty history with him when he left town in March.
This is the new-look Patriots. Newton’s team. One that the quarterback rightly if too-honestly described as finding itself in a “must win” scenario less than halfway through the season after what has been an abysmal month of football.
This is the kind of game in the past that the Patriots would rally the troops, stun the critics and show life like the Undertaker swiftly sitting up in a WWE ring.
But each and every week we are learning more and more what Belichick has beaten into us over the years – that what happened in the past is irrelevant. It’s about this week, this matchup and this Patriots team.
Frankly, that’s a scary thought on this Halloween eve.
Because this Patriots team hasn’t been very good and doesn’t exactly show signs of life.
In fact, things seem to be rotting like a hastily-buried body in a shallow grave in a horror film.
Things got even worse this week with word that Julian Edelman underwent a procedure on his knee that will sideline him for, as ESPN so vaguely reported, “some time.”
Edelman has not been playing well. He and Newton have not meshed, save for one explosive half of football in Seattle in Week 2.
Still, Newton knows what Edelman brings to the team even if the stats haven’t been what we’re used to. “Everything the Patriots represent. Heart, tough, resilient, gritty.”
No Edelman and likely no N’Keal Harry (head) will leave the Patriots passing game that’s been pretty putrid of late a dismal receiver depth chart of undrafted players in Damiere Byrd, Jakobi Meyers, Gunner Olszewski and potential practice squad call-up Isaiah Zuber.
As Hall of Fame pitcher and NESN broadcaster Dennis Eckersley would famously put it, “Yuck.”
And while Edelman was going under the knife the Patriots best all-around player, Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore, found his way onto the injury report with a knee issue while simultaneously and coincidentally serving as the centerpiece of trade rumors thanks in part to his house being put up for sale.
There is a lot that ails the Patriots right now. But we all know that winning a game, especially a key game against a division foe that’s ahead of you in the standings with the season at a crossroads, can solve a lot of problems, at least for one week.
The Patriots must win in Buffalo on Sunday. We know it. They know it. Hell, Newton even surprisingly articulated it in his weekly video chat with reporters.
But is a team that’s played horrible football over the last month, one that really has no discernable strength to fall back on, with a no-name corps of wide receivers and a defense that’s been uncharacteristically porous of late ready to pull off the upset against the Bills?
It doesn’t look that way on paper.
But maybe the 50 mph winds that are forecast for Sunday afternoon in Western New York and few Newton big-play runs will change the ugly narrative.
If not, then for all intents and purposes the Patriots season could end on Sunday.
Because the funny thing is if you don’t win a “must win” game then your season is over. Right, Cam?