Sat. May 25th, 2024

The New England Patriots, one of the most storied franchises in NFL history, have a rich and complex history that spans over six decades. Founded in 1959 as the Boston Patriots, the team was part of the original eight teams in the American Football League (AFL) before the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 that created the modern NFL.

Debates raged for the better part of two decades over whether the New England Patriots’ unprecedented run of success — six Super Bowl championships in 18 years — stemmed more from the greatness of head coach Bill Belichick, or quarterback Tom Brady.

A Look at the Odds

Since Brady skipped town for Tampa Bay and eventually retired, the Patriots haven’t been able to replicate anything close to the level of success they enjoyed with him at the helm. They’ve made the playoffs just once in the three years since and seem primed to miss the postseason again this year. Now the Massachusetts sportsbooks  give the Pats the worst odds of winning the AFC East division, at or around +9000, as they’ve suffered to a 1-5 record to open the season. 

It’s an unfamiliar spot to be in for a team that you couldn’t count out for decades, whether they were down 28-3 in the Super Bowl or falling to an ugly 2-2 on the season after a 41-14 blowout loss, sparking Belichick’s famous comments that “we’re on to Cincinnati.” 

As questions arise whether quarterback Mac Jones is the signal caller of the future as the Patriots look to kick off a potential rebuild, let’s examine the young prospects who could stay — or go — if New England decides to blow things up. 

Return of the Mac?

After managing just five passing touchdowns to open the season, and none in the past three games, the third year quarterback is firmly under the microscope. Jones looked like an effective game manager during his rookie season, but it’s been downhill ever since: he has just 19 touchdowns in 20 games dating back to the start of 2022, along with 18 interceptions.

There are rumors starting to pick up steam that some members of the Patriots are “firmly out on” Jones and “don’t think he’s the answer,” and in a division that contains standout signal callers like Josh Allen and Tua Tagovailoa, premier quarterback play seems like a necessity, not a luxury.

Until this past Sunday, when the Pats managed 17 points in a loss to the Las Vegas Raiders, Boston’s baseball team, the Red Sox had outscored New England in the month of October… despite playing in a lower scoring sport, and playing just one game the entire month.

If Jones had a better team around him, like when the Patriots boasted the No. 3 scoring defense in the league during his rookie season, we’ve seen indications that he can have success. The truly great quarterbacks are able to elevate their teammates regardless of the crutches they’re given, though, and we’ve never seen Jones display such an ability. 

Similarly, Jones hasn’t received much help from his offense. Wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster has just five catches after signing a three-year, $33 million deal this offseason. Running back Ezekiel Elliott hasn’t been terrible, but it’s hard to get any rhythm as a running back when your offense remains stuck in the mud, opposing teams free to stack the box because they aren’t scared of your quarterback. 

The Patriots currently sport the second worst record in the league, so if the losing continues they’ll be in line to draft one of a number of upcoming studs like Heisman winner Caleb Williams or UNC’s Drake Maye. The clock is ticking for Jones to make a case for the starting role, especially if the Patriots have a chance to cast him aside in favor of a player like Williams.

Blast From the Past

One of the hallmarks of those Patriots teams of years past was their ability to get the best out of players that other teams couldn’t seem to crack. Players like Jamie Collins left town in free agency or got traded and never regained the form they enjoyed in New England, often returning back to Belichick to excellent results.

Thats happening again this season, as cornerback J.C. Jackson is back with the Patriots after a disappointing year and some change with the Los Angeles Chargers.

After recording 17 interceptions in 2020 and 2021, Los Angeles handed Jackson a $82.5 million contract. He played in just seven games with the team before they traded him back to Belichick for pennies on the dollar. Jackson lined up against stud wide receiver Davante Adams for much of the game against the Raiders, and Adams managed just two catches.

If Jackson is able to regain the All-Pro form he enjoyed earlier in his career in his return to New England, I’d count it as a sign that Belichick still has some of the magic that has helped him win eight Super Bowls in his illustrious career.

Personally, I think that Belichick still knows how to coach, but he may benefit from relinquishing his duties as general manager, or taking on more help in the front office. It’s a lot easier to assemble talent when you have a player like Brady taking team friendly deals in order to win championships than it is to assemble a new team from the ground up. 

Summary

The New England Patriots find themselves in an unfamiliar position, grappling with a post-Brady era and searching for answers. As the team faces uncertainties with quarterback Mac Jones and their performance on the field, the future remains uncertain. While there are questions about Jones’ ability to lead, the Patriots are in a position to potentially rebuild with promising young prospects.

Furthermore, the return of cornerback J.C. Jackson highlights the Patriots’ historical knack for getting the best out of players. Jackson’s potential resurgence in New England could signify that head coach Bill Belichick’s magic is still very much alive.

Looking ahead, it’s clear that the Patriots may need to consider strategic changes, both in terms of their roster and front office dynamics, as they navigate a new era without the luxury of Tom Brady’s championship-driven contributions. The road ahead for the Patriots is filled with challenges, but the team’s storied history suggests that they are no strangers to overcoming adversity.

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