The last time the New England Patriots started 0-2, they won the Super Bowl.
But a Super Bowl championship is the least likely outcome for the 2023 Pats. Because, to paraphrase a quote from a former Boston Celtics coach: Tom Brady, Randy Moss, Wes Welker, and Julian Edelman aren’t walking through that door.
New England seems like the team no one wants to face, but that contenders consistently beat. Its defense is excellent, as shown by limiting two high-octane offenses to an average of 24.5 points over its first two games.
But that offense isn’t it.
The most optimistic Patriots fan should cite the team’s competitiveness against two legitimate Super Bowl contenders. Each of the past two weeks, New England has had the ball late in the fourth quarter with the chance to tie or take the lead against the Eagles and Dolphins.
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But that’s when reality should set in. Because on two game-on-the-line plays on those vital fourth-quarter drives, Patriots quarterback Mac Jones has targeted Kayshon Boutte and Mike Gesicki, a clear statement to their lack of game-breakers on offense.
“Our defense has continued to do a great job in the games,” Jones said. “They got to keep doing their thing, and we’ve got to figure it out on our side.”
No team is built to overcome double-digit deficits against the likes of Miami and Philadelphia, but the Patriots especially aren’t. They’re built to run the ball with Rhamondre Stevenson and target possession receivers like Jones’ tight ends, Gesicki and Hunter Henry, or wide receivers DeVante Parker and JuJu Smith-Schuster.
New England is averaging 4.5 yards per play and five net yards per pass attempt — its longest passing play Sunday night was 14 yards. Compare that to the Miami offense’s Ferrari-like speed and efficiency moving the ball, and the Pats offense looks more like a mid-90s Dodge Stratus.
You can blame Jones for his mistakes through two weeks. His first-quarter pick-six in Week 1 put New England staunchly behind the 8-ball, and his throw on Xavien Howard’s interception near the end zone Sunday night was downright dreadful.
“It takes all 11 [on offense], it starts with me,” Jones said. “We’ve got to be better on offense, and we will this week.”
But Jones is working with a substandard group of receivers. Parker, Smith-Schuster, and Kendrick Bourne are veterans but have just two 1,000-yard seasons between them. The tight ends are fine but unspectacular. Boutte, a sixth-round pick this year, was a healthy scratch, and the only player with real breakout potential, rookie Demario Douglas, only had two receptions and didn’t take an offensive snap after his first-quarter fumble.
“We had a lot of production on offense,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said after the game when asked about Douglas’ conspicuous absence. “We can talk about this every week. Somebody is going to play less than somebody else. We’ve got a lot of skilled players.”
Not all teams are built to play like Miami. Not all teams have QBs like Tua Tagovailoa or Jalen Hurts. But the fact Belichick traded up to select Jones in the first round — after passing on Hurts in the second round in 2020 — and has chosen just one wide receiver in the draft’s first two rounds over the past decade showcases why the Pats offense is where it is.
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New England was never going to sustain the same success it had without Brady. But I never expected the Patriots to hit mediocrity so hard with Belichick still calling the shots. The legendary coach seems to be trying all he can to get the most out of his roster — the scrappiness with which New England has played after falling behind the past two weeks has been encouraging.
But the Patriots are the six-time Super Bowl champions playing adjacent to the 21st-century “City of Champions”. There is a standard set by Belichick where they don’t accept moral victories. Their sights are set on the Lombardi Trophy.
The AFC is wide open. The Bengals are in flux; the Bills and Chiefs are 1-1; the Pats hung tough with the Dolphins, who have been the most dominant team in the conference.
But the Patriots’ offensive limitations are glaring. They may have more success against less prolific foes, especially with their defense. But with how their offense is built and given the hole they’ve dug for themselves by dropping two straight at home, the playoffs are looking mighty unlikely again.