Love ’em or hate ’em, it just feels weird to see that kind of record attached to the New England Patriots. And on this “Black Monday,” it can be the kind of end-year result that gets a head coach fired. But in Foxboro, a coaching search hasn’t happened in 20 years.
It doesn’t mean that fans and the franchise aren’t “searching” for answers after enduring their worst season since 2000. The offensive line has been shaky for a while and the receiving corps needs an upgrade. However, the true culprit to the Patriots’ dismal season was COVID-19.
Before the season even started, the Patriots were in the hole as they led the league with eight opt-outs. Marcus Cannon (tackle), Dont’a Hightower (linebacker), Patrick Chung (safety), Matt LaCosse (tight end), Brandon Bolden (back), Dan Vitale (fullback), Marqise Lee (wide receiver), and Najee Toran (guard) all prioritized their health and safety overplaying a child’s game. And in a season full of postponed and rescheduled games and temporary shutdowns, the last thing anyone was going to do was feel sorry for the Patriots for being without some of the players they needed the most.
By Week 3, it still looked like the road to the Super Bowl for AFC teams would take them through Foxboro at some point. In his first three games as a Patriot, Cam Newton was 62-for-91 for 714 yards with a completion rate of 68.1 percent and 2 touchdowns and 2 interceptions. On the ground, he carried the ball 35 times for 149 yards and 4 touchdowns.
New England was 2-1 and this close to being undefeated in the stretch.
And then it all came crashing down.
Newton got COVID, and it would wreak havoc on the team as it shut down the facility after multiple positive tests. The timing of it all was the killer, as Newton got the virus just before his Monday Night matchup with Patrick Mahomes. New England traveled to Kansas City on gameday, and with Brian Hoyer and Jarrett Stidham as their only options at quarterback, they lost 26-10.
In case you forgot, Hoyer was pathetic.
Stidham was a tad bit better. But even still, it was a tragic night of quarterback play.
(This is the part where I remind you that Colin Kaepernick is still available.)
After that game, the writing was on the wall. At 2-2, the Patriots would go on to lose seven of their last 12. Newton would eventually return, but he was never the same after battling COVID. He went on to throw for less than 100 yards four times in his return. He finished the season with 2,657 yards (24th in the league), 8 touchdowns (33rd in the league), 10 interceptions (tied for 18th in the league), and a QBR of 47.4 (30th in the league). On the ground, he racked up 592 yards, 12 touchdowns, and fumbled six times. None were more costly than this one against the Bills, as the Patriots lost 24-21 to the new AFC East divisional champs in a game that had a chance to revive their season.
Newton owned up and called the play “unacceptable.”
“It affects me more that I still am jeopardizing this team’s success because of my lackluster performances protecting the football,” he explained. “Coach trusts me with the ball in my hands and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’ve got to do a better job of protecting it.”
Beyond a bevy of players opting out of the season, and their quarterback never returning to form after contracting a deadly virus, the Patriots were also unlucky in 2020.
Julian Edelman only played six games due to a knee injury. 2019 first-round pick N’Keal Harry was a disappointment once again at the receiver position as he missed three games due to injury and only caught 33 passes for 309 yards. And Stephen Gilmore, the NFL’s reigning defensive player of the year, was limited to only 11 games due to multiple injuries.
It was a disaster of a season for Pats fans, and a wonder to behold if you cheer for one of the other 31 teams in the league. In the coming weeks and months, we will find out what Bill Belichick is going to do, as it’s already been reported that the Cam Newton experience is over.
However, the last time the Patriots were this bad was 20 years ago. It was Belichick’s first season in New England and the team went 5-11. They would go on to win three of the next four Super Bowls after that.
There are two sides to karma.