The Patriots squander opportunities, hoping for an ugly loss to the Bengals
In New England, Super Bowls have arrived in groups. Now, only problems do.
Six days after suffering one of the most humiliating, inexplicable, and deserving losses in NFL history, the Patriots literally botched what could have been an inspiring, possibly season-changing victory against Cincinnati. With a chance to win a game that was trailing 22-0, the Patriots’ Ramondry Stephenson fumbled at Cincinnati’s 8-yard line with about a minute left…and the Patriots’ miracle comeback days seem a long way off now.
A frustrating rough week for the Patriots
The 22-18 loss brought an end to one of the most miserable weeks in modern New England history, a stretch in which the entire Patriots organization seemed lost and wasted in a way not seen since the 1990s. Consider everything that has happened in the past few days:
The loss with no time left to the Raiders, as New England’s Jacoby Myers threw aside what to do in the hands of Las Vegas’ Chandler Jones. And while he was running for a game-winning touchdown, Patriots QB MacJones was thrown by Chandler Jones onto the field…and that was pretty much the best thing that happened to MacJones this week.
When asked directly later in the week if Jones’ job was safe, Belichick refused to answer, using the old evasive “we’re on our way to Cincinnati” tactic by focusing on Cincinnati, coincidentally.
On Thursday, he piled on Patriots legend Vince Wilfork, calling out Jones on his side plays. “I’m sick of it,” Wilfork said. “You’re the captain of this team, you’re the quarterback. You can’t get let down every week, every time. I don’t care if you get the play call late or whatever it is, at the end of the day you have to show some poise.”
Hours before kickoff on Saturday, NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport reports that current Alabama offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien is a “strong choice” to return to New England and take over playing duties. The Patriots’ entire offensive plan is a mess, with Matt Patricia, Joe Judge, and other coaches seemingly unable to craft coherent, dynamic game plans for Jones.
The only good news for New England: the story of Patriots fan Jerry Edmond who kept his cool as a Raiders fan berated him after Sunday’s loss. Patriots owner Robert Kraft invited Edmond to watch Saturday’s game from a slightly better vantage point: the owner’s box.
Based on the first half of Saturday, you can’t blame Edmond if he decides to become a Bengals fan right away. Joe Burrow lit up the New England defense, throwing three touchdowns and looking all over the world like the Patriots was an afterthought, not a threat or even a concern.
The Patriots offense struggled mightily in the first half
For 45 minutes of game time, New England’s offense did not show enough life to rise to an “anemic” level. Their first seven possessions: punt, punt, punt, punt, half, punt, punt.
Jones threw all 34 yards in the first half, and the Patriots offense did not get past midfield until the last play of the third quarter.
The defense kept New England in the game, as Devin McCourty intercepted a Borough pass with 4:19 left in the first half, and Marcus Jones took home a second interception with 3:51 left in the third for the Patriots’ first score.
This seems to, finally, kick something loose in the New England machinery. On the Patriots’ next possession, Mack Jones led an 11-play, 77-yard drive that ended with an accurate touchdown pass to double-cap Kendrick Born.
Then things got really weird. On New England’s next drive, Mack Jones appeared to fumble directly on a Cincinnati defensive touchdown, but the review deemed it an intentional grounding. Jones then brushed off all the doubts and criticisms all year long and threw that 48-yard touchdown run, in the hands of Myers. After Nick Faulk missed the second extra point of the day, the Patriots trailed by just four points, 22-18.
The Bengals appeared to be in complete confusion, and immediately gave the ball back to New England when Ja’Marr Chase fumbled his own 43 with 3:12 left in the game. Mack Jones, who looks a lot like someone else who used to play his position in New England, led the Patriots all the way to the Cincinnati 5 with only 65 seconds remaining.
For just a moment, memories of the Patriots teams past linger in the hearts and minds of the few fans who faced 20-degree temperatures and 15-mile-per-hour winds at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots came back from 28-3 in the Super Bowl, among many other resurrections, so why not produce a Christmas Eve miracle?
However, this Patriots team is nothing like the team of years past. For the 2022 team, nothing is guaranteed, and the expectations are now on the field level…if that’s the case.
On the decisive drive, New England’s running back snipped big chunks from the Bengals, but when victory appeared within reach, Stephenson—who started the ill-fated sideline last Sunday—mealed hard into a swarm of Bengals, one of whom punched out. loose ball.
One Cincinnati three and a loser and a desperation Jones swing later, the Bengals seal their victory…and the Patriots have nothing but questions with no easy answers.
Contact Jay Busbee at email@example.com or on Twitter at @jaybusbee.
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