The 2022 Patriots became what the Bengals used to be

TECHNOLOGY
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Lotta speaks Sunday night about fighting to the end. Courageous. Courageous. Never say die.

(Raising hand shyly…)

How about fighting in the beginning?

The Patriots are now 7-8 in four of their last five outings following their 22-18 Christmas Eve loss to the Bengals. The final score and post-match laments about the closeness masked reality. The Patriots were only in the game by sheer luck.

After their most inept 30 minutes of football this season, trailing 22-0, 12 of the Patriots’ 18 points came from wildly improbable plays. The first was Marcus Jones’ 69-yard interception return when Joe Burrow threw straight to him. The other was the 48-yard touchdown rebound on a third-and-29 that bounced off the hands of a gentleman named Scotty Washington and the hands of Jakobi Meyers.

I don’t want to be a lump of human coal. There were cases of high competence. The return of Marcus Jones was sublime. Matthew Judon’s forced fumble off Ja’Marr Chase was a great play at a critical time. Kendrick Bourne and Mac Jones showed – for one chilly afternoon – the kismet we saw in 2021, as Bourne had 55 receptions and 925 yards from scrimmage.

Perry: Bourne proves what he’s capable of a little too late

But the Patriots are now the kind of team the Bengals were, while the Bengals are in the class the Patriots called home for two decades.

Burrow was asked after the game whether this was a “championship teams should be able to win if you’re going to accomplish what you want” kind of game.

Patriots Talk: 5 reasons for cautious optimism as the Patriots stagger down the stretch | Listen and Subscribe | Watch on YouTube

Burrow’s response?

“Yeah, you could say that. I would also say teams that want to win a Super Bowl put them in a little early.”

No disrespect intended by Burrow, but it was there. It was there the same way you could hear it when the Patriots used to get closer to a victory like the one Cincy secured. A “we should have won by 30 and not sweated it out at the end against a team like that” kind of vibe.

The 2022 Patriots earned the disrespect.

The start of Sunday was unforgivable. And the ending was, unfortunately, predictable. I don’t know the exact moment when the Patriots became a “they’ll probably fuck this up in the end” kind of team. But any arguments they don’t have wouldn’t stand up to the evidence presented in the past two weeks.

Against Vegas, a historically awful play sealed the loss. This week, it was Rhamondre Stevenson’s most pedestrian late fumble. In both cases, the explanation was “trying to do too much”.

I can’t question Stevenson’s decision to keep his legs pumping. He always do that. And his advance was not only stopped, he was being pushed back. The issue was the safety of the ball. Perhaps a case of being a little too frantic.

Why would a guy get frantic and try too hard to make a move? Because he knows that opportunities are fleeting. Do you think the Patriots would have scored a touchdown if Stevenson hadn’t fumbled? After the circus you saw last week when the Patriots got first and goal in Raiders 2? Knowing that the Patriots are by far the worst team in the NFL in the red zone and that they are 30th in the league in scoring situations to go (57.14 percent)?

I’m not saying those numbers were dancing like bonbons in Stevenson’s head. I’m saying that a propensity to melt individually or “do too much” arises when a player lacks confidence or overall confidence. That lack of confidence was hard-earned through spring, minicamp, training camp, preseason, and 14 games.

The Patriots don’t know what they’re doing on offense. Submitted for proof? They lost tight end Hunter Henry on their third offensive play when he collided with Jonnu Smith. That wasn’t the call of play. They later lost Smith when he and Bourne ended up grouped together and Mac Jones shot the white mass of humanity, which resulted in Smith taking a double whammy.

As for defensive attaboys? Let’s go.

After the second play, the Patriots burned a timeout on defense, apparently because they didn’t have the right people on the field.

Two plays later, Cincinnati was in the end zone. This what was the check-in level for the team five days after the team lost in the most embarrassing way imaginable against the Las Vegas Raiders?

Apparently.

My friend Michael Hurley of CBS Boston noted at halftime that the Patriots went 20 plays without taking a knee. One went for 29 yards. One went to 11 (before the break, it barely counts). One was for 9. One was for 6. Nine was for zero or negative yards.

After two tries, Burrow was 9-of-9 for 121 and two touchdowns. The Bengals had 142 yards of offense. The Patriots had six. The Patriots’ answer was another three-and-out drive.

The Patriots weren’t ready to start. They weren’t good enough in the end. Sort of like the 2022 season.

The Patriots are now 1-4 as of Thanksgiving and the only win came at Arizona when Kyler Murray tore his ACL on the Cardinals’ opening drive. This Patriots team – as in the 2019, 2020 and 2021 editions – got progressively worse as the season went on and saved their worst football for December.

They got a little Bengally.

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