As with almost all teams in the NFL, when an offense completely implodes in the game, the quarterback receives most of the blame. That certainly seems warranted in the case of Mac Jones and his performance in the Patriots' week four loss to the Cowboys.
However, one of the biggest points getting lost in the shuffling blame game is two of the most significant issues the offense dealt with last Sunday: the offensive line's poor protection and the wide receiver's inability to get open.
That's not to say that Jones gets a pass for his poor decision-making and horrific ball security, but context matters in sports, whether you like it or not. The quarterback had the poorest showing of his NFL career so far; there's no denying that. The team and the fans will surely remember this embarrassing loss for a while. But because this is a team sport, one player cannot be solely to blame for a lousy performance.
And even though most don't want to discuss the inefficiencies of the offense in its entirety, claiming it's giving excuses to Jones, it's relevant in a game lost to this magnitude.
The struggling wide receivers have flown under the radar
One of the least discussed parts of the Patriots' offensive struggles continues to surround the state of the wide receivers. Besides the fact that most weren't happy with how Bill Belichick handled free agency and the draft, summer practices and preseason provided some optimism about the improvement of the pass catchers overall.
Week one cemented that with the revival of Kendrick Bourne, who scored two touchdowns against the Eagles, and the continued rising star power of rookie Demario Douglas. But since then, there hasn't been much good to see from the roster to believe they are the right guys to uplift an offense hoping to be competitive.
The most disappointing of all has been JuJu Smith-Schuster, who has yet to fully acclimate to the offense. As the most hyped free agent signing earlier this year, the Patriots don't seem to have gotten a return on their investment, at least not yet.
Considering he replaced Jakobi Meyers, who had built great chemistry and trust with Mac Jones through two seasons, it's becoming difficult not to believe that Belichick made a big mistake not re-signing him.
Mike Gesicki has also not been much of a factor through four games, despite the excitement of a potential return of the double tight end usage that Bill O'Brien became known for. Like Smith-Schuster, he's had a good few moments through the first month of the season but hasn't been impactful enough to make a real difference.
It's been a season defined by too many drops, lack of separation, and ill-timed throws, all of which were an issue in Dallas last week. Although some of that can be blamed on the lack of consistent and adequate protection from the offensive line, it has been an issue all season, no matter who was on the field.
It was such a problem in week four that Evan Lazar of Patriots.com noted they were far below the league average against the Cowboys, making it even more difficult for Mac Jones to do anything successfully.
To be clear, this doesn't completely absolve Jones from some of the atrocious decisions and throws he made in this game; even the biggest defenders of the quarterback know that. But, as stated earlier, context matters in a team sport, and things like this impact a quarterback's performance, no matter who they are or who they play for.
Then there's the offensive line and its consistently inconsistent protection
Not that this is any surprise at this point, as the struggles of the offensive line have been talked about almost as much as the performance of Mac Jones. But they were especially bad against the Cowboys last week.
Coming into this game, it was well-known how good the Dallas defense was, especially their front seven. And the news of Cole Strange not making the trip was a significant loss for the Patriots, even if he hadn't looked great when he had been on the field so far this season.
Even though Jones' decision-making and mechanics were off throughout the afternoon, NextGen Stats reported that the pressure rate on the quarterback was the second-highest of his career, with the highest being just last week against the Jets.
The Cowboys brought the pressure on 50% of all offensive snaps, with star linebacker Micah Parsons leading the way with ten hurries.
Besides the obvious part about injuries forcing the offense to switch up their starting offensive line every week, creating issues, part of the biggest problem is the lack of a reliable right tackle. Despite Belichick's last-minute effort to add depth pieces days before the season began, they're not panning out as he likely hoped.
The biggest culprit over the last two weeks has been Vederian Lowe. He has allowed 17 pressures, two quarterback hits, and one sack in his two starts. It's the position that haunted the offense last season, which resulted in Belichick seemingly ignoring addressing it in free agency, and remains an issue through this season as well.
Then there's the issue of pre-snap penalties that continued to plague any possible success the offense may have had. This week, Michael Onwenu caused the most chaos, totaling three penalties, two false starts, and one holding for a loss of 30 yards.
And dare we even talk about how bad the run game has been, primarily due to the offensive line?
It was just one season ago when Rhamondre Stevenson had skyrocketed atop the league as one of the best running backs in the game. He was the first back to record over 1,000 yards on the ground since LeGarrette Blount, and he appeared primed and ready to build upon that season, especially with the addition of Ezekiel Elliott.
But that's been one of the more disappointing parts of the offense this year. What looked like the best dynamic duo in the league has been essentially absent thus far, another significant blow to the struggling offense.
So what does this all mean?
Most fans and talking heads in the media have already made their minds up about the Patriots and Mac Jones. The consensus appears that this is not a good team that should tank the rest of the season to get a better spot in the draft for a quarterback, and Jones cannot play football.
Even if you believe that Jones isn't the right guy for the job in New England, you can't ignore all the factors that have contributed to the worst performance of his professional career in week four.
He cannot always be the scapegoat or even labeled as the common denominator for all of the offense's issues because the unit is not clicking overall.
It's hard to imagine where the Patriots go from here or how they can get back on track. Changes need to be made to improve the offense if the plan is to compete this season, and if that includes Jones, then so be it. But it's clear the offensive line and wide receivers are getting too much of a pass, and their performances are drastically impacting the success or lack thereof just as much as the quarterback.