The New England Patriots pulled off one of the upsets of the season beating the Buffalo Bills at home in a very nice performance by a then, 1-5 team. While much of the criticism had been directed at a previously totally ineffective Mac Jones (hand raised here), there was another reason staring all of us in the face all the time.
The quarterback is the most important player on the team, bar none. And Jones has had miscues that reflected poorly on him. Throwing needless picks and fumbling is a prescription for disaster in any game. yet the root cause was obvious but can get obfuscated when the team is losing every week. It shouldn't.
Jones' play reflects that of the second most important position on the football team. Those would be the offensive tackles. The New England Patriots' offseason grade for addressing that position which has been a thorn in their side for several seasons was an F. They failed to sign a top OT in free agency and then neglected to darfte even one when two OTs in the top four rounds were required.
The result of this failure was obvious for all to see. They stumbled out of the gate and their season was doomed to last place possibly in the AFC East. That is until they made a move that many fans had suggested for quite a while.
The New England Patriots finally addressed the offensive right tackle position
In 2021 the Patriots neglected to play Michael Onwenu at RT until a few games into the toward a playoff berth. The downside of not moving him earlier was the loss of the division title, a bye week, and a home playoff game. They then went to Bufalo and were destroyed.
This season, costly messing around and trading for waiver-wire-level players at the position proved a disaster. They couldn't block anyone. Jones had no time to pass and the situation was compounded by a less-than-usually-effective Trent Brown at left tackle. The result was again predictable. Jones got hammered in the pocket, took loads of sacks, and made key mistakes. A lot of that changed against Buffalo. They inserted Onwenu into the right tackle position and everything changed.
Onwenu is a very good guard and he has also shown he's much more than serviceable at RT, he's a good one. Shoring up that position does a multitude of things for the offense. And they're all good.
It produces better run blocking which was evident from the get-go against the Bills. It also shores up the turnstile previous right side of the line further helping keep Jones upright with time to actually find a receiver.
The New England Patriots finally "got it" and played Onwenu at right tackle
The New England Patriots' error was also one of player management, also known as coaching. What was obvious to many wasn't picked up by the coaching staff until almost too late. There may still be a chance to salvage something of this season now that the move has been made. So why was this so important?
if you can run and pass to move the chains, you control the clock, keeping the opposition offense on the bench. You also keep the Patriots' defense fresh and able to make plays at crunch time to win games. It ain't rocket science, just plain old football common sense.
That's why the offseason's inattention to remedy the OT position earned huge demerits for personnel manager and de facto GM, Bill Belichick. Not using Onwenu until now also earns a poor grade for Belichick as a coach. Frankly, he and Offensive Coordinator Bill O'Brien should have known better and made this change earlier.
Now the change is made, and it's quite possible that the Pats may just surprise the rest of the way. They'll need help to eke out a playoff berth but stranger things have happened. If Jones has time to pass, he certainly appears able to do so, his previous doubter's opinions notwithstanding. And, those who suggested Belichick had hung Jones out to dry may just have had their point proven.