We may be going into just Week 6 of the NFL season, but a lot can be said about the New England Patriots in 2023, and most of it is not flattering.
So far, the main takeaways about the team have predominantly focused on Mac Jones and the offense, with a sprinkle of Bill Belichick in there as well. The conversation has sparked debates in the media and online, with a majority of those engaged in the topic deciding that only one thing can be accurate regarding why the offense has played so poorly.
It's either Mac Jones is a horrible quarterback whose bad decisions and costly turnovers have been the leading cause for the offense's inability to do almost anything successfully. Or it's the incompetent protection from the offensive line, which has halted any sort of run game from Ezekiel Elliott and Rhamondre Stevenson, plus lousy coaching decisions and more.
Despite the consensus deciding it's one or the other, it's more accurate to acknowledge that it can all be true simultaneously.
Mac Jones has undoubtedly played beyond poorly this season
One thing that most people can agree on is that Jones has not played well this season by any account. After a down year following a promising rookie season, the quarterback needed a rebound season to prove his worth in New England and, if not there, the rest of the league.
It's a lot of pressure on a young quarterback, especially one that has dealt with as much as Jones has in just three seasons. Unfortunately, it may be too tall a task for him, as he's played the worst football of his NFL career to start the season.
From questionable decisions and horrific turnovers to bad mechanics and lack of confidence, Jones has not shown a lot of good through five games. We've seen an uncharacteristic display of his capabilities during his time at Alabama and even since arriving in New England.
He was never perfect and had some bad games over the last three years, but most of what he's done on the field this season has been worthy of being benched in back-to-back weeks; nobody is arguing that.
But then, outside factors can explain some of the struggles Jones has faced that have directly impacted his performance. Regardless of the assumption that one doesn't have to do with the other or is more responsible for providing negative results, it's a unique situation that can only be explained by all of it being simultaneously true.
For some reason, some have concluded this negates Jones from any blame or responsibility in how the offense has played, and that's just not the case. There's plenty of blame to go around, with a lot of it resting on the quarterback's shoulders, and much of it can and should be hurled at Bill Belichick and the coaching staff.
At the end of the day, this is Bill Belichick's team
It's an uncomfortable discussion when the coach involved is as accomplished and respected as Bill Belichick, but it's getting to the point that avoiding pointing fingers in his direction is irresponsible and unfair to the rest of the team, especially after the last two games.
Despite the much-needed personnel changes made during the offseason, with the addition of Adrian Klemm and Bill O'Brien, not enough else was done to make the Patriots a well-rounded and competitive team from one year ago.
The offense has been lackluster even before Tom Brady left in 2020 and has gotten progressively worse in the years that followed. Besides not having a clear WR1, the offensive line has seemingly gone unprioritized, with a strong focus on creating a dominant defense instead.
Being a team that runs through their defense isn't a problem, but when the offense can't do much of anything due to the absence of game-changing weapons and little to no protection from the offensive line, there's only so much success the team can accomplish.
Roster building has been an under-discussed topic about Belichick's legacy post-Brady. Other than the digs at how he can't draft a good receiver or doesn't want to pay top-name free agents, his age-old mindset of relying on the quarterback to camouflage the underwhelming talent surrounding him cannot be expected by a young, inexperienced QB.
That seems to be the expectation for Jones since he was drafted in 2021.
That doesn't mean that he would only thrive in an offense led by guys like Tyreek Hill and Christian McCaffrey, but providing him with at least one top-name talent could have put the offense in a much better position, as witnessed by the Bills (who traded for Stefon Diggs), the Dolphins (who traded for Tyreek Hill and drafted Jaylen Waddle), and the Eagles (who traded for A.J. Brown and drafted DeVonta Smith).
Jones wasn't afforded that luxury. In fact, Belichick chose not to select an offensive player in the 2023 draft until the fourth round, when he took a center. He didn't take a wide receiver until the sixth round, one of which has been benched for the last three games.
And then there's the problem of the offensive line, one of the most essential parts of any offense in the game of football. Some high-value linemen were available in free agency and even in the draft, all of which Belichick passed on.
Although the decision to draft Christian Gonzalez isn't an argument for debate because he was clearly the right choice, the lack of urgency to improve one of the weakest units of the team has proven costly yet again.
The ineffectiveness of the offensive line directly impacts the success of everything on offense: the accuracy and overall performance of the quarterback, the establishment of a successful run game, and the availability of wide receivers to run their routes and get open.
If an offense doesn't have that, what do they have, and why should they be expected to overcome it?
If both things are true, then what does that mean moving forward?
It cannot be overstated how proper roster building directly impacts a team overall, especially when the most neglected part of the team is the offense when you have a young quarterback still on a rookie contract.
There's no excuse for Belichick's apparent decision to avoid doing his darndest to ensure Jones has the best chance of winning games, which makes him just as guilty, if not more, for how the season has progressed thus far.
And at the same time, it's difficult to excuse Jones for his performance this season, particularly when a lot of it was due to his carelessness or poor decisions. As it's been reiterated, both things can be true and explain what has transpired this season without negating the other.
So what happens now? What will the Patriots do to make things right as soon as possible?
It has been alleged that significant changes will be made to the team as soon as this week, but what that entails is yet to be seen. Given his tenure in New England and all that he's accomplished, it's fair to assume something as drastic as Belichick being relieved of his head coaching duties will not be taking place, despite fans' numerous calls for it online.
Could it mean a permanent benching of Jones?
Will Belichick dip into the trade market before the deadline at the end of the month?
But the biggest question of all: is there really anything that can be done to salvage the season at this point?