The New England Patriots are off to the worst start of the team's dynasty (and by dynasty we mean the Belichick era) in 2023. Going into the bye week, the team is just 2-8, with not even an outside shot at the playoffs. There have been contributing factors for sure, including injuries and player regression. Blame is being thrown around the press and social media, with much of it aimed at head coach Bill Belichick. If we are being completely hones though, it is team owner Robert Kraft who shoulders most of the blame.
The Dallas Cowboys owner, Jerry Jones, is often criticized for being too hands-on when it comes to his team, even making himself the general manager. Kraft has always claimed to let the football people make the football decisions, but in recent years, his meddling has led to this very moment in the team's history.
This change in his personal philosophy started famously in the 2017 season, with Belichick ready to move on from the greatest quarterback of all time, Tom Brady, and usher in a new era with Jimmy Garoppolo as the team's starter. Kraft stepped in and said that the general manager could not trade his quarterback, and he ended up trading his backup instead.
It worked for the short term with the Patriots going to the Super Bowl and then winning it the following year. The year after that would be Brady's last in New England, and the new era had to begin with no successor in place. The team finished 8-9 with Cam Newton and then were forced to take a quarterback in the draft. With Belichick's target Justin Fields off the board, the team reluctantly took Mac Jones.
After a horrible sophomore campaign in 2022, Belichick made it clear that there would be a quarterback competition in training camp, with Bailey Zappe outplaying Jones on many days of camp, under the radar of the press. Again, Kraft stepped in and took the side of Jones, forcing Belichick's hand in starting the former first-round pick over the former fourth-round pick.
At the NFL's annual meeting in March, Kraft told reporters, "I'm a big fan of Mac. He came to us as a rookie. He quarterbacked in his rookie season and did a very fine job, I thought." He then gave his thoughts on Jones' struggles. "I think we experimented with some things last year that frankly didn't work when it came to him, in my opinion. I think we've made changes that I think put him in a good position to excel."
Kraft of course was alluding to hiring Matt Patricia as the offensive coordinator in 2022, and that replacing him with Bill O'Brien (Kraft's idea, not Bill's) would be the best thing for Mac. 10 games into 2023 and O'Brien's offense is falling short of Patricia's, and Mac Jones leads the NFL in interceptions. Belichick had previously benched Jones two times in blowouts, but with the owners clout behind the quarterback, was unable to move on completely.
Amidst reports of the staff's growing frustrations with his performance, and decision-making, it would all come to a head November 12 in Germany. After a costly interception in the fourth quarter, Jones was again replaced by Zappe, but this time with the game still on the line. It seemed like poor timing to make a change that should have happened before week 1, but enough had finally become enough.
It is now being reported by some that Jones has fallen to third on the depth chart, and has likely played his final game for the Patriots. Zappe may not be the answer long term, but he can't be a downgrade at this point. It's obvious that if Kraft had kept his nose out of Belichick's business, and where it belongs (smiling and signing checks), the Patriots would likely still be in the playoff hunt, and nowhere near the end of their dynasty.
All the blame should be directed at Kraft, and his feeling of entitlement to make football decisions. With the chickens coming home to roost, quietly using the media to question Belichick and try to paint him as the scapegoat is lazy and cowardly. Shame on you Robert Kraft. You are single-handedly killing this team.