Commentary

Patriots’ rebuilding process can be defined only by its inconsistency

New England has proven nothing more over the last two years than that it can beat the worst team in football. 

Brandon Bolden beats Brandin Echols for a touchdown on Sunday, AP Photo/Steven Senne

So, they can beat the Jets. 

With Sunday’s 54-13 win, that’s four times now over the past two seasons that the New England Patriots have managed to turn their AFC East rivals away with a loss. That’s 12 straight against New York over a six-year period. 

There was a time, of course, when a win against the Jets served as a way to pad the victory total en route to another division title. Maybe those two wins helped deliver the No. 1 seed. Maybe they meant all the difference in sneaking in a home playoff game. 

Except, the last two years, a win against the Jets hasn’t only managed to be an expectation, it has become just about all that Patriot fans can depend on. 

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Sixty-seven percent of the team’s wins this season have come against the Jets, 40 percent over the past two seasons. The only other teams New England has beaten since Tom Brady departed are the Dolphins, Ravens, Texans, Raiders, Cardinals, and Chargers, whom the Patriots travel to visit this weekend in Los Angeles. 

The Patriots are 10-13 over the last two years. They are 6-13 without wins over the Jets included. 

So, it’s can be easy to understand how Sunday’s blowout victory, while offensively impressive, doesn’t do much in terms of trying to pinpoint the trajectory of this team and franchise in the years AB.  There’s been no streak of any kind that fans have been able to point to as a symbol of where things are heading. 

They know they can beat the Jets. And frankly, nothing else. 

At some point when a team goes through either a rebuilding or transitionary period, there has to come a directional milestone. There has been no semblance of such a feeling with the Patriots, who are mired in a purgatorial status that makes it impossible to forecast their makeup. 

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Which means we’re left with games like Sunday to create false bravado. 

To suggest this drubbing might be the start of something is an impossible theory because there’s such a small sample size. Mac Jones has played six teams in his NFL career. He’s beaten two of them. Those teams have a combined two wins between them. In other words, let’s not get carried away when we see that number ’54’ associated with him this week. 

It took Brady all of about four or five weeks for him to help create an identity with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Patriots still don’t have one almost two full seasons removed from his departure. 

In an effort to try and right the ship after last year’s 7-9 hiccup with Cam Newton as the team’s quarterback, Patriots owner Bob Kraft uncharacteristically opened up his wallet and dove into the free agent market, hoping the outpouring of $160 million in cash might help expedite the rebuilding process. This, despite the long list of franchises that noticed that rebuilding in such a way hardly ever works. Rebuilding takes patience in the draft, and the ability to have more hits than misses in the lower rounds, something head coach Bill Belichick has had his problems with over the last decade as the team’s general manager. (Editor’s note: He hasn’t fared so well in the higher rounds either.) 

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How are you going to assess how a team’s moves over the last two years has helped make them a competitor when one of those moves was drafting a placekicker (Justin Rohrwasser) in the fifth round of the 2020 NFL Draft? For all the flak Belichick gets for drafting N’Keal Harry’s futility in the first round, the pick for Rohrwasser probably doesn’t get nitpicked as badly as it should. 

The moves Belichick has made in the wake of Brady’s departure then can’t all be lauded as working toward the commonality of making the Patriots competitive again. Jones looks like he might have been the right guy, but let’s talk about his comps (Kirk Cousins isn’t an insult, you know) after more than seven games. Matthew Judon looks to be the prize jewel of last spring’s free agent class. Tight ends Hunter Henry and Jonnu Smith are starting to emerge as the two-headed threat Jones can thrive on. And much to Gisele’s likely surprise, Kendrick Bourne can throw AND catch the ball. They’ve been good, expensive additions. 

But Nelson Agholor and Jalen Mills at $24 million each? The listless return of Kyle Van Noy for $12 million? Are these signings done in the same vein of the man who thought Rohrwasser was a solid career move? 

The post-Brady era in Foxborough has, thus far, become one defined by its inconsistency. Week-to-week and game-to-game, there are rarely any stretches that suggest the team is about to arise from its current status of a team just not good enough. The fact that Kraft felt compelled to cover up some of his general manager’s drafting miscues with a free agent frenzy doesn’t speak well for there being a different approach to talent evaluating. 

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As for the team itself, it’s difficult to evaluate a franchise  that has proven nothing more over the last two years than that it can beat the worst team in football. The rebuilding process would like a better calling card than that. Once we discover one, they’re more than welcome to claim it.

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