Patriots

Patriots loss to Saints was a rare debacle for Bill Belichick era, and other things we learned

Bill Belichick voiced his displeasure to down judge Sarah Thomas over a call Sunday, but it was an all-around bad day for the Patriots coach and his team. Jim Davis/Globe Staff


Welcome to the Unconventional Review, an instant reaction to standouts, stats, and storylines from the Patriots’ most recent game . . .

Outright debacles have been so few during Bill Belichick’s 22 seasons as Patriots coach that the short list is fairly easy to remember.

There was the blowout loss to Colt McCoy, Peyton Hillis and the Browns in 2010. A loss to Chip Kelly’s checked-out Eagles in 2015 in which they fell behind 35-14 before making it interesting. That 41-14 rout at the hand of the Chiefs in 2014, after which Belichick muttered several times, ‘We’re on to Cincinnati.” The no-show against the Ravens in the 2009 wild card game. Some weird outcomes here and there against some lousy Dolphins teams.

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The final score might not quite confirm it, but the Patriots’ 28-13 loss to the Saints Sunday belongs on that list. The outcome — a debacle — was the sum of little individual debacles all over the field. And now the Patriots are — gulp — on to Tampa Bay.

Some further thoughts, upon immediate review . . .

THREE PLAYERS WHO WERE WORTH WATCHING

(Players suggested in Unconventional Preview: J.C. Jackson, Deonte Harris, Patriots’ right tackle)

Matthew Judon: The edge rusher is one of the few Patriots offseason signings who has lived up to his billing (and salary) so far. He played with his usual energy, tallying 2½ sacks, 2 tackles for a loss, and 3 quarterback hits. If the Patriots ever thought they had a fleeting fraction of a smidgen of a gasp of a chance to win, it probably was early in the fourth quarter, when Judon sacked Saints quarterback Jameis Winston on third and 12 on the Saints 12-yard line with the Patriots down a manageable 21-6. Of course, it didn’t turn into anything, and no one is especially interested in silver linings after this one. As good as Judon was, the reality is that the defense couldn’t get off the field on the Saints’ clinching 13-play, 75-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter. An inability to get a necessary stop was similar to the ending of the season-opening loss to the Dolphins. This defense looks pretty good, except for when it absolutely has to be.

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Cameron Jordan: The Saints’ six-time Pro Bowl defensive end has 48 sacks since the start of the 2017 season, but he’s still searching for his first this season. He didn’t contribute any of the Saints’ three sacks of Mac Jones Sunday, but he was in the rookie quarterback’s face and making his presence known all day, finishing with three of the Saints’ 11 quarterback hits, as well as a pass defensed and a tackle for a loss. In a related note, the Patriots really need right tackle Trent Brown’s ailing calf to heal soon. Jones is taking a David Carr-level beating, he already appears to be dealing with a mysterious knee injury, and unless there’s some twisted plan to have Brian Hoyer play a bunch of games this season, the line needs to start protecting Jones.

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James White: White, a quarterback’s best friend whether as a third-down receiver, a shifty change-of-pace runner, or even as a willing and adept pass blocker, is always worth watching, of course. Unfortunately, it sure looks like we won’t be watching him for a while. White had to be carted off after landing awkwardly while being tackled by the Saints’ Demario Davis following a 6-yard run early in the second quarter. It looked bad, it sounds bad, and Jones’s job is going to get even harder if White is out for a significant amount of time.

GRIEVANCE OF THE GAME

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This entire game is a grievance, man. Those “little debacles all over the field” that were mentioned at the beginning? Go ahead and pick one of those for your grievance, or go off the menu. The options are endless. The Saints’ first touchdown came when the Patriots forgot to cover New Orleans’s best player, Alvin Kamara. Josh Bailey had a punt blocked. Jonnu Smith dropped so many passes, including one directly leading to a pick-6 by the Saints’ Malcolm Jenkins, that it seemed as if his hands were attempting a coup on the rest of his body. And White got hurt, his injury occurring after converting the offense’s first first down of the game — and that was in the second quarter.

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My top-ranked, No. 1-hit, keep-reaching-for-the-stars grievance is one particular play in the second quarter. The Patriots, trailing 14-0, faced a third and 1 on the Saints 22. So what does Josh McDaniels call? A sweep with Brandon Bolden — the fourth-string tailback — behind backup right tackle Justin Herron. It did not gain the necessary yard. It might have been the least-inspired play call of McDaniels’s career. What in the name of Ernie Zampese was he thinking?

KEY MATCHUP

Patriots tight end Jonnu Smith versus his own hands

Have you ever seen a Patriots pass-catcher have a worse day? Smith was targeted six times Sunday. He caught one, for 4 yards. He dropped either four or five, depending on which statistical recap you read. One of the bobbles was returned by the Saints for a pick-6 on the first play of the second half. He dropped one on fourth down. He dropped a couple on the same first-quarter possession. Really, I need the answer to this: Has a Patriots pass catcher ever had a worse day from beginning to end? I can’t think of one. I can’t think of one close.

THREE NOTES SCRIBBLED IN THE MARGINS

(Predicted score: Patriots 24, Saints 20)

(Final score: Saints 28, Patriots 13)

Jones threw three picks, but that was a bold performance (30 of 51, 270 yards) given how often he was under siege. The kid is fearless . . . Jones was the Patriots’ leading rusher with 28 yards, twice as many as Damien Harris (14 on six carries) . . . The Patriots paid tribute to Julian Edelman at halftime. Too bad their on-field performance appeared to be a tribute to their 1-15 1990 team.

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