Patriots are now a punchline. Everyone employed by Robert Kraft should worry about that


FOXBORO, Mass. — It was understood, from the first day of training camp, that the Patriots might face a ho-hum, dragging-their-feet-in-the-mud 2023 season, winning seven games, maybe eight games, who knows, maybe nine games. They’d play just good enough to keep the playoff fires burning, sang the chorus, but probably not good enough for even the rosiest fan to talk of a “deep run.”

Behold now this mess of a team. The Patriots are so bad, so mortifyingly, mind-numbingly bad, that the only debate worth having is to pinpoint exactly when things met the legal definition of “rock bottom.” Call now to cast your vote. Lines are open.

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But as Gillette Stadium was emptying out on Sunday, many fans having long since turned onto Route 1 before the Patriots’ 34-0 loss to the New Orleans Saints was stamped into the books, one particular play had to be pinballing inside everyone’s heads. On the Patriots’ second possession of the game, on third-and-6 from the New England 24, embattled quarterback Mac Jones got hit as he threw a wobbly pass up the middle that was intended for Rhamondre Stevenson but wound up being returned 27 yards by Tyrann Mathieu for a touchdown.

It was only the fourth pass attempt of the day by Jones, who missed on the first three. The day was still young and the sun was shining, and forward-looking Pats fans, having decided to move on from the previous Sunday’s debacle against Dallas because that’s what Bill Belichick has taught them to do, were settling in for a reboot against the Saints.

But no. With that one pass attempt, Jones and the Patriots were signaling it was going to be same-old, same-old. With that one pass attempt, Jones was the weekend meteorologist on Channel 4 saying you can forget about apple picking and fall foliage because we are about to begin a winter that promises to be cold and dark.

The Patriots are 1-4, which is bad enough. But they’re not scrappy underdogs. They’re a laughingstock. We’d like to point out that local yokels outside New England are making with the David and Goliath jokes, except that it’s been four years now since the Patriots have been the giant everybody wants to take down. The Pats have become David, only without the slingshot.

And there’s something you need to know about that: For the first time in the 30 seasons Robert Kraft has owned the team, the Patriots are the stumbling, bungling, bottom-of-the-barrel team nobody wants to be.

The Pats look confused and rattled — and energy-challenged, judging by receiver Kendrick Bourne’s comments after the game.

“I don’t know, man, I keep saying we have to work harder,” Bourne told reporters. “I just feel like we need more effort, we need more effort. I’m not speaking of anybody. It just feels like we need to want it more, just the energy out there. We need more energy.”

Let that sink it. The billboard on Route 1 has gone from  “The Patriot Way” to “We Need More Energy.”

Just wait till that quote makes it to the inbox on Kraft’s desk at 1 Patriot Way.

In that spirit, then, anything is possible. Anything. And I write these words as someone who not long ago offered a soothing opinion that Kraft would see to it that Belichick would remain at the controls long enough to pass Don Shula on the all-time list of NFL coaching victories.

What didn’t get taken into consideration was the possibility the Patriots would be this bad. What wasn’t taken into consideration was that one of their own players might say this team lacks energy.

go-deeper

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Kraft has often put it out there he doesn’t like to lose, but here’s a better way to put it: Kraft doesn’t have much experience with losing. Oh, he’s had some lousy teams, notably that 2000 bunch that went 5-11, but everyone knew what was going on. It was Belichick’s first year on the job, and the roster was being overhauled and rebuilt on the fly.

Nobody laughed at those Patriots. If anything, people wondered what Belichick was up to, which made them interesting.

That’s not what’s happening with the 2023 Patriots. This is Jones’s third year in the NFL. Even if one gives him a generous pass for the 2022 season, what with all the uncertainties as Matt Patricia and Joe Judge ran the offense, there was an expectation Jones would be much better this season. He hasn’t been. Under Jones, the Pats fall behind early and they never come back late.

For the past two Sundays, Jones has been benched in favor of Bailey Zappe.

For the past two Sundays, it has more or less been stated that these benchings don’t mean anything in terms of who’ll be the starting quarterback in the next game.

Fine. But to listen and watch as the Patriots trudged through their postgame media duties on Sunday, they come across as a beaten bunch. While it’s true they were literally a beaten bunch their last two games, outscored by a combined 72-3 — there’s a stunning shortage of anger and clenched fists.

But we do get Bourne and his remark about the lack of energy. That means something.

Which brings us back to Robert Kraft. When the 1990 Patriots went 1-15, he was a season ticket holder. When those same 1990 Pats hosted the New York Giants in the season finale at old Foxboro Stadium and 99.9999999 percent of the fans were Big Blue followers who had gobbled up just about every ticket, Kraft was probably among the 103 Pats fans in attendance.

Two years later,  when the 1992 Patriots did what they could under nice guy Dick MacPherson but finished 2-14, yep, Kraft was a season ticket holder for that, too.

Now he is the owner. In the first 29 seasons of that ownership, the Pats have had a losing season just four times, not counting the in-progress 2023 campaign.

To repeat, the Kraft-era Pats have not been the team that gets laughed at. It’s not the team that gets sand kicked in its face. You might beat the Pats, but you won’t push them around.

All of that is happening now to the Robert Kraft-owned Patriots. Those who work for the Patriots under Kraft — which is everyone who works for the Patriots — should worry about that.

(Top photo of Mac Jones being sacked by the Saints’ Cameron Jordan and Tanoh Kpassagnon: Maddie Malhotra / Getty Images)





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