By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
You have to dig deep, almost to the bottom, to find a loss as ugly as the one the Patriots took at the hands of the 49ers on Sunday. It harkens back to the "Football Life" special on Bill Belichick from the 2009 season, when the Pats took a 38-17 lashing from the Saints and Belichick infamously told Tom Brady, "I just can't get this team to play the way we need to play. I just can't do it. So f***ing frustrating."
Brady is no longer here to mask the Patriots' flaws. In fact, Cam Newton has been making it worse. But the Patriots aren't this bad.
When you play lifeless football on your home field, and even your areas of strength like your offensive line and your secondary aren't playing up to their usual standards, it belies a problem that goes beyond the talent on the field. Something is seriously wrong. Belichick may not have "lost the locker room," but when the execution is as sloppy as it's been for at least three games running, it's fair to wonder if his grip is slipping.
How else can Belichick send a message to his roster that this isn't good enough? His only recourse may be to make a culture-shifting, attention-getting kind of move. A surprise trade or cut that has a ripple effect on the players fortunate enough not to be shipped out.
The easiest finger to point is at Newton. What if Jerry Jones gives Belichick a call? It doesn't seem likely after Belichick said that Newton is "absolutely" the starting QB moving forward. But Newton admitted he is "pressing" after the loss on Sunday and has been playing sloppy, stupid football at the most important position on the field. The team is going as he is going.
Would trading Stephon Gilmore or Julian Edelman have the same impact? They're not playing their best football, either, and they don't appear to be part of the team's future. But if Belichick wants to regain control and get his team back to playing the kind of smart, disciplined football that they've been known for under his watch, such a move might be necessary. Would he fire an assistant coach? Not likely, because at the end of the day that would be obvious scapegoating in an operation that begins and ends with the man in the hoodie.
Think 2016, when Belichick traded Jamie Collins to the Browns in one of his most shocking moves as GM. Heads were scratched at the time, but the Pats went on to have the league's best scoring defense and of course won the Super Bowl. Last year Belichick jettisoned Michael Bennett to the Cowboys, after the veteran pass rusher had a blowup with an assistant coach and simply wasn't getting with the program. The team didn't respond as well as it did in 2016, but it was certainly worth a shot.
It's time for Belichick to take another big shot. And let's be realistic - Belichick himself isn't going anywhere. The problems are partially his own doing, but it's on him to fix it now. So something major needs to happen on the roster. Something needs to inoculate what feels like a toxic locker room right now. Because otherwise, it's a wonder how Belichick will figure out how to get the Patriots to play the way they need to play.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff or send him a nasty email at [email protected].