By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com
Monday night, the Patriots enter uncharted territory of the Bill Belichick era. While the team has missed the playoffs three times under Belichick, they weren’t eliminated from contention until Week 17 in both 2002 and 2008.
That means this week’s game will be the first the Patriots play under Belichick without playoffs on the line since December 4, 2000. In that one – which was also a Monday night game – the Patriots beat the 5-7 Kansas City Chiefs 30-24 at Foxboro Stadium. Drew Bledsoe threw for 282 yards and two touchdowns on the night, while Troy Brown caught 12 passes for 119 yards and a score.
But enough with the history lesson. The point here is that the Patriots haven’t played a game like this – with no stakes – in a long time. 7,329 days, to be exact. While players and coaches alike have stated that the goals don’t change, and the focus remains on winning, we’ll see how that translates onto the field.
Without a preseason this year, the Patriots are short on in-game evaluation on a number of their younger players. Will the reps on Monday help them catch up? If so, here’s some of the guys to keep an eye on.
When New England has the ball: Jakobi Meyers vs. Tre’Davious White
Outside of quarterback, upgrading the skill positions will be the biggest story of the Patriots offseason. As they put together a new picture, one of the main questions will be where second-year receiver Jakobi Meyers fits.
Is he a guy who can be on the field for 95-plus percent of the team’s snaps – something he’s done for most of this season? Is he a potential 1,000-yard receiver, a pace he’s held since he started playing in an increased role in Week 7? Or does he factor is more as a slot receiver, potentially to step in for Julian Edelman?
One game won’t answer all of those questions, but seeing Meyers against one of the best cornerbacks in the league in Tre’Davious White will provide some valuable tape heading into the offseason. Cam Newton just needs to throw him the ball so he can show what he can do.
When Buffalo has the ball: Josh Uche vs. Josh Allen/Bills’ offensive line
The Patriots first game against Buffalo was Josh Uche’s NFL debut. Although he saw limited playing time, he seemed to be constantly around the quarterback when he was on the field.
Now that he has a more regular role in the defense, how disruptive can Uche be this time around? If the Patriots want a chance at winning this game they’ll need to put the heat on Josh Allen early and often. Uche will be one of the main players tasked with that job.
In the bigger picture Uche is still working towards becoming an every-down player. As he continues to develop as a run stopper, snaps against an offense like the one run by Buffalo are crucial. We’ll see how many chances he gets in this game on early downs.
Bonus: Bill Belichick vs. The Situation
No, not Michael Sorrentino for Jersey Shore. It’s more about how Belichick handles the current situation his team is in. He’s said openly the goals of the team don’t change, but will he stick to that in reality when given a valuable chance to make up for time lost in the preseason.
We already know that he’s turning to a veteran at quarterback, with the report on Saturday that Cam Newton will get the start. Will he carry this mentality over to other positions, and stick with the group that’s gotten the team to a 6-8 record? Or will some of the younger players who have taken a back seat throughout the season get their chance to show what they can do?
Alex Barth is a writer and 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. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at Alexander.Barth@bbgi.com.