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Dec 20, 2020; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick walks on the field prior to the game against the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

By Tony Massarotti, 98.5 The Sports Hub

The entire season was a total loss, really, from the quarterback to the defense to the skill positions and beyond. The sad truth is that the Patriots are really no better off than they were at the beginning of the season and, frankly, they’re probably a lot worse.

In retrospect, the departure of Tom Brady alone was such a significant blow that the Patriots spent an entire season treating their wounds.

Seriously, folks, ask yourselves that simple question: are the Patriots better or worse off than they were at the start of the 2020 season, pandemic or no pandemic? If your answer is “better,” I’d love to know how. Back in the spring, after Brady’s departure and after the draft, there was optimism about Jarrett Stidham. There was, later, hope for Cam Newton. The offensive line looked healthy and the secondary looked elite.

Jan 3, 2021; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton (1) smiles after a touchdown against the New York Jets during the first half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Now, several months later, the Patriots have finished with a 7-9 record that was really 5-9 against everyone other than the moribund New York Jets, who remain one of the worst franchises in all of professional sports. The Patriots finished 27th in the league in scoring offense, 26th in rushing defense, 23rd in overall defense weighted against strength of schedule. Perhaps more important than all, they are further than ever from a solution at quarterback, particularly after a win that left them with the 15th pick in the 2021 NFL draft.

Think about that. The 15th pick. Middle of the pack. Average. Were the 2020 Patriots average? Or were they just downright bad?

Yes, there were a few bright spots. Damien Harris was certainly an asset, though his overall health remains a concern. (He has played 12 games in two years.) Jakobi Meyers turned in a respectable season, albeit without a touchdown. (Is he better than a third receiver?) Chase Winovich and Kyle Dugger have potential, but they alone will not bring the Patriots back to a level with which we’ve grown accustomed (and spoiled) during the start of this millennium.

Dec 10, 2020; Inglewood, California, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton (middle) looks on from the sidelines with head coach Bill Belichick (right) after being replaced in the fourth quarter against the Los Angeles Rams at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

And without Brady, Bill Belichick finished with a 7-9 record, his first losing season since 2000 … the last time he played an entire season without Brady.

How fitting.

For all that the Patriots have accomplished over the last 20 years, the next few months are as critical as any in Belichick’s extraordinary career. Belichick will be 69 in April. The AFC East is no longer his personal tackling dummy. The Patriots have no quarterback and, more importantly, no easy path to get one. They have more holes than a cribbage board. They have a raft of free agents ranging from center David Andrews to defensive tackle Lawrence Guy to running back James White and beyond. And they have a recent history of bad drafts hitched to their hips like wet bags of sand.

And so, if 2020 was a transitional year following the departure of Brady, so be it. But it was a colossal failure.

And beyond that, there is an obvious question.

What, exactly, are the Patriots transitioning to?

You can hear Tony Massarotti weekdays from 2-6 p.m. EST on the Felger & Massarotti program. Follow him on Twitter @TonyMassarotti.