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Aug 19, 2021; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick with quarterback Mac Jones (10) against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re Bill Belichick, here’s the truth: you hung Mac Jones out to dry.

And so, as much as we debate the future of the Patriots and the potential of their likable young quarterback, here’s a question we now must ask: can Bill Belichick and the Patriots put him in the best position to succeed? In the final weeks of the 2021 season, after all, the Patriots did not. New England’s defense disintegrated in the critical stages of what was a seemingly promising campaign, leaving Jones with the kind of deficits that even Tom Br- … er … a poised, veteran quarterback would have had difficulty overcoming.

Let’s say this clearly so that everyone understands: in their final four losses – to Buffalo (twice), Indianapolis and Miami – the Patriots allowed a stunning 35 points per game and 709 yards rushing, the latter on an average of 5.1 yards per attempt. Opponents converted just under 53 percent of third-down attempts and went 6-for-8 on fourth down (75 percent). All of that forced Jones to play the final six weeks of the season on a rather steep incline, hardly a desirable situation for any quarterback, let alone a young one, let alone one who may never be armed for a shootout.

Jan 15, 2022; Orchard Park, New York, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) reacts to an interception during the third quarter of the AFC Wild Card playoff game against the Buffalo Bills at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Who could possibly manage that?

If you’re Patriots owner Robert Kraft today, here’s the No. 1 question you need to ask Belichick: what the @#&! happened with the defense? How are the Patriots supposed to fully develop Jones if they can’t keep the games close – particularly against good competition? The sad truth is that Mac Jones never really had a chance beginning with the Week 15 loss to the Colts, who ran for 226 yards. Bills quarterback Josh Allen then put the Patriots defense in a deli slicer – twice. And while Jones himself had a big hand in the Miami defeat – he threw a pick-6 to make the score 14-0 – he was obviously down 7-0 at the time.

In those four defeats, the Patriots allowed an average of 177.3 yards rushing.

What young quarterback is supposed to handle that?

Fix the defense, Bill.

Or the kid doesn’t stand a chance.

The Breakdown

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