New England Patriots

New England Patriots

FRANKFURT AM MAIN, GERMANY - NOVEMBER 12: Bill Belichick, Head Coach of the New England Patriots, looks on prior to the NFL match between Indianapolis Colts and New England Patriots at Deutsche Bank Park on November 12, 2023 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. (Photo by Alex Grimm/Getty Images)

New week. Different country. Same result.

Despite coming in at 2-7, the New England Patriots’ Week 10 matchup against the Indianapolis Colts was billed as a marquee matchup for the franchise, on the international stage in Germany. Despite that different stage the play on the field looked all too familiar.


READ MORE:

Patriots fall to Colts in Germany
Who will be the Patriots’ starting quarterback after the bye?
Week 10 Ups & Downs


The game was a low-scoring defensive struggle most of the way. Despite finding little traction, the Patriots’ offense had a chance to win the game late, only to be done in by turnovers in a 10-6 defeat.

Bill Belichick noted that similarity after the game. “Similar theme to other games we’ve had this year,” he said to start his postgame press conference. “Too many missed opportunities in all three phases.

With that result the Patriots will head into the bye week at 2-8, facing numerous questions. The most pressing question will be about the quarterback position, which is where we’ll start with this week’s takeaways…

  • Where to go at quarterback?

    FRANKFURT AM MAIN, GERMANY - NOVEMBER 12: Bailey Zappe #4 of the New England Patriots and Mac Jones #10 of the New England Patriots look dejected following the team's 10-6 defeat during the NFL match between the Indianapolis Colts and the New England Patriots at Deutsche Bank Park on November 12, 2023 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. (Photo by Alex Grimm/Getty Images)

    FRANKFURT AM MAIN, GERMANY – NOVEMBER 12: Bailey Zappe #4 of the New England Patriots and Mac Jones #10 of the New England Patriots look dejected following the team’s 10-6 defeat during the NFL match between the Indianapolis Colts and the New England Patriots at Deutsche Bank Park on November 12, 2023 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. (Photo by Alex Grimm/Getty Images)

    For most of this game, Mac Jones has some minor issues but nothing overly costly. He did dodge disaster once with an underhand flip out of a sack on a third down, and later was chewed out by Bill O’Brien, but despite all of that he didn’t turn the ball over and the Patriots were in the game. However, when the Patriots needed him to make a play, he faltered in a big way.

    Jones’ final two drives both ended his misfires. Facing a 3rd & goal from the 5-yard line with 12:52 to go in the game, Jones sailed a pass over the head of and behind Hunter Henry in the end zone, missing what would have been a game-winning touchdown.

    As has been the case regularly this year, rather than stepping into the throw and firing the ball on a rope to Henry, Jones faded away and threw a touch-pass. By the time the ball got to Henry the window had closed, and it didn’t help that Jones wasn’t on-point with the throw either.

    On the next drive Jones got another chance, as the Patriots once again drove the ball into the red zone. On a 2nd & 12 from the Colts’ 15, Jones had Mike Gesicki up the seam in the end zone. This time Jones threw a lower trajectory pass – again off his back foot – when he probably should have lofted it. The ball came up well short of Gesicki, and right to Colts safety Julian Blackmon who grabbed it for the interception.

    That ended up being the final play Jones would play in the game. When the Patriots got the ball back with 1:52 to go an no timeouts, Bailey Zappe came into the game at quarterback. That was a relatively unprecedented move from Bill Belichick, putting a new quarterback into the game cold for a game-winning two-minute drill – especially a quarterback that hadn’t played a meaningful snap all season and no snaps at all since Week 5.

    Zappe was able to move the ball to midfield, but seemed flustered when the Patriots were awarded a first-down in-bounds on a Rhamondre Stevenson run on a 4th & 1 with 36 seconds to play in the game. After a scramble to get to the line the Patriots tired a fake spike, but Zappe threw it right into triple coverage, with safety Rodney Thomas coming down with the game-winning pick.

    What happens next at quarterback? It’s hard to say. Pulling Jones for a game-winning drive shows a lack of confidence in him, but throughout the season it’s been reported the Patriots’ level of confidence in Zappe isn’t high either. After the game Belichick told reporters the Patriots will worry about the next starting quarterback “next week,” and they’ll have plenty of time to do so with the bye week coming up.

  • Offensive line takes a step back

    Nov 12, 2023; Frankfurt, Germany; New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) attempts to pass the ball under pressure by Indianapolis Colts defensive end Adetomiwa Adebawore (95) in the third quarter during an International Series game at Deutsche Bank Park. Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

    Nov 12, 2023; Frankfurt, Germany; New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) attempts to pass the ball under pressure by Indianapolis Colts defensive end Adetomiwa Adebawore (95) in the third quarter during an International Series game at Deutsche Bank Park. Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

    Last week, the Patriots’ offensive line was able to step up in the absence of left tackle Trent Brown. This week Brown’s absence was felt and the group took a significant step back.

    Mac Jones was sacked five times in this game (three from defensive end Dayo Odeyingbo), and hit a total of nine times on 25 drop-backs. Without the additional pressure numbers we know Jones’ pressure rate was at least 36 percent, which along would be his second-highest of the year and highest since the season opener (39.7 percent).

    This was the first game in which the Patriots didn’t have offensive line coach Adrian Klemm, who is away from the team due to a medical issue. Perhaps his absence was part of the issue, but as was the case in the matchup last year against the Colts the interior of the offensive line struggled with the Colts’ interior rush. Stunts were also a problem yet again.

  • Running with purpose

    FRANKFURT AM MAIN, GERMANY - NOVEMBER 12: Ezekiel Elliott #15 of the New England Patriots runs the ball in the second quarter during the NFL match between the Indianapolis Colts and the New England Patriots at Deutsche Bank Park on November 12, 2023 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. (Photo by Alex Grimm/Getty Images)

    FRANKFURT AM MAIN, GERMANY – NOVEMBER 12: Ezekiel Elliott #15 of the New England Patriots runs the ball in the second quarter during the NFL match between the Indianapolis Colts and the New England Patriots at Deutsche Bank Park on November 12, 2023 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. (Photo by Alex Grimm/Getty Images)

    Despite the Patriots’ issues up front, they were able to produce one of their best rushing games of the season. Collectively the team ran for a season-high 167 yards and 4.7 yards per carry. Rhamondre Stevenson got the ball 20 times for 88 yards, while Ezekiel Elliott was handed the ball 13 times for 54 yards. Elliott also picked up 34 yards on two catches.

    Elliott has shown good burst the last few weeks, and is looking a lot like the player he was in Dallas. The Patriots should continue to keep him involved, especially given his fresh legs late in the season.

    Stevenson had another good game on the ground after his breakout last week. However, he did have a drop as a receiver.

  • JuJu Smith-Schuster still looks uncomfortable

    Ben Brown 🌻 on Twitter: "GREAT catch by JuJu Smith-Schuster on the sideline to keep the drive alive pic.twitter.com/fP95U3tUKT / Twitter"

    GREAT catch by JuJu Smith-Schuster on the sideline to keep the drive alive pic.twitter.com/fP95U3tUKT

    Twice, wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster cost the Patriots field position and big plays with alignment penalties. The first came on a false start late in the first half as the Patriots were trying to go on a two-minute drill. In the fourth quarter he didn’t get set after motion, resulting in an illegal shift penalty that wiped out an 18-yard Ezekiel Elliott run. For a player that’s missed as much playing time and been as on-and-off the field and Smith-Schuster in recent weeks, it’s not surprising to see minor miscues like that.

    Smith-Schuster did have a high-point in this game, when he high-pointed a ball on the sideline for a nine-yard gain on 3rd & 5 in the third quarter. However, that was his lone target.

  • Isaiah McKenzie strikes again

    FRANKFURT AM MAIN, GERMANY - NOVEMBER 12: Isaiah McKenzie #6 of the Indianapolis Colts is tackled by Myles Bryant #27 of the New England Patriots in the first quarter during the NFL match between the Indianapolis Colts and the New England Patriots at Deutsche Bank Park on November 12, 2023 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. (Photo by Alex Grimm/Getty Images)

    FRANKFURT AM MAIN, GERMANY – NOVEMBER 12: Isaiah McKenzie #6 of the Indianapolis Colts is tackled by Myles Bryant #27 of the New England Patriots in the first quarter during the NFL match between the Indianapolis Colts and the New England Patriots at Deutsche Bank Park on November 12, 2023 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. (Photo by Alex Grimm/Getty Images)

    Patriots fans may have been surprised to hear a familiar name on the Colts’ offense, in wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie. McKenzie is in his first year with the Colts after spending 2018-2022 with the Buffalo Bills. During his time with the Bills McKenzie burned the Patriots on multiple occasions, highlighted by an 11-catch, 125-yard performance in Foxborough in Week 16 of the 2021 season.

    On Sunday McKenzie didn’t quite throw it all the way back to that performance, but he was good. He caught four passes for 31 yards, with two of those four catches going for first downs. He also had a 42-yard kickoff return.

    Notably, the Patriots employed the same coverage strategy on McKenzie as they had in the past when he was in Buffalo. Myles Bryant was on him for most of the game, which was a speed mismatch in favor of McKenzie. Bryant, more of a read-and-react player, was beat on McKenzie’s big catch.

    Once the Patriots put Bryant back in a deep zone where he’s more comfortable, he was able to make a play. When Jahlani Tavai deflected a pass over the middle by Colts quarterback Gardner Minshew in the third quarter, Bryant read the play perfectly and was able to get into position for an interception.

  • Special teams struggles continue

    Nov 12, 2023; Frankfurt, Germany;  New England Patriots place kicker Chad Ryland (37) attempts a field goal against the Indianapolis Colts in the fourth quarter during an International Series game at Deutsche Bank Park. Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

    Nov 12, 2023; Frankfurt, Germany; New England Patriots place kicker Chad Ryland (37) attempts a field goal against the Indianapolis Colts in the fourth quarter during an International Series game at Deutsche Bank Park. Credit: Nathan Ray Seebeck-USA TODAY Sports

    This was another rough game for the Patriots’ special teams units, both from a game plan and execution standpoint.

    The first big special teams question came early in the second quarter. With the Colts backed up to their own 13, it seemed like the Patriots wanted to go with an all-out rush and try to take advantage of the field position. That’s not uncommon in the NFL, but the Patriots didn’t truly go all-out. They put nine guys on the line of scrimmage, then had Demario Douglas and Shaun Wade 12 yards off the line of scrimmage out wide with no returners deep.

    That left the Patriots with a numbers disadvantage on the punt rush, as well as nobody back to return. Rigoberto Sanchez was able to get off a great kick which took a Colts’ roll, resulting in a 69-yard punt that flipped the field.

    There were other misses from the unit too, including the long kick return by Isaiah McKenzie. There the 35-yard miss from rookie kicker Chad Ryland. That proved costly late in the game, when the Patriots were driving for a touchdown. Had Ryland connected on that kick, they would have just needed a field goal.

    The lone bright spot for the Patriots on special teams was rookie punter Bryce Baringer. Baringer punted four times for a total of 250 yards and a net of 49.8 yards per punt. Although he had two touchbacks, they were still massive field-flipping plays with Barginer punting from deep in his own territory (including a 79-yard punt with the ball at the Patriots’ 21). As Matthew Slater pointed out after the game, the net on those kicks makes them worth the touchbacks. Baringer had one I-20 kick as well.

  • 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 abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.

Sign me up for the 98.5 The Sports Hub email newsletter!

Get the latest Boston sports news and analysis, plus exclusive on-demand content and special giveaways from Boston's Home for Sports, 98.5 The Sports Hub.

*
*
By clicking "Subscribe" I agree to the website's terms of Service and Privacy Policy. I understand I can unsubscribe at any time.