Monday night’s Patriots loss felt weird, yet familiar
October 25th, 2022
There was a bit of a déjà vu moment in the Gillette Stadium press box Monday night, late in the third quarter of the team’s 33-14 loss to the Chicago Bears. Despite the game not yet being out of hand, there was more attention being paid to who would come out of the commercial break as the Patriots’ quarterback, and not as much focus on how the team would erase a then-12-point deficit.
A quarter later, as the Patriots were huddling up down 19 with the clock running and under 10 minutes to go, it clicked. A quarterback rotation. A seeming disregard of the clock relative to the score. A vanilla game plan. Apparent lack of adjustments. All on a weeknight.
FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – OCTOBER 24: Head coach Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots looks on during the first half against the Chicago Bears at Gillette Stadium on October 24, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
It wasn’t just the quarterback position that felt preseason-y though. As mentioned above, the offense showed a lack of urgency.
It began with the attempted handoff to wide receiver Jakobi Meyers late in the first half – a play that resulted in a fumble that ended up being a turning point in the game. That was a relatively experimental play call between a wide receiver and backup quarterback to be called in such a big spot.
Another questionable decision came early in the fourth quarter. The Patriots got the ball back down 19 with 12 minutes to play. Not exactly a close game, but not an insurmountable deficit either. Instead of pushing the ball though, the Patriots fully huddled and ran underneath, middle-of-the-field passing plays moving the ball 28 yards while taking four and a half minutes off the clock before an interception ended the drive short of the 50.
In the preseason, that sort of game management may make sense. The score is essentially irrelevant, and teams may create their own situations in order to test and evaluate players. That’s what that sequence felt like Monday night, with Bill Belichick noting after the game that he felt as though the game was “out of hand” by that point.
FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – OCTOBER 24: Bailey Zappe #4 of the New England Patriots reacts during the fourth quarter against the Chicago Bears at Gillette Stadium on October 24, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
On defense, the Patriots failed to find a successful adjustment for the Bears using quarterback Justin Fields as a weapon in the running game. The Bears repeatedly took advantage of the full width of the field, forcing the Patriots’ defense to watch and defend every blade of grass 53 1/3 yards across.
Despite that, the team stuck with more downhill run defenders like defensive lineman Lawrence Guy (who had a 79 percent usage rate) and linebacker Jahlani Tavai (69 percent) while more laterally-inclined players like defensive lineman Daniel Ekuale (30 percent) and linebacker Raekwon McMillan (15 percent) had more limited roles. Even with schematic adjustments, the personnel didn’t seem to match.
The linebacker usage specifically stands out. The Patriots used Tavai off the ball quite a bit in the preseason. While that role isn’t the best use of his skillset, those preseason reps allowed the team to evaluate Tavai in those assignments for depth purposes, and gave him a chance to improve in those areas. Again, a great idea in August but not so much in October.
FOXBOROUGH, MASSACHUSETTS – OCTOBER 24: Justin Fields #1 of the Chicago Bears runs with the ball during the first half against the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium on October 24, 2022 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
The good news is that this entire situation – for now – has the chance to be a one-off. This kind of decision-making hasn’t been an issue in previous games this season, and the circumstances heading into the Monday night game were unique to say the least.
It sounds like the Patriots’ coaching staff is aware of those mistakes. “Obviously, it didn’t work out,” Bill Belichick said Tuesday morning when asked about Monday night’s quarterback rotation. Does that mean they won’t be repeated? Time will tell if the Patriots take a more regular approach to their remaining games, or if the tinkering will continue.
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 @RealAlexBarthor via email at abarth@985TheSportsHub.com.