Patriots may be the worst team in the NFL and Bill Belichick may no longer have the answers

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Bill Belichick was done. He had been asked 22 questions over four minutes and muttered his way through them with brief answers about how everyone on his struggling team had been told to be ready to play. He didn’t want any more. So he softly put his right hand down like a gavel, abruptly ending his postgame news conference.

The 71-year-old coach exited down a tunnel and took a right turn past the football field at MetLife Stadium, where his New England Patriots had just lost 10-7 to a backup, undrafted rookie quarterback and a New York Giants team that had been among the NFL’s worst.

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Three months into a dysfunctional season, there’s no sense in ignoring the obvious. After nine losses in 11 games and with a quarterback situation that is turning this once-proud franchise into a laughingstock, Belichick is out of answers. The tricks and stunts he has pulled haven’t worked. His team hasn’t responded. His roster stinks. And his explanations for how it got this bad are even worse.

“I told everybody to be ready to go,” Belichick said four different times.

All of this, of course, leads to the uncomfortable question that’s going to hover over the final six games this season. Is Belichick going to be back? Are these the final games of a brilliant career, one that’s ending with an implosion that once seemed unfathomable?

What question could be more important than that after watching the product put forth by Belichick’s team Sunday? He tried something different this week, an attempt to jump-start a feeble offense that’s dragging this team down. Belichick decided not to name a starting quarterback. He let Mac Jones and Bailey Zappe get practice reps with the starting offense, hoping one of them would be so good that a decision would be made for him.

Instead, it was yet another Belichick decision (or indecision?) that backfired for this team. Belichick is the same coach who in 2001 explained Tom Brady getting practice reps over Drew Bledsoe by saying that a team can’t split up those sessions with multiple quarterbacks because they’re too valuable — that missing any snaps hinders the starting QB’s preparation.

But 12 weeks into this season, Belichick split the practice reps between Jones and Zappe. Perhaps it should be no surprise, then, that both struggled.

The argument here isn’t for one of Jones or Zappe. In fact, there’s plenty of evidence to suggest both are bad.

But rather than have them compete for the starting job this late in the season, it’s the coach’s job to make a decision and do everything to get that quarterback ready.

If you want to play Jones, try to build up his confidence. Back him publicly. Do what you can to make sure he doesn’t have tough decisions to make. See if running the ball works.

Otherwise, make the switch to Zappe. It would be easy to say Jones is unfixable at this point. Go to Zappe. Spend a week getting him ready to play. Scheme up a simple, unsophisticated offense he can master.

Instead, Belichick chose an inexplicable midseason competition that brought out the worst in both quarterbacks. They made almost identical interceptions into double (or was it triple?) coverage.

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The move probably did irreversible damage to Jones, who was benched for the fourth time in 11 games this season. He seems completely broken and in need of a fresh start somewhere else. So the Patriots probably have to turn to Zappe, even though his summer was so bad that the Patriots cut him before Week 1. The second-year man has performed so poorly this season that he couldn’t even beat out Jones for the starting job Sunday.

It has all combined to make this a lost season. It doesn’t matter what the rest of the team does because the offense is so bad. The Patriots scored three touchdowns and just 30 points in all of November.

“Just bad quarterback play,” Jones said Sunday, summing things up aptly. “If the quarterback doesn’t play well, you’ve got no chance.”

Such has been — and will continue to be — the case with the Patriots in 2023.

Even if owner Robert Kraft hasn’t said anything publicly about the job security of the only head coach he has employed for the last 24 years, anyone following the team knows that Belichick’s seat is plenty warm. Kraft expected this season to end with a playoff berth.

Instead, his franchise has become a mockery. JuJu Smith-Schuster was yelling at coach Troy Brown on the sideline Sunday. As punishment for missing curfew, players are being left at home for road games (J.C. Jackson) or cut outright (Jack Jones). The Patriots have won two games this season and none since Oct. 22. Their offense is hard to watch — and was just vastly outplayed by a Giants unit led by Tommy DeVito. No one knows who the starter is at the sport’s most important decision. And they’re nearing a stretch of three straight prime-time games in which the nation will be forced to sit and watch what has become of Belichick’s team.

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This season is no longer about making the playoffs. That dream died a long time ago. These final few games are a chance for Belichick to show why he should remain in charge of making all football-related decisions for the Patriots. It can’t just be about resting on his six Super Bowl rings — not when the Patriots have become a laughingstock.

But the results so far have been downright embarrassing. The Patriots failed to score a touchdown in Germany and lost to Gardner Minshew and the Indianapolis Colts. They had two weeks to fix things. Instead, they concocted a meaningless quarterback competition that yielded poor play from both. Any pass either quarterback throws downfield feels like a hold-your-breath, pray-it’s-not-an-interception attempt.

Now, after a loss to the pitiful Giants that drops them to 2-9, the Patriots are in a place they haven’t been in decades. They might be the worst team in the NFL. And the evidence is piling up that Belichick no longer has the answers to fix it.

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