Patriots’ latest setback emblematic of core identity issue
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — New England’s 30-24 loss Sunday to Las Vegas was the latest — and easily most demoralizing — debacle for a team that managed to find a new bottom in a season brimming with lows.
Now at 7-7, what was already a narrow path to the playoffs for the Patriots is in even more jeopardy with three games to play.
The chaotic and folly-filled final sequence Sunday also underlined how much this version of the Patriots is woefully disconnected from many of the core principles that helped them hoist six Lombardi trophies and become one of the NFL’s most venerable franchises under coach Bill Belichick.
He’s made a reputation during his tenure of fielding the most disciplined team on the field week in and week out. “Do your job,” sticking to the script, and trusting that teammates would do the same became the expectation of a locker room that could be counted on to run with military-like precision on the field.
None of that was on display in the waning moments of Sunday’s loss and it is emblematic of a team still looking for direction and identity at the most crucial point of its season.
Rhamondre Stevenson and Jakobi Meyers acknowledged their ill-fated series of laterals that wound up with Las Vegas’ Chandler Jones ripping the ball out of the air, charging over Mac Jones and into the end zone were gambles they never should have attempted.
“Just trying to do too much. Trying to be a hero, I guess,” Meyers said afterward.
Belichick put it even more plainly.
“I would say we made a mistake on that play,” he said.
But that tug to do too much was exhibited long before that final play.
It was on display in the second quarter when they second-guessed their play calling on the goal line, called a timeout and nullified a touchdown catch by Meyers. It showed up again later when a missed blocking assignment led to a blocked punt that set up a touchdown for the Raiders late in the half.
Still, safety Kyle Dugger said all they do at this point is look forward.
“Lean on one another,” he said. “We’re all we got at the end of the day. And we know that.”
Part of Dugger’s confidence could stem from the fact that he was responsible for one of the Patriots’ few bright spots Sunday. He helped ignite New England’s second-half comeback when he jumped a screen pass early in the third quarter and returned it 16 yards for a touchdown. It was his second TD of the season. He also had a 59-yard fumble return for a score in Week 5 against Detroit.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
New England’s season-long issues on third down showed up again. The offense was 2 for 13 for the game. Mac Jones also regressed against a Raiders defense that came in ranked 24th in points allowed and 29th defending the pass. Jones finished 13 of 31 for 112 yards.
Marcus Jones. The rookie defensive back has already proven his value on both special teams and offense this season with punt return and receiving touchdowns. He showed his ability as a cover man Sunday, breaking up a deep pass attempt to Raiders receiver Davante Adams in the first quarter. It was part of a day in which he spent most of his time as Adams’ primary defender. Jones played a big part in the Patriots limiting Adams to four catches for 28 yards on nine targets.
The Patriots had only one touchdown on 11 drives and seemed unsure of themselves offensively throughout. The same goal line series that featured the timeout that took Meyers’ TD off the board was capped with having a TD by Mac Jones on a quarterback sneak erased by Jonnu Smith’s false start.
Center David Andrews was helped off the field midway through the fourth quarter but was able to return and finish the game. ... Running back Damien Harris (thigh) and wide receiver DeVante Parker (concussion) were both inactive, along with tackle Isaiah Wynn (foot), who was placed on injured reserve.
6 — The number of non-offensive touchdowns for the Patriots following Dugger’s pick-6. It is the most in the NFL.
Now back in eighth place in the conference standings, the Patriots have very little margin for error the rest of the way. It starts with a home matchup against Cincinnati (10-4) on Christmas Eve. That’s followed by hosting Miami (8-6) on New Year’s Day and finishing with a trip to division-leading Buffalo (11-3) on Jan. 8.
Follow Kyle Hightower on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/khightower
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