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First and Goal: The listless Patriots

Before I talk about how lost the New England Patriots look, I must acknowledge the continuing comedy act that is the Atlanta Falcons.

After Falcons running back Todd Gurley accidentally scored a touchdown instead of taking a knee with just more than a minute left in the game, the Falcons’ defense collapsed yet again. Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford led his team down the field with no timeouts and scored a touchdown to tie the game with zero seconds left on the clock. An extra-point attempt then sealed the game.

That’s the third collapse by the Falcons this season, and one of many over the past few years. Their fans have to think this is some kind of sick joke. What could they have done to deserve this?

Now that we’ve all had a good chuckle at the laughingstock of the NFL, we can focus on the Patriots, who are also being laughed at by the 31 other fanbases.

Everyone knows what New England has done for the past 20 years, and that has bred a sense of jealousy across the league. But it finally seems like the shoe is on the other foot, because right now, the Patriots look mediocre at best and just plain awful at worst.

What has changed from last year’s 12-win team?

Well, losing that Tom Brady guy definitely hurts. Brady is still lighting up teams down in Tampa Bay as he eviscerated the Las Vegas Raiders to the tune of 45 points and 369 yards. 

Current Pats quarterback Cam Newton looked pretty good in the first two weeks of the season, but has looked awful since returning from his COVID-19 infection.

New England is ranked 28th for passing yards per game in the league, coming in ahead of Washington and the New York Jets and Giants. The lack of a passing game has reared its ugly head over the past three games against Kansas City, Denver and San Francisco. 

The undynamic duo of Brian Hoyer and Jarrett Stidham combined for a total of 172 yards against the Chiefs, which is actually the highest mark over that three-game stretch. Newton returned against the Broncos the next week and, after canceled practices for the entire team, they understandably looked rusty.

I can excuse a game with two below-average backup quarterbacks and then one without proper preparation, but Sunday’s performance against the 49ers points to a larger problem within the team.

Why does losing Brady hurt the Patriots so much? Their receiving core is abysmal.

New England has a league-worst three receiving touchdowns this year. One less than even the hapless New York Jets. Running back James White is leading the Patriots in receptions per game, and it’s never a great sign when the backfield is making more catches than your receivers. The lack of receiving weapons is clear and could be a reason Brady left to join Tampa Bay and its vast array of receivers.

The fall of Julian Edelman has been painful to watch. Edelman has never been the type of player to light up the stat sheet every game, but he was always the safety valve for Brady. 

He seems to have developed a similar rapport with Newton, but it just hasn’t shown. Passes are just out of reach for Edelman or he’s dropping passes he would have caught a few years ago. 

In the past two weeks Edelman has caught just three passes — a severe indictment of New England’s lack of a passing attack.

Where New England goes from here is unknown. It might come down to this week’s game against Buffalo. A win keeps the Patriots in the playoff race as they battle for the division title, but a loss to the Bills might put Buffalo out of reach and leave the Patriots out of the playoffs for the first time in more than a decade.

With a win, you might see head coach Bill Belichick go after some sort of receiver before the Nov. 3 trade deadline to try and bolster a weak passing attack. With a loss, we might see a fire sale at Gillette Stadium for the first time in 20 years. I have no clue who would be shipped off, but with the always-ruthless Belichick at the helm, it could be a painful month in Foxborough.

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