5 big takeaways from Patriots’ season-ending 17-3 loss to Jets

In what very well may have been Bill Belichick’s final game leading the team, the New England Patriots lost to the New York Jets in Foxborough on Sunday for the first time in 15 matchups between the two teams.

Snowy and windy conditions throughout led to the kind of old-school football that Belichick would likely revel in. The quarterbacks of both teams combined for just over 150 passing yards while New York fed running back Breece Hall over 30 carries to dominate the ground game.

Moreover, field goals made up the only scoring in the contest until a late-game Jets touchdown put New York two scores ahead of New England with just a few minutes remaining in the contest.

Here are five big takeaways from the 17-3 loss.

The game wasn't about the Patriots, it was about Bill Belichick

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The FOX broadcast televising the game ran wild with the rumors surrounding Belichick’s potential departure from the Patriots. The network’s Jay Glazer reported on the pregame show that the legendary head coach’s departure from the team was certain. The game’s announcers Chris Meyers and Robert Smith repeated the notion numerous times throughout the contest.

And while the on-field product of low-quality football between two non-playoff teams in snowy conditions took the spotlight for most of the broadcast, it seemed as if the conversation surrounding Belichick resumed any time the action paused.

The network was ready for it, too. The broadcast was littered with multiple graphics and stats illuminating his success in New England over the past 23 years. Some showed Belichick’s place on the all-time wins as a head coach, others showed the insane success he had with Tom Brady at quarterback. Whatever the stat was, it gave a tribute to Belichick’s prowess as a historic head coach.

Belichick's potential departure was celebrated, too

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Although many fans and media alike have voiced their displeasure at Belichick this season, not only for his coaching at points but also for his misses on draft picks and free-agent signings, Sunday’s game showed that above all else, the future Hall of Famer still has much respect in the NFL world.

Former Dallas Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson voiced his appreciation and respect for Belichick at the end of the FOX postgame show.

Former player and current media pundit Julian Edelman also shared his best wishes online.

Others, with respect for the coach, joked about his legacy even with a loss to the lowly Jets, a team Belichick has cherished in tormenting throughout the years (even going as far back as his one day as the team’s head coach).

Even Boston Globe writer Ben Volin, who has routinely called for Belichick’s departure throughout the season, shared his amazement at learning some new facts about the long-tenured Boston sports icon.

Suffice it to say, while an incredibly subpar season may be the one that forces Belichick out the door, Sunday’s game showed that, despite recent struggles after Brady’s departure, the NFL world still regards the head coach within the highest ranks of its legacy of coaching talent.

For the Patriots, Matthew Slater was the main focus

Billie Weiss/Getty Images
Billie Weiss/Getty Images

Sunday’s game also likely marked the end of the longest-tenured Patriot: Matthew Slater. The future Hall of Fame special teamer concluded his 16th season with the team, and, after Slater noted he speculated retiring after the end of last season before deciding to come back, many thought that Sunday’s contest was his final time lacing up the cleats.

The son of a Hall of Famer, Slater’s contributions to the team go far beyond the stats sheet. While listed officially as a wide receiver, he mainly made his mark on special teams, helping redefine the gunner position while earning routine Pro Bowl and AP honors along the way.

Moreover, on a team led by Brady, Slater was often its heart, leading pre- and postgame huddles and providing the spark, motivation and wherewithal necessary to drive the Patriots to three Super Bowl victories during his tenure.

And the team showed their respect for him throughout Sunday’s matchup. During pregame warmups, players wore sweatshirts honoring the longtime veteran.

Slater, displaying the humility he became known for over the past decade, chose to honor another New England great instead.

And after the game, Slater didn’t want to talk about hanging up his cleats. He dodged the question, insisting that the day was more about his teammates and coaches than about him.

Even so, he commanded the locker room postgame, if for nothing else but his hug with Belichick.

One last embrace, perhaps, of the former Patriot era, one that will officially end if both are not on the team by August.

For the final time, the Patriots emphasized the need for offensive overhaul

Winslow Townson/Getty Images
Winslow Townson/Getty Images

The weather conditions were subpar in Sunday’s matchup, but New England emphasized, yet again, the need for substantial offensive overhaul in the offseason.

Quarterback Bailey Zappe was horrendous throwing the ball, completing just 12-of-30 for 88 yards — an astoundingly low 2.9 yards per completion — as well as throwing two interceptions and taking seven sacks for 57 yards. The second-year pro finished with a quarterback rating of 1.8 on the day.

The ground game was not too much better. On an afternoon where Jets running back Breece Hall totaled 178 rushing yards, New England’s Ezekiel Elliott managed only 54.

In fact, it was yet another instance — the sixth of the season — where punter Bryce Baringer outdid the entire offensive production with his leg. On Sunday, the rookie notched a whopping 422 punting yards while New England’s offense could only amass 119.

The Patriots’ defense was an elite unit throughout the back half of the season, and it will always be a missed opportunity that the team did not take advantage of its success.

How to address the quarterback position?

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Zappe has shown enough at the back half of the season to be a solid backup quarterback moving forward, but the signal-caller position has to be the Patriots’ main focus moving into the offseason.

Thankfully, there are many options, both veteran and rookie, that will be available for the team to choose from regarding the quarterback position. While Ryan Tannehill and Russell Wilson are far less appealing (and more expensive) options than rookies Caleb Williams, Drake Maye and Jayden Daniels, they may honestly fit the needs of the team more within its current competing window.

New England’s defense ranked itself within the upper echelon of NFL teams in 2023. While the offense struggled, the defense prior to Week 18 ranked No. 3 in yards allowed per play (No. 1 in yards allowed per rush), No. 4 in hurry percentage and No. 10 in expected points contributed by the defense.

Moreover, the team will have multiple defensive standouts up for a new contract in the coming years. Notably, defensive tackles Christian Barmore and Davon Godchaux will both be up for new contracts after next season. Additionally, linebackers Ja’Whaun Bentley and Jahlani Tavai will also be free agents in 2025.

With the team also needing to desperately improve at wide receiver and along the offensive line, it may make more sense to go with a veteran option at quarterback and spend the No. 3 pick on a wide receiver (Marvin Harrison Jr. or Malik Nabers) or trade down a few picks to target offensive line help (Olumuyiwa Fashanu, Joe Alt or Taliese Fuaga) while also bolstering mid-round selections.

Moreover, this sort of move would make sense given the team’s current salary cap state. New England could buy low on an expensive veteran quarterback with a mid- or late-round draft pick and pay most of the contract while using their top selections on other needs.

Time and potential front-office changes will dictate how the team goes about their business in the coming months. Regardless of the outcome, the next few months bode to be very interesting for fans hoping to see substantial changes within the team.

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Story originally appeared on Patriots Wire