After discipline of CBs, Patriots find themselves at a crossroads

After discipline of CBs, Patriots find themselves at a crossroads originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

FOXBORO -- Gusts of dysfunction have blown into an organization that has long held dear its reputation of being air-tight.

The Patriots are 2-7 at the midway point. They're 5-12 in their last 17 games, dating back to last year. They're scheduled to pick fifth in the 2024 NFL Draft, which would be their highest selection since drafting Willie McGinest at No. 4 overall in 1994 -- owner Robert Kraft's first pick after buying the team.

Penalties, missed tackles and mental errors have colored their losses. They don't embody an energized group heeding the messaging of their coaching staff. And there were two off-the-field examples of Patriots players running afoul of the club reported on Wednesday.

NFL Media got the ball rolling by relaying that cornerback J.C. Jackson would not be traveling with the Patriots to Germany for their game against the Colts this weekend. Jackson did not start in New England's loss to the Commanders on Sunday, and Sports Illustrated reported Jackson's benching was related to him arriving late to the team hotel the day before.

Jack Jones, who didn't play for the entirety of the first quarter in Week 9, was also late to the team hotel Saturday, according to ESPN.

"We played all the corners," Bill Belichick said on Sunday when asked if the decision to bench Jones was "disciplinary in nature."

The news of Jackson staying home for the trip to Europe broke soon after Belichick's scheduled press conference Wednesday morning. Patriots center and captain David Andrews was asked about the Jackson situation when he met with reporters later in the day.

"I think the biggest thing," Andrews said, "is being committed to the team. ... I think that's something I've always tried to preach and live by: The team comes first. ... The team always will come first. That's the most important thing in this game. It's the greatest team game."

To say this is an unfamiliar position for Belichick's club would be an understatement. Even when adversity has struck in Foxboro -- self-inflicted or not -- the Patriots have typically been among the best teams in the league. Now they rank near the bottom of the NFL in several major statistical categories -- points scored (29th), turnover margin (28th), yards per game (27th), points allowed (26th) -- and their discipline both on the field and off is lacking.

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Hunter Henry, another captain, was asked Wednesday if the level of commitment he's witnessed from players has been acceptable from his vantage point.

"I feel like the locker room is great," he said, looking down briefly at the podium in the Patriots media workroom. "I don’t get any bad vibes or anything. Everybody’s excited for the opportunity."

Is this a team resigned to its fate? Is it a roster lacking commitment? Is there hope that it can get back on the rails and establish some kind of foundation on which to build for 2024?

The Patriots are certainly limited by the talent that currently resides in their building, but how they finish the 2023 campaign will depend in part on the mentality with which they approach things. Are their final eight games viewed as eight individual opportunities for progress? Or is what lies ahead viewed as a two-month slog for them?

They have half their schedule remaining to show their hand one way or the other, to prove whether dysfunction is just passing through or whether it will linger and define their season.