The Morning After…End of an era, or not?

While New York Jets players did snow angels after beating the New England Patriots 17-3 in Sunday’s regular season finale, Bill Belichick walked off the field for perhaps the last time as Patriots head coach.

It was a sobering moment that brought a rush of emotions for longtime fans of the team. Belichick was the man responsible for building the greatest dynasty in NFL history.

Even for those ready to say Tom Brady deserves the brunt of the credit for the winning, there is no Brady in New England if Belichick didn’t take him at No. 199 in the 2000 NFL draft. Belichick is the architect, and he deserves the utmost respect for his contributions.

But there’s also the reality that the team needs a new direction after a second straight losing season. They finished 2023 with a 4-13 record and last place in the AFC East. Change is desperately needed.

Is it the sort of change that needs to happen without Belichick, or will the team go a different route, while also staying connected with the greatest coach in NFL history?

Here are some leftover notes from Sunday’s game:

Bill Belichick throws a massive curveball at Robert Kraft

Winslow Townson/Getty Images
Winslow Townson/Getty Images

On Monday morning, Belichick claimed he’d be open to ceding his general manager role to stay with the Patriots. So the Patriots could essentially have the best of both worlds. They could keep their beloved, legendary coach, while also putting a new leader in the driver’s seat when it comes to personnel decisions.

If Robert Kraft was already conflicted on the decision, those feelings have likely grown even more after Belichick’s end-of-season press conference.

Firing a coach at Belichick’s level is never a cut-and-dry decision. Keep in mind, teams outside of New England have already shown interest in the six-time Super Bowl-winning head coach. That means outsiders still believe he’s a championship-caliber coach that could potentially help a team win football games.

The Patriots are going to need an exceptional replacement, if they ultimately decide to move on from Belichick. Who would that person be? It’s important not to confuse the two roles of GM and head coach.

In a season with a bad roster, a ridiculous run of injuries and one of the tougher schedules, the Patriots showed fight until the very end for Belichick against some very good football teams.

This could fall under the be careful what you wish for category.

With that said, the new GM would need to have a strong enough personality to be willing to step on Belichick’s toes to make the right decisions. Who would that be?

Sunday was full of emotions

Winslow Townson/Getty Images
Winslow Townson/Getty Images

Most of the storylines have revolved around Bill Belichick’s future, but that wasn’t the only story on the field during the Jets game on Sunday.

Legendary special-teamer Matthew Slater might have played in his final NFL game, and longtime center and team captain David Andrews, who was clearly emotional after the game, also seems to be contemplating retirement.

“I think I still got something in the tank, but we’ll see. I’m tired. I’m sore. It’s been a long year. I’m going to go home, go back to Georgia,” said Andrews. “I’m going to sit on my tractor with my son, take him deer hunting, and then we’ll get back to work and see where it goes from there.”

Slater didn’t officially announce his retirement after the game, but things appear to be leaning in that direction for the 38-year-old. Patriots players and even owner Robert Kraft wore a commemorative hoodie with Slater’s number on it.

There was also an emotional moment caught on the sidelines with the 10-time Pro Bowler and family members.

Even if Belichick sticks around in 2024, it would still be a new era for the Patriots, if they lose Slater and Andrews, who are two of the greatest locker room leaders in franchise history.

Turnover problem still exists with Bailey Zappe

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

There is no question that the offense moved more efficiently down the stretch with Bailey Zappe over Mac Jones at quarterback. But turnovers were still an issue, and the unit wasn’t consistent enough to convince anyone that major changes aren’t needed.

After throwing three interceptions in the first half against the Buffalo Bills, Zappe threw two interceptions against the Jets. That number could have easily doubled to four interceptions if the Jets’ defenders were able to hang on to a couple of errant throws from the second-year quarterback in the first half of the game.

In the last two games, Zappe threw zero touchdowns and five interceptions.

That kind of play is what ultimately led to the team benching Jones, and it would likely be the same for Zappe in 2024, if they kept him as the starter.

The Patriots have two sensible paths to take in this situation: Sign a veteran quarterback and use the first-round draft pick on a skilled player or offensive lineman, or they should draft a new franchise quarterback and take the time to build around him. Running it back with Zappe and Jones for another season would be an embarrassingly bad decision at this point.

What kind of game plan was that?

Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports
Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

File this one in the what were they thinking category when it comes to Patriots offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien.

The Patriots were far too pass-happy in the poor weather conditions on Sunday. It really doesn’t make any sense that Ezekiel Elliott and Kevin Harris had a combined 16 carries in a snowstorm.

Meanwhile, the Jets handed the ball off to Breece Hall 37 times, and he eventually broke for a 50-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach. The Patriots opted to have Zappe throw 30 times, and he finished with only 88 passing yards and two interceptions.

Jets coach Robert Saleh came into the matchup with the game plan the Patriots should have had, which is running the football and relying on the defense to keep things close. The Jets ran the ball twice as much as the Patriots and won the game as a result.

Patriots get the No. 3 pick

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

The Patriots losing to the Jets, along with the Washington Commanders being blown out by the Dallas Cowboys, locked them in at No. 3 on the 2024 NFL draft board.

It’s a good spot for the team to be in to ensure they come away with Caleb Williams, Drake Maye or Jayden Daniels, assuming they use their first-round pick on a quarterback.

What’s available to them depends on what the Chicago Bears and Commanders ultimately do at the top of the draft board. The Bears could draft a quarterback, take Marvin Harrison Jr. at No. 1 overall or they could trade down for more picks.

Washington is smack-dab in the middle of a major shake-up as an organization, which means they’ll likely be looking to snag a franchise quarterback early. The Patriots would have been in a better position if they lost to the Denver Broncos, but they’re still in a strong spot with plenty of options.

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Story originally appeared on Patriots Wire