Patriots must figure out their offensive identity amid costly mistakes

Curran: Patriots must figure out their offensive identity amid costly mistakes originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Well, you can’t say it wasn’t interesting. Or fun. And I have the receipts to prove it.

But as Sunday’s wildly entertaining and mildly disturbing loss to the Ravens wound down, FOX analyst Daryl Johnston kept saying the same thing after a Patriots miscue: “This isn’t Patriots football."

You sure about that, Moose?

Because, in reality, a turnover-infested loss is kinda de rigueur for the Patriots. Since their late-season bye in 2021, they’ve gone 2-6. They’ve turned it over 18 times -- EIGHTEEN! They’ve created eight turnovers of their own. Their two wins during the stretch were a 50-10 win over Jacksonville (the only game they didn’t turn it over) and last week’s win over the Trubiskys.

The skid they’re on started after their late-season bye in 2021. And it followed a seven-game winning streak against a collection of mostly banged-up or just plain horrible teams.

Gone – at least for now – are the days when the Patriots didn’t beat themselves and waited for the other team to wind up dissolving into a puddle of goo with a helmet on top.

Here are the days when the Patriots self-flagellate at a remarkable clip on a near-weekly basis. This ain’t a phase, Moose. This is "Patriots football, circa 2022."

"We moved the ball. We had some explosive plays. Need to finish better in the red area and obviously not turn the ball over," Bill Belichick said Monday morning. "We just keep coming back to the same thing. We moved the ball, didn’t punt much, but the turnovers obviously hurt us."

Yeah, it was turnovers. But it’s also penalties. Communication breakdowns. The Misadventures of Myles Bryant on punt returns. A cavalcade of highly un-Patriotic plays and general sloppiness that leads to the weekly question: Who are these guys?

Patriots Talk: AFTERMATH: Mac Jones adds injury to insult as Patriots lose sloppy to Ravens | Listen & Subscribe | Watch on YouTube

So how long will these days stay? Honestly, with Mac Jones leaving the field like Kerri Strug in the 1996 Olympics (sans gold medal), it probably won’t pivot this week at Lambeau Field. But I’ve seen enough so far to believe the Patriots CAN pivot. If they can only figure out who in God’s name they want to be and what they want to pivot to, that will help immeasurably.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again -- the Patriots have more than enough "good" players on their roster. They just can’t figure out how they want to use them. Especially on offense.

For instance, the first move after being free-and-clear of both Tom Brady and Josh McDaniels was to spend months in the offseason pivoting the offense. More wide-zone plays. More shot plays down the field. Faster. More explosive.

Yet in the past two weeks, the most effective part of their game has largely been the same style running attack they used last year. On Sunday when they got 114 yards on 23 carries from their backs after getting 128 on 24 the week before. They are a good running team.

I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again – the Patriots have more than enough 'good' players on their roster. They just can’t figure out how they want to use them. Especially on offense.

Tom E. Curran

But they want to be more explosive, too. So the second-year quarterback known for his beautiful mind, poise and accuracy is being told to take shots and be aggressive. Put the ball in harm’s way. No risk it, no biscuit. You can’t juggle knives and not expect to bleed a little.

And if you’re going to cycle annually through offensive line coaches as the Patriots have and then decide to change the offense and the language while asking your new OL coach to also be the de facto offensive coordinator and playcaller, while also asking the quarterback to wait a bit longer, he’s going to get hit more.

Which means he may get dinged. And that’s come to pass. For the second time in three games, Jones was in too much disrepair to meet with the media after the game.

On one hand -- callous as it sounds -- c’est la vie at the quarterback position. Guys get whacked, landed on, bent, broken and sprained. But if you’re Jones or the people with his best interests in mind (and every quarterback’s a little corporation trying to turn into a bigger corporation), are you feeling like this was a little inevitable given the setup and the scheme change?

I loved the way Jones played for much of Sunday. I thought -- before the final two picks especially -- it had been his best game in the NFL in terms of confidence, decision-making, aggressiveness and ownership of the offense.

Anyone who witnessed daily the stagnant, non-competitive nature of the offense during training camp would agree that the past two weeks’ performances are kind of a triumph. In a process-oriented way.

Belichick’s been stressing process. That’s why he kept asking for patience in the offseason and predicting a long runup to improvement and finding an identity.

Ironically, after Sunday’s win, Ravens coach John Harbaugh was asked about his team’s process after a deflating loss to Miami the week before.

"It's a good story to write, but I'm not thinking about it that way,” he said. “Every game stands on its own two feet. If something was learned by that, that's fine, but it's not about redemption. It's just about -- I think the story there is when you face adversity -- all right, you want to know the real answer?”

Harbaugh then shared a quote.

"There is no better than adversity. Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss contains its own seed, its lesson on how to improve your performance next time,” he recited. “That's Malcolm X. That's the lesson to me."

In Sunday’s loss, there’s a seed for the Patriots to pluck and plant and cultivate. How will they grow it? How long will the process be in a results-oriented business?