Patriots notch another win, but Mac Jones and offense remain lost

Curran: With this offense, it's hard to take Patriots seriously originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

You'd like to say they're close. A play here, a play there. Little tweak of the scheme. A player or two getting healthy. Another playing to his level. Zing, zang, offense clicking.

You’d like to be OVER THE MOOOON about an absurdly dominant defensive performance. The team's second in a row. But you know the quality of opposing quarterback play was … not high.

You’d like to believe yourself when you do the common-opponent algebra -- the Patriots crushed the Jets, the Jets beat the Bills, ipso facto -- CHAMPIONSHIP.

But deep down, you know you’re whistling past the graveyard if you do it. You know the Bill Parcells cliché that you are what your record says you are isn’t always true.

Despite a 5-4 record and a Sunday beatdown of Indy that joins dominant wins over the Steelers, Browns and Lions this year, the Patriots offense is borderline unwatchable. Horrific. Scared of its own shadow.

The Patriots won Sunday. But they are so, so lost when they have the ball.

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We can trot out every reasonable excuse. The Colts (like the Jets) are actually pretty nasty up front. And the offensive line is pockmarked by injuries. And Mac Jones is still just in his second week back from his ankle injury. And it’s all still a work in progress.

But it can’t look like that. The Patriots had one touchdown drive yesterday. It was 2 yards. They also had one touchdown drive against the Jets. It was 62 yards.

They got into the Colts' red zone twice on Sunday. A blocked punt put them there the first time. The second time, they took over at the Indy 45 early in the fourth quarter leading 13-3. They got a 30-yard completion to Hunter Henry on a SEAM PASS of all things. They got to the Indy 2. Then they went run, run, scramble/sack, field goal.

A quick aside: I knew Cam Newton’s job was in jeopardy sooner rather than later in the first days of camp in 2021. When the Patriots were doing drills in the deep red zone, Jones would rip through his progressions and deliver with accuracy and no hesitation. Newton was glacial.

To see Jones now -- squirrely, indecisive, leery of getting blasted and with his feet pattering around -- it’s not the same player. The Patriots -- regardless of how complicit they are in setting him back with a system, terminology, philosophical and coaching change -- seem to see the same thing. They didn’t take settling for the field goal on that drive as an indignity. It was an acceptable minor victory.

There should be no wonder why. Since the Ravens game in Week 3, counting his three possessions against the Bears and the last two weeks against the Jets and Colts, here’s how Mac Jones’ 40 drives have ended:

Fifteen punts. Nine 3-and-outs. Eleven field goals. Five touchdowns. Two relinquished on downs. Five interceptions. Two fumbles.

The Patriots had 16 scoring drives. The touchdown drives were 32, 75, 75, 62 and 2 yards respectively.

Stuck in neutral

Percent of Jones' last 40 drives that have been five plays or fewer and resulted in a FG, punt or turnover

52.5

Variation

Single

They’ve had 17 drives of five plays or fewer that ended with a punt or a turnover. They’ve had 21 drives of five plays or fewer that ended with a field goal, punt or turnover. That’s more than half.

And honestly, with the Bailey Zappe/Brian Hoyer combo it wasn’t that much better.

Hoyer started Week 4 and lasted two possessions. Zappe took the next 36 drives against the Packers, Lions, Browns and Bears.

In those 38 possessions, there were 15 punts and nine three-and-outs. There were seven field goals and a missed field goal. They scored nine touchdowns and there were three fumbles and three interceptions.

There were 16 scoring drives and the nine touchdown drives were 65, 66, 66, 75, 40, 19, 8, 55 and 50 yards.

There were 16 drives of five plays or fewer that ended with punt or turnover. There were no drives of five plays or less that ended in field goals.

The litany of excuses, reasons and explanations for less-than-watchable offense is like a CVS receipt. Offensive line not gelling. Individual players on the line playing poorly (Isaiah Wynn and, of late, Cole Strange). Offensive line injuries. The lack of a true, true slot or third-down back to waterbug around. Scheme change. Coaching change. Matt Patricia spread too thin and learning the ropes. Josh McDaniels gone and Joe Judge becoming Mac’s consigliere. Mac’s injury. Mac’s frustration. Good defenses the past two weeks. Turnovers. I’m sure I’m missing a few.

Perry's Report Card: A tale of two units in win over Colts

With that laundry list of issues, there’s no way the Patriots heal themselves during one bye week. And the healing itself -- David Andrews' and Marcus Cannon’s concussions first and foremost -- is a huge concern not just for those two players’ health (obviously) but also for their availability. Will Jones have a competent and healthy offensive line to play behind in 2022?

In short, the Patriots' 5-4 record says they’re a better-than-average team. In the hunt. And they are. They’re hunting a wild card. But they’re also hunting who they are, what they do well and whether they can stop the regression of their quarterback and offense and start digging out.