FOXBORO – The Patriots have played 37 post-Tom Brady games. Their record A.T.? It’s 18-19. Which, objectively and with all things considered, ain’t that bad.
The 2020 season was a reboot financially and roster-wise yet they still managed to win seven games with a quarterback who didn’t throw overhand very well.
The 2021 season was kind of a rousing success. They found a quarterback in the first-round of the draft by just sitting there and letting him flutter into their lap.
They developed said quarterback into a Pro Bowl player and -- deep into November -- they were the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoff race with a 9-4 record.
The season ended on a skid and it was reasonable to assume that they got fat on crap teams as they rose to 9-4. But still, they were better than most and if their post-Brady "bottoming out" was limited to one 7-9 season? Not a disaster. Kind of a triumph.
So where are they now? With a 1-2 record and headed to Lambeau, are they backsliding because of A) a slapdash solution to replacing Josh McDaniels B) a regression on the part of Mac Jones C) a slow-slide from the quality control of smarts and discipline seen when they were a juggernaut?
Or is there no backslide at all? Are they just getting a new foothold?
If you squint, could the 1-2 be 3-0 if not for "a few plays"? Is Jones just going through the normal fits-and-starts a second-year quarterback endures? Little-remembered fact? Brady was a turnover machine in early 2002 with 10 picks in the Patriots first six games in the midst of what would be a 3-4 start.
Will the Patriots offensive tweaking -- which has already produced surprisingly solid results -- keep improving? And will the reconfigured defensive personnel -- which admittedly got pantsed by Lamar Jackson last week -- resume its encouraging arc?
This stretch of six games before their bye is a critical juncture for 2022 and maybe beyond. Bill Belichick spent plenty of time tamping down early-season expectations. If we call the first four a reasonable adjustment period, then the next five against the Lions, Browns, Bears, Jets and Colts ought to be the time for them to get traction.
By the end of this run they need to look more like the team that got to 9-4 last year and a lot less like the team that’s gone 2-6 since. The Patriots may not snap the playoff-win drought that owner Robert Kraft lamented in March. But they really should be sniffing around the edges of the AFC playoff race at the very least.
Ironically enough, Sunday against the Packers represents opportunity. The Patriots are -- on the surface -- backed into a corner. Jones is hurt. They’re coming off a loss where the defense got embarrassed and the offense couldn’t stop burping it up. Brian Hoyer will likely start and he hasn’t won in his last 11 starts. They are on the verge of becoming an AFC East also-ran. And they are going to Lambeau to face one of the greatest quarterbacks in the history of the game. That’s a nice helping of adversity.
In my experience, when they’re backed into a corner, Bill Belichick teams are at their absolute best. Those teams may have had different circumstances. For instance, multiple future Hall-of-Famers, Pro Bowlers and Super Bowl-winning players on both sides of the ball. But for the people that need reminding, this roster is ... good.
It isn’t stocked with high-end talent but there’s not one position group that qualifies as bad. Their problem(s) as we can all agree are kind of self-inflicted. They are physically better than I expected. And mentally worse than I expected.
So it’s fixable. And it’s a trait of Belichick teams -- or used to be -- that they’d always, always, always correct weak points. Or at least mask them sufficiently. Can they do that against Green Bay and use that to propel them into a slew of games against meh opponents? If they can, some of that Patriots DNA still remains.