The New England Patriots gave one of their worst performances of the season at the worst possible time in a 24-3 loss to the Los Angeles Rams on Thursday night.
The Patriots offense struggled mightily against the Rams defense, making four trips to the red zone and managing to score just a field goal. New England's defense had trouble slowing down the Los Angeles rushing attack, giving up 186 yards and a touchdown.
The defeat drops the Patriots' record to 6-7, which will make it very difficult for New England to reach the AFC playoffs.
What can we take away from this game? Here are four instant overreactions from the Patriots' loss to the Rams at SoFi Stadium.
1. Slow starts are the Patriots' biggest problem
The Patriots were shut out in the first quarter and could only generate a field goal by halftime. They finished with three points.
Here's a recap of the Patriots' three drives that started in the first quarter:
--Interception returned for TD by Rams
Slow starts are nothing new for the Patriots. They came into Week 14 with the 32nd-ranked scoring offense in the first quarter. The Pats had scored an average of just 2.3 points in the first quarter through their first 12 games.
New England was a top-three first-quarter scoring team in each of the last two seasons. So, if you're looking for one of the main differences offensively between the 2019 team and this year's group, not being able to produce anything offensively to start the game is near the top of the list.
These slow starts are even more problematic for the Patriots offense when you factor in quarterback Cam Newton's lack of success throwing the football. Overcoming deficits is extremely difficult when the quarterback is unable to consistently pick up chunks of yards through the air.
2. It's time to start Jarrett Stidham
The Patriots offense is way too predictable right now, and that was painfully obvious late in the first half when the unit came up short near the goal line on four consecutive runs.
Patriots quarterback Cam Newton was stopped short of the goal line on a 3rd-and-goal run from the 3-yard line, and on the next play he elected to keep the ball instead of pitching it to running back Damien Harris. The result was a 2-yard loss on fourth down, giving the ball back to the Rams.
The Rams had no need to respect the Patriots' passing attack in that area of the field -- or anywhere, for that matter. Newton has struggled throwing the football most of the season. He came into Thursday night with just five touchdown passes and nine interceptions in 11 games. Newton threw for a combined 154 yards over the last two games, and he tallied 119 yards with zero touchdowns and one interception versus the Rams.
Newton's passing issues are crippling the team's offense and make it almost impossible to overcome a double-digit deficit. In his defense, he doesn't have a ton of talent around him at the skill positions. New England's wide receiver group is subpar, and the production from the tight ends is the worst in the league.
With the playoffs likely an unattainable goal, it's time to start backup Jarrett Stidham and see what he can do with a full week of practice as the starting quarterback. The 2019 fourth-round draft pick has underwhelmed in his four appearances this season, but it's hard to make an accurate assessment of a player when most of his game action has come in garbage time. Stidham played a few possessions late in Thursday's game and was sacked twice by the Rams' relentless pass rush.
The Patriots should start Stidham over the final three games and see what they have in him before making a decision on the quarterback of the future during the offseason.
3. No playoffs in January!?
The Patriots are not mathematically eliminated from the AFC East title race or the chase for a wild card spot, but they will need a boatload of help to extend their streak of 11 consecutive postseason appearances.
FiveThirtyEight's model gives the Patriots just a four percent chance of earning a playoff spot as a result of their loss to the Rams.
New England's upcoming schedule isn't easy, either. The Patriots will travel to Miami for a Week 15 matchup with the Dolphins. Then they return to Gillette Stadium for a Week 16 game versus the AFC East-leading Buffalo Bills on "Monday Night Football."
It's looking increasingly likely that the NFL playoffs will not include the Patriots for the first time since 2008.
4. Rams are among the top NFC contenders
The Rams are a very good team and a real threat to win the NFC for the second time in three seasons. They now have quality wins over the Patriots, Seattle Seahawks, Arizona Cardinals and Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Los Angeles' defense, led by future Hall of Fame defensive lineman Aaron Donald, is among the best in the league. This unit entered Week 14 ranked No. 2 in yards allowed per game and No. 5 in points allowed per game. The Rams defense also is one of five teams allowing fewer than 100 rushing yards per game, and it ranks No. 2 in third down defense as well. L.A. held the Patriots to just 220 total yards of offense and tallied six sacks Thursday night.
The question mark with the Rams is their offense, and specifically starting quarterback Jared Goff. You can rely on the Rams defense to show up each week, but it's uncertain if Goff is capable of leading a team to a Super Bowl title. Goff has thrown five touchdowns and five interceptions over the last three games.
That said, the Rams have won four of their last five games and appear to be hitting their stride at the perfect time. They should be a tough team to beat come playoff time.