GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Patriots haven't exactly given fans a reason to believe this season will last deep into January.
But here's what I would say fans should watch for in tonight's matchup with the Arizona Cardinals and moving forward: Will players exhibit any traces of buy-in?
Buy-in is something Bill Belichick absolutely covets. He's worked hard over the years -- between who he drafts, who he signs, who he hires to his staff from the outside, how he teaches -- to make sure he has it.
Patriots Talk: Patriots are truly facing a must-win against the Cardinals | Listen & Subscribe | Watch on YouTube
We discussed it throughout the summer: The decisions he made on his offensive staff would challenge the buy-in he received. It was a risk. He had to know it. And whether or not this season is made interesting, whether or not there's anything positive coming to build on for 2023, will be reflected tonight in the level of effort, energy and focus we see from Belichick's players in Glendale.
Based on conversations I've had, buy-in is waning in pockets of the building.
There is exasperation not only from those on the offensive side but on the defensive side of the ball as well. The offense has struggled so significantly that those on the other side haven't been put in a position to succeed consistently. (That was perhaps best illustrated by the lopsided time-of-possession battle with the Bills last week.) Belichick has for years extolled the virtues of playing "complementary football," but that has proven elusive.
Play good defense. Make some plays on special teams. Hope it's enough. It's an issue for folks beyond those taking up residence in offensive meetings. It's something that people organization-wide plainly see.
As for the offensive buy-in, I think that was gasping for air long ago. Not only were the staff changes alarming when they happened, but problems seem to have been exacerbated because the coaching staff appeared to make a miscalculation in terms of the types of players they're working with.
Perry: Vance Joseph's take about Matt Patricia is hard to argue
It's a different generation. While Matt Patricia and Joe Judge have tried to put their stamp on the offense, there hasn't been much room for ownership by players of what's happening on that side of the ball. It's a game of tug-o-war that's resulted in all parties flat-backed.
Players these days, like it or not, need to feel included. They need to be told "why," but they also need to have some decision-making power. They don't have much. This recent report about Joe Burrow and the Bengals offense stood out to me because it looks like Cincinnati realized a similar misstep and reacted accordingly.
Mac Jones isn't Burrow. The Patriots aren't the Bengals. But in today's game, it's hard to have a my-way-or-the-highway approach to coaching. Especially if the coaches aren't experts in their field and everyone knows it.
My understanding is offensive players this week were going to try to keep the coaching staff accountable and be more proactive in terms of getting the details they felt were necessary to succeed in Arizona. We'll see if it pays off with better execution.
If it does, good for them. Something to build on. If it doesn't, it's worth wondering if this staff is willing to update its approach and show a willingness to collaborate more with players.
Because if last week's result doesn't spark change, what will?