For the first three weeks of the 2023 season, giving grades to the New England Patriots was a mixed bag. With every positive came a corresponding negative. This makes sense, given the Patriots had played in three consecutive one score games, winning only one of them. The script flipped on Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys.
At one point the game was tied at three apiece. From that point the game was incredibly lopsided, and not in favor of New England. Dallas went on to win 38-3 in the largest loss of Bill Belichick’s head coaching career. With that in mind, here is the New England Patriots report card for Sunday’s performance…
Generally, coaches get either too much credit or blame, but when things go this wrong it is tough not to grade accordingly. The Dallas Cowboys easily annihilated the New England Patriots Sunday, but barely seemed to break a sweat in the process. The Patriots offense was unimaginative and predictable, two things that got last season’s offensive brain trust replaced. A lot of the plays were poorly executed, but they were also poor calls. It is difficult to say if Bill O’Brien called this game the way he did because of a lack of trust in the Patriots personnel, or because he genuinely thought it would work. Defense was better, but still did not make Dallas work for nearly enough on the day. Meanwhile, Bill Belichick appears to be on the hot seat for the first time in his Patriots career. Fans have put Belichick there before, but it no longer feels like they are alone. The halftime adjustments Patriots fans grew accustomed to have not been there.
Even the most ardent Mac Jones supporters must confess he was awful on Sunday. Having a QB turn the ball over three times in a game can rarely be overcome. This is especially true when the turnovers lead directly to points for the opposition. The New England Patriots QB wasn’t the victim of bad luck on Sunday, he helped create his own bad luck. On the strip sack that caused a fumble and return for a touchdown, Jones held onto the ball too long. On the interception that was returned for a touchdown, Jones tried throwing the ball back across the field. He was certainly under more pressure than one would like but did himself no favors in the process. Bailey Zappe had a couple of long completions in relief and did not turn the ball over. He did not, however, do enough to save the Patriots quarterback group from a failing grade.
Running Backs: D-plus
Rhamondre Stevenson remains on a downward trajectory in 2023. Last season he averaged 5.0 yards per carry. This season it is down to 2.7 and on Sunday it was 2.2. Ezekiel Elliott performed well against the Jets in Week 3, but was largely ineffective (aside from one nice gain) in his return to Dallas. Combined the paid rushed 20 times for 46 yards and added four receptions on six targets for 16 yards. An overall uninspired performance from a group the Patriots cannot afford it from.
Wide Receivers: D
The Patriots wide receivers can thank Demario Douglas for preventing this from being a failing grade. His 42 yard catch and run on New England’s opening drive was easily the team’s highlight of the game. Kendrick Bourne, DeVante Parker and JuJu Smith-Schuster combined to haul in five receptions for 83 yards. Over half of that yardage came on receptions from Bourne and Parker with Bailey Zappe at QB in garbage time. Smith-Schuster only had one reception on five targets, as he continues to struggle making a difference. On the pick-six thrown by Mac Jones, Bourne was the intended receiver and failed to move at all on the throw. As he was awaiting the ball’s arrival completely stationary, DaRon Brown cut him off and made the interception. Getting open also continues to be a recurring theme with this group. But as as drilled home last week, “no one is coming.”
Tight Ends: B-minus
Tight end remains the Patriots most consistent positional group this season. Hunter Henry saw only five targets but made four receptions for 51 yards. This included a very nice one-handed snag on a play in which he was interfered with. Mike Gesicki also contributed in the passing game, but had just one 12 yard catch on three targets. Pharaoh Brown was back to being exclusively used as a blocker. He was in for 22 snaps but was not targeted a week after his receiving skills helped spawn the Patriots onto victory.
Offensive Line: D-minus
Trent Brown has been the best offensive lineman for the New England Patriots this season. He wasn’t as dominating against as Cowboys as he had been the week before against the Jets but was still solid. If not for Brown, this group would have failed. All five Patriots played in 100% of the snaps but were not effective. RG Mike Onwenu was called for three penalties, including two very costly false starts when the game was still within reach. LG Sidy Sow and C David Andrews were each called for a penalty as well. LT Vederian Lowe was not flagged, but he did allow nine pressures and a sack. Mac Jones is not doing this group any favors by holding onto the ball too long, but they are certainly not helping Jones either. They have also struggled to help establish a ground gain for the Patriots and got no push on the failed fourth down attempt.
Defensive Line: D-plus
Deatrich Wise Jr. played his best football of the season for the Patriots, finishing with four tackles and a sack. Overall, however, this was an unimpressive game for New England’s defensive front. Christian Barmore and Davon Godchaux, combined for just one assisted tackle. Keion White also had just one assisted tackle and was most noticeable while barging through the line as Dak Prescott took a knee to end the first half. Despite playing from in front most of the afternoon, the Dallas Cowboys ground game picked up 127 yards on 26 carries, excluding kneel-down plays.
Jahlani Tavai was one the brightest spots for the New England Patriots defense yesterday. Tavai had five tackles, a sack and two tackles for loss. Josh Uche also contributed a sack for the Patriots. Ja’Whuan Bentley was solid, with five tackles and a pass deflection. Matthew Judon was not as noticeable as usual, with just one tackle before leaving injured in the fourth quarter. This group will need to be even better in the weeks ahead to help make up for Judon’s absence.
Defensive Back: C
The loss of Christian Gonzalez was brutal, forcing New England to finish the game without their top four cornerbacks. The group tackled well. but struggled in coverage. Kyle Dugger (13), Myles Bryant (10), Jabrill Peppers (eight) and Shaun Wade (five, all solo) were at the top of the Patriots tackles leaders. Things aren’t going great when defensive backs are picking up that many tackles. Dugger and Peppers each had a nice tackle for loss, while Wade made an impressive open field tackle to prevent a big gain. Myles Bryant’s performance will best be remembered for the touchdown reception he allowed to CeeDee Lamb after the Gonzalez injury (one in which he didn’t appear ready for the snap) but he did also force two fumbles on the day. Unfortunately for the Patriots, they were not able to recover either one. Jalen Mills also saw more time this week and looked solid.
Special Teams: C
Dallas became the first team to score two points on a fake point-after attempt since the NFL move attempts back to the 15-yard line in 2015. Chad Ryland missed another field goal attempt for New England, this one from 52 yards out. Both Ryland and fellow rookie, punter Bryce Baringer, have proven to have strong legs. Ryland consistently puts kickoffs out of the end zone. Baringer is leading all NFL punters in pinning the opposition inside the 20 yard line. He was only able to do that once on Sunday, but it was largely due to punting from terrible field position. Demario Douglas returned one punt for negative-two yards as he was absolutely clobbered on the return.
There will be a lot of improvement needed across the board if the New England Patriots are going to turn this season around. With 13 regular season games remaining there is still plenty of time, but it will need to start with an honor roll performance in their next outing.