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Boston Herald Report Looks at Dysfunction of 2023 Patriots



New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and head coach Bill Belichick

The 2023 New England Patriots season has been a disappointment by anyone’s standards. Their record is 4-12 as they prepare to host the New York Jets in the season finale. Thought of making the playoffs were abandoned months ago. After finishing 8-9 in 2022, it appeared the New England had reached a new rock bottom under the ownership of Robert Kraft. Turns out, it was not even close.

So how did things go so wrong for the 2023 New England Patriots? Certainly bad luck can be blamed for some of it. They had a tough time staying healthy, with 15 players currently on IR. Roster construction has been another obvious issue, especially on the offensive side of the ball. But in addition to everything that has been witnessed on the field this season, there has also been some apparent dysfunction away from it.

On Thursday, the Boston Herald published a report by Patriots reporters Andrew Callahan and Doug Kyed. They took an inside look at New England’s “fall to rock bottom in the Bill Belichick Era.” Readers should check out the full article themselves, but these were a few of the major revelations.

Bill Belichick Wanted to Keep Matt Patricia

Despite the struggles of the 2022 New England Patriots offense, Bill Belichick preferred keeping offensive play caller Matt Patricia in the same role this season. The hiring of Patricia to run the offense was heavily scrutinized at the time. When Mac Jones and the offense regressed under Josh McDaniels replacements, it became easy to blame Patricia. Robert Kraft clearly heard these complaints and agreed that a change was needed. As a result, Belichick was forced to find a new offensive coordinator, ultimately bringing back Bill O’Brien to New England.

This season the offense has been significantly worse under O’Brien’s watch. Last season the Patriots scored 364 points. With one game to play, this year’s team has scored 233 points. Barring a 132-point output against the Jets on Sunday, this is a step in the wrong direction. It is the third-lowest total through 16 games in franchise history. The 2023 squad trails onto the teams of 1990 and 1992, who finished with combined records of 4-28.

If Bill Belichick returns in 2024, will Bill O’Brien be back with him? Will an attempt be made to bring back Josh McDaniels? Or is another option out there for New England? Regardless, knowing the head coach would have preferred sticking with his previous offensive staff can’t be welcomed news to the current OC.

Bill O’Brien Wanted His Own Coaches

Another aspect of the Bill O’Brien dynamic was that he wanted to pick his own offensive staff. The ‘compromise’ was letting O’Brien choose one assistant, tight ends coach Will Lawing. Lawing was with O’Brien at previous stops with Penn State, the Houston Texans, and Alabama. The relationship with O’Brien made Lawing a clear No. 2 in the offensive hierarchy. After Lawing came quarterbacks assistant Evan Rothstein, then everybody else. The ‘everybody else’ portion of things were obviously not loving this set up.

So, the Patriots have Bill Belichick not being able to pick his offensive coordinator (Matt Patricia), and then Bill O’Brien not being able to pick his own offensive assistants (save Lawing). Not a great recipe for camaraderie on the coaching staff.

Wide receivers coach Ross Douglas left during the season to become the passing game coordinator at Syracuse University. This left Patriots Hall of Famer Troy Brown (who also handles return specialist duties) to man the wide receiver room. Other offensive assistants apparently not chosen by Bill O’Brien were running backs coach Vinnie Sunseri and offensive line coach Adrian Klemm (more on him later).

In addition to these tensions, O’Brien reportedly called for more meetings with the entire offense, limiting the amount of team that positional coaches got to spend with their respective units.

Front Office Gets Questioned

While there was some private grumbling about the talent coaches had to work with, Adrian Klemm did not remain silent with his feelings. He reportedly confronted GM Matt Groh in a loud exchange about the team’s personnel decisions. Instead of using draft capital or money in free agency to improve the offensive line, New England opted to cast a wide net into the bargain bin. They signed Calvin Anderson and Riley Rieff in free agency, traded for Vederian Lowe and Tyrone Wheatley, Jr. at the end of training camp, and drafted Jake Andrews, Sidy Sow, and Atonio Mafi late in the 2023 NFL Draft. Of these seven acquisitions, only Sow has made a positive impact in 2023.

There is also the issue about signing wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster instead of bringing back Jakobi Meyers. The move obviously failed. Smith-Schuster finished the season (he is on IR) with 29 receptions, 260 yards receiving, and one touchdown. Meanwhile, Meyers with the Las Vegas Raiders has caught 68 passes for 746 yards and seven touchdowns. The team also opted not to pony up the money it would take to sign DeAndre Hopkins, who was available to them.

It is understandable how the position coaches are reluctant to take on blame when the front office has not given them the proper pieces to work with. Some coaches likely simmered in silence, while Klemm vocalized his frustration.

And in Klemm’s absence (due to unspecified health issues) for much of the season, the New England Patriots turned to assistant offensive line coach Billy Yates to take over. But also assisting as a coach is practice squad player (added to the 53-man roster last week) James Ferentz. Yet another unusual move in an unusual season.

Mac Jones vs. Bailey Zappe

Another aspect of the report which should come as no surprise is the lack of camaraderie between quarterbacks Mac Jones and Bailey Zappe. Their relationship is described as ‘cordial’ with each getting prepared on their own. This is not a relationship where the two are helping the other prepare to play their best. There is also the issue of Bailey Zappe never actually beating out Mac Jones for the job. Rather, the job was basically handed to Zappe after it became clear that Mac Jones had lost all confidence, and was no longer capable of playing his best football.

Adding to the issues in the quarterback room was the revolving door of backups, a lack of opportunity for others (specifically Will Grier) and a lack of plan for developing Malik Cunningham. As noted in the report, and from the eye test, the team would have greatly benefited from a veteran quarterback accepting of a backup/mentor role.

Disciplinary Issues for Players

After J.C. Jackson was brought back from the Chargers, he was disciplined for missing team curfew. Jack Jones was also disciplined, but then confronted cornerbacks coach Mike Pellegrino about not starting against Indianapolis in Germany. Jones was waived following the game.

And Trent Brown, who was questioned about quitting on the team on this site, apparently told teammates he was planning to play for an NFC team next season. For a coach like Bill Belichick, with a constant focus on the task ahead, having a player making their plans for the following season with a month still to play had to be frustrating to say the least.

Team Plays Hard for Bill Belichick

Regardless of everything else happening with the 2023 New England Patriots season, the team continues to play hard for Bill Belichick. For a 4-12 team that still means something. Is that enough to convince Robert Kraft to bring Belichick back for the 2024 season? That decision will likely be known later this week. But it does appear if Belichick is to return to Foxboro, he will need to relinquish decision-making, and Matt Groh could be departing from his role as well. There needs to be a new person to rebuild the team’s offense. Will Bill O’Brien be around to help with that? Could Josh McDaniels return? Who will be the person making personnel decisions?

What has gone wrong for the New England Patriots is no longer in question. They best way to fix it still is.