Although the New England Patriots had a respectable 10-7 year, their season ended in anything but respectable fashion. Blown out by the Buffalo Bills and quite frankly dominated in every facet. The defense, which had regressed and faced mounting injuries as the season went on, picked a bad time for their worst game of the year. The Patriots had no answers for Josh Allen and co., and as a result, suffered their worst postseason loss in decades. No other way to put it, a dreadful way to end the season.
On the flip side, the Patriots had several positive things happen in 2021. Most notably their three top rookies in Mac Jones, Christian Barmore, and Rhamondre Stevenson all having great first seasons. Additionally, a number of their key free-agent signings, namely Matt Judon, Hunter Henry, and Kendrick Bourne did as well. While the Patriots’ year did end on a sour note, this was about where they should have been with this roster.
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What Went Right
One of the problems the Patriots have had in recent years is a lack of youth. Based on these last few drafts, that has at least been somewhat remedied. The 2021 trio of Jones, Barmore, and Stevenson of course were the newest members, but a big piece this year as well was second-year safety, Kyle Dugger. The pride of Lenior-Rhyne made a big jump in his snap count/percentage in year two. In addition, he got better in coverage as well. Along with four picks, Dugger allowed just 32 completions for 295 yards and 3 touchdowns allowed.
Damien Harris, in his second year getting snaps, was also excellent. Despite missing out on a 1000 yard campaign, the Alabama product notched 15 scores on the year. Good for sixth in the entire NFL among skill players. Stevenson meanwhile had a crazy start to the year. Typically, the Patriots give rookie running backs a redshirt year (see James White, Harris, etc). Stevenson managed to get one snap in the opener vs the Miami Dolphins and fumbled on a two-yard carry. In what can only be described as shocking, Stevenson made it out of the Bill Belichick Shadow Realm™ and went on to have a solid year. While not there just yet, the Patriots are slowly building up a strong young core.
What Went Wrong
In total, the Patriots lost seven games this regular season. Five of those games ultimately came down to either a couple of plays, or bad offensive coaching. Very un-Patriot like to say the least, at least for the first part. Although some of the losses were more forgivable than others, great teams find a way to win those games more often than not. One of those results flipping wins the Patriots the division, another potentially gets them the one seed in the AFC.
There was also a trend that followed those seven losses, slow offensive starts. the Patriots averaged 6.8 first-half points a game in their losses. For comparison, they averaged 17.2 first-half points in their 10 wins. Whether it be play-calling, ball security, or game planning issues, this cannot happen again next year. Cant expect to win many NFL games averaging under a touchdown and PAT for nearly half the season.
Team Award Winners
MVP – J.C. Jackson
If you want a corner who can create turnovers like Trevon Diggs but also not surrender the most yards of any defender in football, Jackson is your guy. Facing a career-high amount of targets against some stout receivers, the Florida turned Maryland product had a career season. In a season where he only surrendered three touchdowns, Jackson racked up eight picks and only surrendered 658 yards in 17 tilts. Additionally, Jackson allowed an opposing passer rating of 46.8. That was better than Diggs, Jalen Ramsey, AJ Terrell, or Darius Slay. There’s a chance he isn’t back in Foxborough this time next year, but hard to argue that Jackson was not a huge cog in the Patriots season.
Offensive Rookie of the Year – Mac Jones
Pretty easy choices for the two team ROTY’s. There were times where Jones played like a rookie, but also where he played like a seasoned vet. As far as his best game, that would have to be his thrashing of the Cleveland Browns. Jones only completed 19 passes for 198 here, but also three touchdowns which included a laser beam to Bourne. What was impressive stat-wise was Jones’ 142.1 passer rating, which was his best of the year. Heading into year two there is some work to be done, but it was hard not to be happy with Jones from an overall standpoint.
Defensive Rookie of the Year – Christain Barmore
One of the absolute stunners of the 2021 draft was Barmore slipping out of the first round. Belichick and the Patriots agreed as they traded up in the second round to get him. Despite never playing more than 70 percent of snaps in any one game, Barmore was a menace. With only 1.5 sacks, he still managed to rank second on the Patriots for total pressures, trailing only Judon. Assuming he gets more opportunity to play, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t, 2022 could be massive for Barmore.
Biggest Surprise – Kendrick Bourne
Even as a massive fan of the signing as-is, Bourne managed to excel in his first year with the Patriots. No. 84 notched career highs in just about every major receiving statistic. He even picked up 124 rushing and 25 passing yards as well. Drops were also a problem for Bourne with the San Fransisco 49ers, not in New England. He went from six a year ago to just one this season. The Jones-Bourne connection all season was potent. Jones didn’t have a better passer rating with any other pass catcher than he did with Bourne. He felt like a Patriots kind of receiver, and he most certainly played like one. Hopefully Bourne factors into New England’s plans for years to come.
Biggest Disappointment – Joshua Thomas McDaniels
We could go on for ages on McDaniels here.. Watching the Patriots’ offense in stretches this year was beyond infuriating. Not utilizing players as well as he could have, horrendous third-down play-calling, and just not playing to win in spots. Here are just a few examples of McDaniels ineptitude this year. The first player the Patriots got in free agency was Jonnu Smith. Despite claiming multiple times throughout the season that he needed to get him more involved, McDaniels did anything but. Brandon Bolden managed to have more touches/receptions than Smith this year. Paying a tight end 50 million to use him that little is grossly incompetent.
Josh McDaniels on Jonnu Smith: "talented guy. Works hard. I need to do a better job of getting him the ball." #Patriots
— Evan Lazar (@ezlazar) December 28, 2021
If you’re a Patriots fan, you already know about the vintage draw call on third and medium that was used a few dozen times this year as well. Also, the fake spike call with two timeouts against Buffalo at the end of the first half was beyond horrendous. To be perfectly blunt, if Belichick still runs on doing what’s best for the Patriots, McDaniels should not be here next season. There’s a time where someone just needs to go and he has been at that point for a while. In case you haven’t noticed, the Patriots’ offense hasn’t been completely lighting up for a few years now. That includes Tom Brady‘s final few. Getting an outside voice for Jones is absolutely for the best.
One Burning Question
What will the Patriots look like next season?
Going into the offseason, the Patriots have several key players hitting free agency/mulling retirement. The key three here are Dont’a Hightower, Devin McCourty, and Matthew Slater. Not just great players, but big-time locker room leaders as well. Losing any one of those players would be notable, let alone all three. Then there are players like Jackson, Trent Brown, and Ja’Whaun Bentley hitting the open market. In short, this could be another notable offseason for New England. Additionally, look for some possible cap casualties. Nelson Agholor is a possibility. While not dreadful this year, his production didn’t match his price tag. As far as positions of need, the Patriots should be looking for off-ball linebackers, depth at safety and corner, along with a No. 1 receiver. Calvin Ridley perhaps?
Follow Jack Gaffney on Twitter @JackGaffneyPTST
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