These aren't your older brother's New England Patriots.
In what can only be described as a disaster of epic magnitude, New England has suffered the two most lopsided losses of head coach Bill Belichick's career in consecutive weeks, following Sunday's 34-0 drubbing at the hands of the New Orleans Saints, in Foxboro.
New Orleans' dismantling of the Patriots, which sent quarterback Mac Jones to the bench for the second straight game, was just seven days after the Dallas Cowboys handed Belichick the worst loss of his career, in a 35-0 shutout.
Over the past two weeks, the Patriots' offensive line has been a sieve, allowing four sacks as New England has managed only 98 rushing yards combined against the Cowboys and Saints.
While this has been a complete breakdown in all phases, New England's failure along the offensive line is most concerning, because it further limits the offense's ability to dig out of this hole.
"I think poor quarterback play and ball-security is an equally bad problem alongside the offensive line issues," former Patriots linebacker Matt Chatham told FanBuzz Sunday evening. "It was a quiet story throughout training camp, because I think most assumed they'd hit the ground running in Week 1, but not having Cole Strange and Mike Onwenu has been a bomb in the most important room on the team.
"More importantly, it's set off a finger-in-the dam shuffling. But, it's taken what's usually been a strength of that team and left it as one of its biggest weaknesses."
Sunday, 1,471 miles from Sunday's fiasco in Foxboro, Miami Dolphins wide receiver Tyreek Hill finished with more receiving yards, 181, than the Patriots were able to muster of total offense, 156.
It would be easy to suggest the clock could be ticking on Belichick's legendary career, especially given a mediocre 26-29 record with just one postseason berth since Tom Brady's 2020 departure to Tampa Bay, where the Hall of Fame quarterback led the Buccaneers to a championship and two consecutive Super Bowl berths. However, the reality is New England has fallen woefully behind the rest of the AFC East from a talent and personnel standpoint, nowhere more evident than at quarterback.
At 1-4, the Patriots are off to the worst start to a season since before Brady was drafted in 2000.
But, Chatham doesn't believe the Patriots should begin to have any uncomfortable conversations regarding Belichick's future with the franchise he helped deliver six Lombardi Trophies since the turn of the millennium.
"I completely understand the temptation for fans to want to go to [suggest moving on from Belichick]," he said. "But, I think that's premature.
"I don't think that sort of stuff gets decided now. You have to let the season breathe. They don't appear to have an answer at quarterback, and a depleted-through-injury offensive line. If those things aren't the case, would you really want to get rid of an excellent coach?"
Clearly, the Patriots' issues run much deeper than anything that Belichick can wave a magic wand and fix this season.
But, while the past two Sundays feel like rock bottom — and bad enough to send New Englanders off to spend Sundays peeping the foliage the rest of this fall, the worst might still be to come for the Patriots.
"There really isn't an easy answer at quarterback," Chatham said. "Bailey Zappe hasn't been any better than Mac Jones, so there's no controversy there. Maybe at some point you give Will Grier an opportunity, but, that's dependent on where he is at getting up to speed. Nobody knows if that's a good idea, except for those who've seen him at practice.
"This is it, for them at quarterback, unless they entertain a trade for an established veteran who could come in and perform right away."
Given that quarterbacks are rarely moved in-season, an upgrade at quarterback ain't walking through that door in Foxboro, and neither Zappe or Jones have inspired much confidence that the offense is going to improve very much at all from here.
Likewise, at 1-4, if things don't turn around, the Patriots might be better suited holding a firesale with a rebuild and Caleb Williams in mind.
Here's a rundown of the biggest storylines, moments, and takeaways from Week 5 of the 2023 NFL season, with insight from sources around the league:
First Down: Eagles' Offensive Line Paves Way to 5-0 Start
In a troubling development for the rest of the NFL, the Eagles have clearly rediscovered both their winning formula, and their mojo.
The reigning NFC champions are 5-0 after dispatching the Los Angeles Rams 23-14, in a victory that was paved by the Eagles' offensive line having its way against Aaron Donald and Co.
True to form, Eagles All-Pro Lane Johnson completely neutralized Donald, who has yet to produce a sack against Philadelphia in his career, as Philadelphia rushed for 159 yards but more importantly provided a consistently clean pocket for Jalen Hurts to carve up the Rams with surgical precision.
"They call protections that will keep in extra blockers," NFL analyst and former Eagles offensive lineman Barrett Brooks told FanBuzz on Sunday evening. "Jason Kelce was conscious of where he wanted and needed to help with Donald. This offensive line just shut down the best defensive tackle in the NFL."
Beyond keeping Donald out of the backfield, and to just four tackles, Hurts' versatility in the pocket and the Eagles' adaptability on offense is beginning to be reminiscent of the what led Philadelphia to Super Bowl 57.
Hurts finished with 303 passing yards with one touchdown, one interception, and rushed for a team-high 72 yards with another score.
"They ran the ball, and were able to run play action as a result," Brooks explained. "That keeps the running back and the tight end in for protection."
Not only are the Eagles 5-0, but Hurts has averaged 300 passing yards over the past three games with four touchdowns, three interceptions, 134 yards rushing and two touchdowns as Philadelphia outscored the Rams, Commanders, and Buccaneers 80-56 over that span.
Hurts has now won 22 of his last 23 starts, and as far as this season is concerned, the Eagles appear to have
Following a trip up to the Meadowlands to take on the Jets next Sunday, the litmus test begins for Hurts and this Eagles team.
Beginning in Week 7, the Eagles will take on the Miami Dolphins, take to the road against the Washington Commanders, host the Dallas Cowboys before a Week 10 bye and then face off against the Patrick Mahomes' Chiefs in Arrowhead, returning home against Josh Allen's Buffalo Bills followed by the San Francisco 49ers and consecutive trips to take on the Dallas Cowboys and Seattle Seahawks.
That might be one of the most difficult eight-game stretches any team will face this season.
If Hurts and the Eagles emerge from the next nine weeks relatively unscathed and anywhere near the top of the NFC, Hurts will legitimately be in the MVP conversation and Philadelphia will have been sufficiently battle-tested as the stretch run and postseason looms.
Second Down: Ja'Marr Chase Walks The Talk
One week after Ja'Marr Chase sounded off about the Bengals' inability through four weeks to involve him in the offense, the star receiver backed up his talk in a big way against the Arizona Cardinals.
Chase set the Bengals' franchise record for receptions in a single game, pulling down 15 against the Cardinals, for 181 yards with three touchdowns, leading the way to Cincinnati's 34-20 get-right win in the desert.
"I'm open," Chase lamented, following disheartening 27-3 Week 4 loss to the Tennessee Titans. "I'm always F****ing open."
Against the Cardinals, Chase certainly was.
"It's not realistic to expect what Ja'Marr did week-to-week," an AFC scout told FanBuzz. "But, Burrow and Chase have been on the same page since their time together at LSU. Joe's health is way more important than them heating up. He's got to be able to plant and drive off that leg."
Sunday was the first indication that Burrow is making significant progress in his recovery from the injury, one week after looking immobile from the pocket, unable to protect himself even, passing for just 165 yards. It was a different story against the Cardinals, with Burrow breaking out with 317 passing yards, three touchdowns to one interception.
It's going to take a Herculean effort for the Bengals to climb their way back into the playoff chase, but, Sunday's victory was a big first step towards keeping pace in the AFC North. After the Steelers knocked off the Ravens in the early window, Cincinnati is just one game back of the division lead. Which could be their most realistic ticket back to the postseason.
Third Down: Trevor Lawrence, Jaguars Gain Some Legitimacy
Perhaps the best thing to happen for the Jacksonville Jaguars is that they had the luxury of playing consecutive games in London, and were able to spend the week across the pond preparing for Sunday's 'show me' showdown against the Buffalo Bills. Sunday morning, Jacksonville took full advantage.
Trevor Lawrence had one of the finest performances of his three-year career, considering the talent on the Bills' defense, and some of the throws he was asked to make in some of the game's biggest spots. Lawrence led the charge for the Jaguars, completing 25-of-37 attempts for 315 yards, including a spectacular touchdown catch by Zay Jones in Jacksonville's 25-20 win.
"Trevor Lawrence is special," a rival AFC South Scouting Director Told FanBuzz, following Sunday morning's contest. "The Jaguars are a good team right now, but they could be great if they had drafted better the last two years."
In addition to Lawrence's heroics, including a perfectly-placed touch pass on 3rd down and 4 for 32 yards to effectively put the game on ice, the Jaguars offensive line bullied the Bills' front-seven for much of the game, wearing down Buffalo's defense late, furthering the edge of having over a week to adapt to playing in London.
Jaguars running back Travis Etienne rushed for 136 yards with a pair of touchdowns, averaging 5.2 yards per carry, underscoring the line's complete domination up front.
For the Bills, injuries are now mounting and taking a worrisome toll when it comes to this team's trajectory, particularly on defense.
Already without Tre'Davious White, who tore his ACL against Miami, Matt Milano went down against the Jags on Sunday, which raises significant concern about Buffalo's defense the rest of the way.
For Jacksonville, the feeling on the Transatlantic flight back to DUUUUUVAL is much different.
Despite coming up short against the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans, Lawrence and the Jaguars now sit at 3-2, with plenty of momentum on their side off a statement victory over the Bills. Remember, Buffalo entered Sunday morning fresh off waxing the high-scoring Miami Dolphins just eight days ago.
Jacksonville has the opportunity to complete the season-sweep of the Colts next Sunday, and the level of play Lawrence is delivering makes it easy to envision this being a team that punches well above its weight the rest of the way.
Had a couple of decisions gone slightly differently, the executive believes the Jaguars' ceiling could be even higher, their long-term outlook much brighter.
"Just imagine this team right now if they drafted Aidan Hutchinson over Travon Walker," the Scouting Director said. "Walker is just a guy. Anton Harrison is not very good. The front office did a poor job finishing off this roster, in my opinion. We'll see if they can finish near the top of the conference."
Fourth Down: Zaire Franklin Bolsters first-time First-Team All-Pro Case
Zaire Franklin has long been the heartbeat of the Indianapolis Colts' defense, and Sunday might have been the most impressive performance of the sixth-year linebacker's impressive career.
Franklin swarmed to the football all afternoon, finishing with 12 total tackles and one pass breakup, upping his season-total to a league-high 69.
Against the Titans, Franklin was instrumental in the Colts' 23-16 victory, including stonewalling Derrick Henry on a pivotal 4th and 1 from the five-yard line that helped preserve the win with 8:07 remaining.
Following Sunday's action, Franklin is on pace for 234.5 total tackles, which would obliterate Foyesade Oluokun's single-season record of 192, set in 2021.
Franklin continues to bolster his reputation as one of the NFL's most productive and disruptive linebackers, and the driving force of the Colts' defense.
Team of The Week: Pittsburgh Steelers
Sunday, in front of an anxious Acrisure Stadium crowd, the Steelers proved they belong in the AFC North conversation, after pulling off a gutty upset victory over Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens.
It took contributions from all three phases; a blocked punt safety, rookie cornerback Joey Porter Jr. pulling down his first career interception off Jackson in the end zone, and Kenny Pickett Jr. cashing in on the turnover by hitting the most impressive throw of his career, a 41-yard strike to George Pickens for the game-winning touchdown, over Ravens All-Pro Marlon Humphrey Jr.
Porter Jr.'s interception set the stage for Pickett to complete his fifth career fourth-quarter comeback. Back in Happy Valley, 139 miles from Acrisure Stadium, Porter Jr.'s defensive backs coach at Penn State, Terry Smith, wasn't surprised to see his star pupil making an impact.
"Joey is a cornerback specialist," Smith told FanBuzz of Porter Jr.'s interception. "He has great body control and hand placement at the line of scrimmage. He controlled Odell Beckham Jr.'s release and won attacking the football."
It hasn't been pretty, through five weeks, for Pittsburgh, but when has that ever been the Steelers' brand of football?
Despite an offense that has been plagued by a series of fits and starts, and a defense that entered Sunday's action allowing 403 yards and 25 points per game, the Steelers finish Week 5 atop the division standings.
As Joe Burrow continues to work his way back from a calf injury that has severely limited him through the season's first month, the Browns work towards building an offense complementary to its swarming defense, and now with a victory over the Ravens tucked away, the Steelers seem poised to have staying power in the division race.
Week 5 MVP: Tyreek Hill, WR, Miami Dolphins
Not only did Tyreek Hill author the most impressive performance of the weekend, but the Miami Dolphins' speedster bolstered his NFL MVP candidacy with a standout performance against the New York Giants.
Hill victimized the Giants' secondary from start to finish, catching eight of his nine targets for 181 yards, including a 69-yard touchdown catch and run that punished New York — and issued a cautionary reminder to the rest of the league, for not shading a safety over the top against the Miami speedster.
"You got guys all around the field that can make special plays," Hill told reporters after the game. "I'm excited. I'm very thankful to be on this team, and I just enjoy being the fastest each and every day."
Through five weeks, Hill has been a focal point of the explosive Dolphins' offense, catching 36 passes for 651 yards with a pair of touchdowns, making a strong case to break the decade-long run of quarterbacks taking home the MVP award.
Week 5 Breakout Star: Cam Taylor-Britt, DB, Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals' comeback bid over the Arizona Cardinals was sparked by the most impressive play of second-year defensive back Cam Taylor-Britt's career.
With 1:30 remaining in the first half, Taylor-Britt was in the right place at the right time to make Cardinals quarterback Joshua Dobbs pay for an overthrow, intercepting the pass and returning it 11 yards for a touchdown to lift the Bengals to a 17-14 lead at the half.
Taylor-Britt, chosen by the Bengals in the second-round of the 2022 NFL Draft, finished Sunday's contest with one tackle, two pass breakups, and his first career pick-six. Sunday's game is the kind of performance that Taylor-Britt and the Bengals' defense can build on.
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