There is a razor-thin margin between a win that can right the ship of a rocky season and a loss that can send your franchise into depths of despair like it hasn't seen in decades. The New England Patriots found that line and then decided to step over it in the most fantastic and dramatic of fashions. And now, as their 2022 NFL season comes to a a disastrous end, their failed hook-and-ladder against the Las Vegas Raiders becomes even more perplexing and infuriating.
If they Patriots pull off a win against Las Vegas, they would have advanced to the playoffs. Instead, all of New England is left with a sour taste in their mouths.
One Fourth-Down Stop Would Have Been Enough for the Win
The story of Sunday's 30-24 New England Patriots loss to the Las Vegas Raiders will not be Josh McDaniels beating his former mentor, Bill Belichick. In fact, until I sat down to write this article a few hours after the game, I even forgot that that was on the table. Instead, the talking points will be how a Belichick-coached team could play such undisciplined situational football, and who is ultimately responsible for this unmitigated disaster.
Had the Patriots been able to make a stop on fourth-and-10 in the first play after the two-minute warning, it would have been victory formation and an 8-6 record, solidifying their hold on a wild card spot, especially with the Miami Dolphins and New York Jets both losing this weekend.
Instead, what followed over the next 1:54 was nothing short of the biggest meltdown in franchise history, capped by an ending that will leave millions of NFL fans shocked for days to come.
Raiders quarterback Derek Carr completed a 12-yard pass to Mack Hollins to pick up that first down and subsequently hit five of his next six attempts, including a 30-yard touchdown to Keelan Cole in the corner of the end zone to tie the game with 32 seconds remaining.
Cole was, in fact, out of bounds, as anyone watching the myriad replays could plainly see. But, no matter, the call on the field was confirmed, and the Patriots suffered the first gut punch of the late afternoon. It was just a warmup act to what lay ahead.
The Final Play Was Utter Chaos
The Patriots' final play of the game was a draw to Rhamondre Stevenson, and with the Raiders playing deep prevent, Stevenson found running room for 23 yards before lateraling to Jakobi Meyers to try to keep the play alive. Fine -- I don't love it, but I don't hate it. Likely, Meyers gets tackled and the game goes to overtime.
Inexplicably, Meyers ran backward to try to get into the open field, and then tried to throw back across his body to Mac Jones. But instead, he threw a perfect pass to defensive end (and former Patriot) Chandler Jones, who had only the Patriots' quarterback between him and the end zone.
Chandler Jones is 6 feet, 5 inches and 260 pounds. Mac Jones is 6 feet, 3 inches and 217 pounds. You can probably guess what happened next. Chandler rumbled his way past Mac for a walk-off touchdown -- leaving the Patriots, the announcers and everyone watching utterly shellshocked.
— NFL (@NFL) December 19, 2022
What the Hell Were They Thinking?
Why are the Patriots going all Stanford-band on the last play, desperately trying to get the ball in the end zone as if they were losing? Are the players that afraid of overtime? Are the coaches? When the draw play was called, was there a caveat that included trying to make some magic happen at the end instead of taking what you could get and protecting the ball? If there was, who made that call? If there wasn't, will those who took it upon themselves to play hero be held accountable?
Whether the instructions to try to keep the play alive came from the coaching staff or was the players freelancing is mostly irrelevant. Either way, what the play illustrates is that, in the surprise twist of the year, the New England Patriots have a lack of institutional control.
What is the offensive philosophy of this team? I don't believe anyone knows. You have a defensive coach in Matt Patricia calling offensive plays and a quarterback in Mac Jones publicly airing his grievances. They don't get play calls in on time, line up correctly or know where the sticks are in a third-down situation. Now you have players inexplicably lateraling the ball with reckless abandon in a tie game.
An obstinate Belichick, of course, refuses to admit that he put everyone in a situation destined to fail.
Now that the dust has settled, the picking through the rubble of this collapse for answers can begin; and if they are anything like me, Patriots fans want answers. As far as I'm concerned, everyone's at fault. The New England Patriots' offense has been at best a boring, vanilla high school scheme, and at worst an absolutely atrocious product.
On the last play in Las Vegas, they were a three-ring circus. And now, they're a three-ring circus that is not going to the NFL Playoffs.
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