By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
FOXBORO (CBS) — A little over six years ago, Trent Dilfer stood on the field at Arrowhead Stadium and declared this with great confidence: “The New England Patriots, let’s face it. They’re not good anymore.”
It took more than a half-decade to come to fruition, but the assessment finally checks out.
Sunday’s grinding loss to the visiting 49ers was ugly. It was unpleasant. It featured almost no positives for the home team. And it sunk the Patriots to 2-4, a place they haven’t been since 2000, when they were a franchise with zero Super Bowl victories in its history.
Now playing in the shadow of six Super Bowl banners, the Patriots have joined the rest of the football world, crashing down to earth.
With a thud.
Cam Newton was terrible, never once looking comfortable in the pocket, seemingly unable to tap into his copious talent. And as Newton went, so did the rest of the offense, which mustered just two scoring drives — both field goals — in the midst of a 33-6 loss to San Francisco.
Defensively, the story wasn’t any better. Jeff Wilson — a third-year running back who entered Sunday with 422 career rushing yards in 21 games — hit the 100-yard rushing mark just five minutes into the third quarter, in a game that saw him cross the goal line three times. Rookie running back Jamycal Hasty had the best day of his young career with 57 yards on nine carries, and Jimmy Garoppolo’s presence went from being the story of the game to a complete afterthought. The quarterback didn’t matter much when the running backs could run at will. Missed tackles and missed assignments led to arguably the very worst defensive performance the Patriots have ever put forth under Belichick at Gillette Stadium.
The Patriots team that started the season looking like a bunch of bullies has now been bullied in consecutive weeks.
A week ago, of course, there were excuses. Plenty of them — valid ones, too. The team had hardly practiced for two weeks. The starting QB and the best defensive player missed time on the COVID-19 list. Injuries across the offensive line led to piecemeal, on-the-fly fixes. Nothing felt right, and the fired-up Broncos came into Gillette Stadium and took advantage.
This week? There really wasn’t any reasonable reason to get run out of their own stadium. A competitive loss would be understandable, considering the defending NFC champions were in town, coming off their best performance of the season.
But a non-competitive, flat, uninspiring belly flop of a showing in a game that was supposed to be one of the marquee matchups of the entire 2020 schedule? That is inexcusable.
Obviously, expectations weren’t nearly as high as normal in New England entering the season. The team was mediocre — by the franchise’s own golden standards — in 2019, fighting through the end of the year and getting extinguished with a light fizzle in the home playoff loss to the Titans. Out went Tom Brady plus a half-dozen COVID opt-outs in a year with no real offseason work or preseason schedule, and the days of “The Season Doesn’t Start Until The AFC Championship Game” were clearly not returning this year.
But with the brainpower of Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels, plus the promise and talent displayed by Newton through the first few weeks, the Patriots were surely still going to be a playoff team. They were likely to win the AFC East. And who knows what happens from there? No team would be too excited about the prospect of facing the Patriots in January.
Instead, there’s reality. A 2-4 record, a major deficit in the division, and a whole lot more questions than answers as to why things are so bad. Even those who predicted a return to earth for Belichick’s team in 2020 likely didn’t expect the descent to be so precipitous.
The New England Patriots? They are indeed not good anymore. We’re all entering some territory that nobody has seen since the turn of the century.