By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
FOXBORO (CBS) — The New England Patriots are having some issues running the football. Big, big issues.
Historic issues, some might even say.
The Patriots lost at home to the Buccaneers on Sunday night, losing 19-17 and dropping to 1-3 on the season. While various factors play in to any win or loss, the complete lack of a running game was glaring on this particular night for New England.
Because the Patriots didn’t finish with any rushing yards. In fact, they finished in the red.
Damien Harris ran the ball four times; he lost four yards. Quarterback Mac Jones had one rushing attempt — a kneeldown before halftime for minus-1 yard. Brandon Bolden and J.J. Taylor each had one carry apiece for no yards.
The only player with positive rushing yards wasn’t even a running back, as Nelson Agholor was credited with a four-yard rush on a play that was really a reception, though Jones’ throw traveled backward.
All together, the Patriots had eight rushing attempts for minus-1 yard.
That is not good.
The Boston Globe’s Ben Volin tweeted that this was just the fourth instance since 1970 where a team has finished a game with negative rushing yards.
— Ben Volin (@BenVolin) October 4, 2021
“We couldn’t get much going there. They are obviously a good run defense but we couldn’t – we couldn’t get much done there. That was disappointing,” Bill Belichick said after the loss. “We have good backs but we haven’t been able to really get them started very often. So it’s definitely something we need to work on and do better.”
That is the truth.
The Patriots began the year on a positive front in the run game, rushing for 125 yards against Miami. That number dropped to 101 in Week 2 at the Jets, then to 49 yards in Week 3 against the Saints.
How the Patriots go about fixing that matter starts on the offensive line. Mike Onwenu — whom the Patriots refused to move from left guard to right tackle after Trent Brown suffered an injury in Week 1 — was benched in favor of Ted Karras on Sunday night. The right tackle spot remains an issue after Brown missed his third consecutive game, and Isaiah Wynn has not been the force at the left tackle position that the Patriots hope he’d be when they drafted him in the first round in 2018.
The issue’s been compounded by Rhamondre Stevenson — the NFL’s leader in preseason rushing yards and touchdowns — being inactive for three straight games after fumbling and allowing a QB hit in Week 1. Taylor fumbled after making a catch on Sunday night, further limiting the trust tree for Belichick. The trade of Sony Michel seems to be regrettable now, though it’s not as if Michel alone could solve the Patriots’ running game.
On the other side, Leonard Fournette helped carry the Bucs, rushing for 91 yards on 20 carries. Ronald Jones also had 25 yards on six carries, as the Bucs outgained the Patriots on the ground by 120 yards.
So while Sunday night was all about the quarterback playing for Tampa, it was the Patriots’ complete lack of running game that hurt them just as badly as Tom Brady did.