The 1-4 Patriots have scored three points in their past two games, their fewest over a two-game span since 1992.
They have had 34 consecutive offensive drives without a touchdown, their longest streak under Belichick.
They also have gone 10 straight quarters without scoring any kind of touchdown, also their longest streak under Belichick.
In the aftermath of Sunday’s 34-0 home loss to the New Orleans Saints, Belichick was asked if Jones was still his top choice and said: “Yeah, there were a lot of problems. It certainly wasn’t all him.”
Belichick also said he planned to “start over.”
Then, after taking a night to sleep on it, he added Monday morning that personnel changes across the roster are in play.
“We need to make some improvements on where we are, so we will see what all that entails,” he said in his day-after-game video conference. “We haven’t gone into it yet, but we will.”
One play from Sunday illustrates why Jones’ hold on the starting job is shaky.
After self-destructing the week before in a 38-3 loss to the Dallas Cowboys, Jones spent all week stressing that turnovers must be eliminated and decision-making needs to be sharper. Then, he made the same type of mistake Sunday against the Saints by throwing the ball while being pressured — it resulted in a turnover.
It was the Patriots’ sixth offensive snap of the game, Saints safety Tyrann Mathieu returned it 27 yards for a touchdown and put a team that was already in a fragile state further in a hole.
— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) October 8, 2023
Turnovers have been the No. 1 problem for the offense. Jones has had four returned for touchdowns.
“The main focus here is to get things better — to take care of the ball, move the ball and score points,” Belichick said Monday.
Belichick altered this week’s schedule, moving the players’ standard day off from Tuesday to Monday, perhaps allowing him to spend more time with his coaches.
Here is a look at some of the scenarios Belichick and his staff are likely pondering:
Stick with Mac
The main reason to stay with Jones is how suddenly things have turned sour for him.
After the Patriots improved to 1-2 on the season with a 15-10 win over the New York Jets on Sept. 24, Jones seemed to be building momentum and looked more like the promising prospect the No. 15 overall pick of the 2021 NFL draft was supposed to be. At that point, he was 81-of-125 for 748 yards, with five touchdowns and two interceptions.
Jones then carried that into the first quarter of the team’s blowout loss to the Cowboys — starting off 4-of-6 for 75 yards — before the wheels fell off when he lost a fumble that was returned for a touchdown, threw an across-the-field pick-six, and then later tossed a backpedaling interception. Belichick pulled him for backup Bailey Zappe late in the third quarter.
— Dallas Cowboys (@dallascowboys) October 1, 2023
With six pick-sixes since joining the NFL in 2021, Jones is tied with Matthew Stafford for the most during that stretch.
Offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien noted how Jones’ dip was “uncharacteristic” and expressed confidence that he would rebound. Instead, Jones mostly remained in his funk against the Saints until Belichick again replaced him with Zappe with 13:03 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Jones, playing behind a shaky offensive line and with receivers who don’t consistently get open, has essentially bombed for the past three-and-a-half quarters he has been on the field.
Is that enough to give him the hook?
Belichick wasn’t tipping his hand early Monday morning, but when asked about his relationship with Jones on sports radio WEEI, he said: “I’ve had a good relationship with Mac since he’s been here. I’ve met with him on a regular basis. We have a good line of communication. He works hard and I have a lot of respect for what he does.”
Turn to Zappe or Grier; make a trade
Mac Jones benched during abysmal performance against Saints
Mac Jones gets benched for Bailey Zappe after throwing two interceptions and losing a fumble.
One of the most compelling reasons for Belichick to move on from Jones is the message it would send to the team.
If Belichick believes what he has been saying about the importance of limiting turnovers isn’t getting through to the players, the most direct way to correct that is to take the football away from the player who has it in his hands the most.
In addition to Jones’ first-quarter interception, he also had a fastball of a pitch to running back Rhamondre Stevenson early in the third quarter that was fumbled and recovered by the Saints.
The Patriots’ 10 turnovers are tied for second-most in the NFL.
When Jones was injured last season, Zappe was the fill-in starter. Using a simplified offense under former play-caller Matt Patricia, Zappe helped the team to two wins. On the season, he finished 65-of-92 for 781 yards, with five touchdowns and three interceptions.
Zappe is 7-of-18 for 79 yards over the past two weeks in mop-up duty and hasn’t necessarily made a strong case for extended playing time. But one thing of note that Zappe has done, albeit in situations when the game was out of hand, is not turn the ball over.
Meanwhile, No. 3 quarterback Will Grier is a wild card, since he joined the team Sept. 22. He has two career NFL starts, both with the Panthers in 2019 (28-of-52 for 228 yards, 0 TDs, 4 INTs).
“Before you can realistically get in there and play, you’ve got to have a pretty good command and understanding of the offense, playcalling — be able to let the other 10 people do their jobs,” Belichick said Friday of Grier.
“But Will’s sharp, and he’s picking things up pretty quickly. If we had an emergency and we had to put him in there, I think we could try to get him ready. But the other two guys are just further along at this point.”
Meanwhile, players such as Minnesota’s Kirk Cousins, Tennessee’s Ryan Tannehill and long-time Patriots backup Brian Hoyer, now with the Raiders, might be available via trade, but Belichick would have to believe he could get one of them at a reasonable price and get him up to speed quickly. In the end, a trade seems unlikely, in part due to the dynamic that Belichick described with Grier.
Shake up other positions
While most of the attention is going to be on quarterbacks, the Patriots’ issues extend beyond that position, as Belichick noted after Sunday’s game.
The offensive line had four different configurations in the first four games, and after opening Sunday with the same line for the first time this season, starting right guard Mike Onwenu left with an ankle injury after 22 snaps.
“We just have to find some continuity. We really have to get a set group together and play,” starting center David Andrews acknowledged.
The line entered Sunday with a pass block win rate of 39.7%, per ESPN Analytics/NFL Next Gen Stats, which ranked last in the league.
Veteran Riley Reiff was active for the first time this season, integrated into the mix as a backup, and he could now be elevated to the starting unit.
Meanwhile, the Patriots haven’t been getting much production out of their top three receivers — DeVante Parker (227 snaps, 12 receptions for 129 yards), Kendrick Bourne (227 snaps, 18 receptions for 218 yards) and JuJu Smith-Schuster (193 snaps, 14 receptions for 86 yards).
With rookie sixth-round pick Demario Douglas flashing in limited opportunities (10 catches for 143 yards on 17 targets), Belichick is likely considering a larger role for him once he is back after entering concussion protocol Sunday. Rookie Kayshon Boutte has been inactive since playing in place of Parker (knee) in the opener, and second-year man Tyquan Thornton (shoulder) should soon be activated off injured reserve.
One way to help quarterbacks out is having players who can get open and, entering Sunday, Patriots receivers averaged the least amount of separation on targets in the NFL (3.1 yards), per NFL Next Gen Stats.
“There’s a lot of things we need to do better offensively and everybody’s a part of it — coaches, players, every position,” Belichick said. “I don’t think it’s limited to one position, one group.”