Bill Belichick stood on the sideline, red-faced and complaining.
On the scoreboard, his New England Patriots trailed the Las Vegas Raiders 19-17 with 1:59 left in the fourth quarter. Across the field, his former assistant coach, Josh McDaniels and a host of ex-Patriots players readied for a much-needed victory exhale, a feeling Belichick has known only once in six attempts this season, and barely that.
Now a scene was unfolding that would fly across social media: Belichick having some kind of irritated back and forth with an official, losing whatever case he was pleading.
Finally, he slammed his NFL-issued gameday tablet into the ground and stalked off, with a CBS camera — and eventually the whole football world — watching over his shoulder.
Hope they’ve got device protection on that puppy. pic.twitter.com/2psYn7UY68
— Michael Hurley (@michaelFhurley) October 15, 2023
This is what it looks like to coach the league’s worst team in Week 6 of this NFL season. Paced by one of the lowest-scoring offenses, led by arguably its worst starting quarterback. Festooned with inferiority — penalties, drops, bad decisions on the field and roster mediocrity across the depth chart — culminating in a career-worst 1-5 start to the season after Sunday’s 21-17 loss to the Raiders. It's all punctuated with clips of Belichick taking his frustration out on technology, be it the spiked sideline tablet or the NFL Network microphone he wrestled into submission at his postgame news conference Sunday night.
There’s something about the feeling of permanence in this Patriots futility. It can’t be fixed in a bye week or explained away as a snapshot in time from one game in the 2023 season. This is turning into a fresco painted into the walls and ceilings of the franchise. This is becoming Bill Belichick’s anti-masterpiece.
His canvas. His brush strokes. His chosen palette.
A hideous and unfamiliar work that is very likely going to get uglier in the coming weeks. Not just because the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins are next up, but because the only faint promise of future wins relies on running a finger down the schedule and looking for similarly dysfunctional opponents.
The Indianapolis Colts in Week 10, maybe? They’ll likely be without dynamic quarterback Anthony Richardson, which has to be a plus for the Patriots, even if Belichick has been historically great at game-planning for rookies. Perhaps a Daniel Jones-less New York Giants in Week 12? Or the plenty-to-worry-about Denver Broncos in Week 16? Both of those franchises are traversing their own plateaus of ineptitude as we head toward the midseason mark. If not there, maybe hope is found in Week 18 against the New York Jets, who represent the Patriots’ only win this season. Although it’s fair to ponder if even that will be a winnable week, given the Jets having clawed their way to a gritty 3-3 and showing signs of life on offense.
That’s how bleak this has gotten. With the debate about the franchise deteriorating from “should they move on from Belichick next offseason” to “should they even wait that long.” That’s an absurd discussion, of course. Belichick isn’t going anywhere before the 2023 season is in the books. And given the line of credit earned with six Super Bowl wins, maybe not even after — regardless of how bad this gets.
Really, can it get much worse? He has already suffered the two most lopsided losses of his career. He’s off to his worst start ever as a head coach. He is saddled with a quarterback whose only shot at being a franchise centerpiece again is if he buys a McDonald's. And he’s enduring the lowest of lows, having his level of success processed through magnitudes of failure.
At least they fell behind by only 10 points to start the game.
At least they weren’t shut out.
At least they scored a touchdown.
At least the defense seemed better.
Take your victories where you can get them in these suddenly and extremely lean times, I guess. Or maybe don’t worry about victories at all if this slides from 1-5 to 1-7 or worse. Because what’s going to be the upside if 1-7 is salvaged into 5-12 or 6-11 or even 8-9? Crawling out of bad and into mediocre isn’t going to be what takes this from being the worst team in the NFL to something more promising. Only finding a lasting answer at quarterback will do that. And if the Patriots are going to take that shot again in the first round of a rich quarterback draft next April — regardless of whether Belichick wants to or not — then scratching out a few blips of happiness and success the next few months is meaningless. Especially if so many significant decisions lie ahead for team owner Robert Kraft.
Sunday showcased the truth again, just like nearly every other time the Patriots have taken the field. This is a bad team. It has a bad quarterback. It was constructed by a head coach who has been a bad general manager: Bill Belichick, a prisoner of his creation.