Patriots: Big week needed from Bill Belichick if Patriots are going to be true AFC contenders

For the entirety of the seven-game winning streak, Bill Belichick had praise heaped upon him and rightfully so.

After a 2-4 start with a rookie quarterback and a lot of new faces, it was a minor miracle that New England was the No. 1 seed in the AFC heading into last week’s slate of games. Guys began buying in when Belichick appeared to take over the defense – or at least a much bigger role – after the debacle against Dallas and Mac Jones hadn’t done anything to cost the Patriots a game yet.

All of that good will quickly crumbled like a poorly cooked Christmas cookie with the flat performance on Saturday night.

There’s some doubt from the fan base again. Not so much in Belichick’s ability to scheme for Buffalo, but in his ability to have his team cut out the horrible penalties and the turnovers in big spots. Bad teams do those things in must-win December games, not Bill Belichick-coached teams.

Players play the games, but the entire staff, led by Belichick, had a very poor showing in Indianapolis.

Now, ahead of a must-win game against Buffalo on Sunday that will most likely determine whether New England has at least one playoff game at Gillette this year (hopefully two as the No. 1 or 2 seed) it’s imperative Belichick rebounds and outclasses Sean Mcdermott like he did two weeks ago.

To put it more simply, Belichick needs to quickly get his swagger back.

“We usually don’t focus too much on what happened the week before, good or bad. After we get through it and correct it, talk about it, focus on the game that’s coming up and try to prepare the best we can for it,” he said Monday when asked if the Colts loss could actually be helpful moving forward. “I don’t think living in the past and worrying about last week’s game all week and all the psychological effects and bunch of other garbage, I don’t think that has anything to do with the Buffalo game. Either we’re going to prepare well, perform well, execute well in the game, and make good decisions, coaches, players, and all that, or we’re not.

“I don’t really know what last week, two weeks ago, or some game in 2006 had to do with it. I don’t think any of that has a whole lot of bearing on it. It shouldn’t. Maybe the team’s not prepared to handle it. I don’t think it should. I don’t know why it should.”

Following the loss on Saturday night, Mac Jones said the Patriots had a bad week of practice. There’s plenty of blame to go around, but that solely falls on the head coach and his staff. So, how do you fix that in three practices from Wednesday-Friday? Is it simply because there wasn’t as much hunger from the team as there was when they were in that 2-4 hole?

“I don’t know. Hopefully, we’ll have a good week of concentration, practice, and execution and carry that through to Sunday. We’ll see. I don’t know,” Belichick said.

Belichick’s job gets much harder now too. The new Covid wave hit on Monday with four guys going into protocols. The most impactful name on the list was Kendrick Bourne. With the rest of the receivers group banged up and their status uncertain for Sunday, there’s a very real chance Tre Nixon and Kristian Wilkerson could be thrust into some pretty big roles.

Ironically enough, Belichick talked about the difficulties of navigating increased protocols in the middle of a playoff push on Monday morning before the news came out later in the evening. He unfortunately had a little bit of foreshadowing in his answer too.

“Every day, you kind of walk in here and if our medical people came in one day and said we have 20 people positive, I don’t think any of us would be surprised,” he said. “It’s nice to hear that we have no positives or that we have no symptoms. Those are great words to hear, but I don’t think it would surprise any of us. We’ve already seen five, six, seven teams, whatever it is, have a wide-ranging problem on their team, between staff and players or both. Who’s next? I don’t know. Maybe nobody. It wouldn’t surprise me if it was anybody.”

There’s also the matter of team meetings possibly being completely virtual again, something New England struggled with last season. At the time of his availability Monday, Belichick still didn’t know how things would operate this week.

“The league rules came out, so we’ll go through it (Monday). I would expect some type of direction, either (Monday) or (Tuesday) as to what it’ll be this week.”

Next man up. Do your job. Whatever football cliché you can think of might apply for the Patriots this week. Belichick is currently looking at a team down to the last receivers on the depth chart, potentially facing more Covid positives after a very uncharacteristic loss to another AFC contender. Oh, don’t you think the Bills also want revenge in normal weather conditions with the division title on the line after the emasculating loss on Monday Night Football? Add that to the list too.

Belichick has had some incredible coaching performances in his tenure here and the majority of this season has been some of his finest work, but the Patriots need a masterful week from their head coach now more than they have in quite a while.