Patriots 2023 Season Recap
BY ERIC ZHAO '25
6-0. That was the score of the Patriots’ Week 13 game against the Chargers, as the team failed to score a single point on any of their eleven offensive drives of the day. That loss dropped the Patriots to 2-10, the worst start to a season since 1993. In the postgame press conference, head coach Bill Belichick had no answers to the questions surrounding the inept performance of the offense. When asked about whether he was surprised the offense had failed to show up again, he could only muster three words: “I don’t know.” Coming off a 2022 season of missing the playoffs by a game, the team’s achilles heel were and have always been the lack of an offensive coordinator and a lethargic offense that fail to consistently score. The Patriots tried to resolve these issues in the offense by hiring former Patriots OC Bill O’Brien and swapping out some players: wide receivers Jakobi Meyers and Nelson Agholor were replaced by receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, and tight end Jonnu Smith was replaced with a contested jump ball man by the name of Mike Gesicki. With these changes, most people expected the team to do better this season even though their schedule became more difficult due to facing two of the hardest divisions in football. Instead, the team crashed and burned, resulting in a horrific and unpredictable season. Up in the air are previously unfathomable statements, such as the inevitable end for legendary head coach Bill Belichick and a Patriot team competing for the number one draft pick.
The problems this year almost all stemmed from the offense. While most people thought that the Patriots offense in 2022 was horrific, the 2023 Patriots offense was in another universe of horrific—so bad it was literally offensive. The 2023 offense struggled to do anything successful at all due to injuries and Belichick’s failure to invest in offensive line depth during the offseason. The inconsistent line rotations caused struggle to protect Mac Jones/Bailey Zappe, giving the QBs little to no time to throw the ball. Besides that, the most successful part of last season’s offense offense, the run-game, or offensive yards/production gained on the ground, has regressed so significantly that the team averages less than one hundred[could be one-hundred, I’m not sure] rushing yards per game. When that’s 80% of your offense, that’s a problem. OC Bill O’Brien, brought in to fix poor offensive concepts and scheming, does not look very good. The offense has had inconsistent and poor offensive scheming and execution for much of the season. O’Brien does not have very much to work with as the Patriots [figure out whether or not there’s an apostrophe] offensive talent is almost none—those new acquisitions Belichick made in the offseason turned out failures. Receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster is unable to stay healthy on the field because of knee issues, and he struggles to explode and gain separation from the defensive backs. He made a paltry twenty-nine catches for 260 yards on the season through Week 15. WR Jakobi Meyers, whom the Pats let go for Smith-Schuster, has fifty-nine catches for 648 yards and seven touchdowns on his new team, continuing his productive play in Vegas as he did back in New England. Further, TE Mike Gesicki has been utilized sparingly, having just twenty-two catches for 189 yards on the season. Meanwhile, TE Jonnu Smith is having a career year in Atlanta. Last year’s offense, which was run by coaches with zero offensive experience, was significantly better; this speaks volumes about the weakness of the 2023 offense.
Injuries affecting their offensive line, appalling quarterback play, and sloppy offensive execution have contributed to the downfall of the Patriot offense back to the 1950’s. QB Mac Jones has regressed into an unrecognizable shell of himself through making horrendous decisions with the ball, often throwing inaccurate passes nowhere near the receiver. Out of Atlanta, his strengths were accuracy, poise in big-time games, and ability to perform his progressions with ease; now, he fails to do any of these. Leading the league with twenty-three turnover-worthy plays, compared to fourteen turnover-worthy plays last season, the downfall of Mac Jones has honestly been stunning. Jones had one of the greatest rookie seasons a quarterback has ever had and even almost won Rookie of the Year. In contrast, December of his third season, he lost the starting position to backup Bailey Zappe. The fact that this happened is an indictment on Bill Belichick and the Patriots coaching staff. Bill Belichick is still a top five coach in the NFL, but as a general manager, he is setting the team back. In Belichick’s first-round picks in the previous ten NFL Drafts, no player has lasted over three seasons with the team. Belichick has consistently missed on top-tier talent and refuses to spend big money in free agency on big-name players. Everyone knows that Bill Belichick can coach. The issue is his roster management, misfires in the draft again and again, and lack of aggressiveness in free agency.
This year, the team has also suffered a plethora of injuries, losing star linebacker Matthew Judon and promising rookie cornerback Christian Gonzalez to injury for the rest of the season. They were the best two players on the team, so losing them dealt a significant blow to morale and the defense. With winning no longer in sight, much of the locker room was completely demoralized. After losing to the Giants, Safety Jabrill Peppers was caught on mic telling RB Saquon Barkley that the Giants were lucky the Patriots were so trash. He later apologized for the distraction, but he’s not wrong. The team is not a good team, and the league knows it. During the Brady-Belichick era, teams feared New England. Even when the Patriots were not at their peak, opponents knew that when they stepped on the field, it was going to be a long day of battling the complex defensive schemes of Belichick and trying to stop the greatest quarterback of all time from racing down the field all in freezing Foxborough weather in front of 60,000 fans and their six Super Bowl banners. Every season, the league would schedule the Pats to have the maximum number of primetime games allowed on the schedule. The Patriots were a force to be reckoned with; now, they are viewed as an easy opponent to get a free win. Two decades of dominance, only for the script to be flipped. The Patriots are the team that everyone laughs at.
With the failure, some fans have burned jerseys, and Boston sports media call for Belichick’s head. The owner of the Patriots, Robert Kraft, faces a serious question: With the last four seasons being defined by mediocre and falling performance, is Belichick in the future of this team? Is it really in the team’s best interest to have him as head coach? General manager? Several reports have already come out stating this will likely be Belichick’s last season with the team. And if it really is, it’s for the best. With the second worst record in the league, the Patriots hold the number two overall pick in the upcoming NFL Draft. This is the highest pick they’ve had since a first pick during 1993. Top five picks are franchise-altering and can provide the Patriots a franchise player with superstar athleticism and talent, the best since the likes of Tom Brady (no one is going to be Brady). It may be predicted that with many great quarterbacks in this draft class like USC’s Caleb Williams, UNC’s Drake Maye, LSU’s Jayden Daniels and Oregon’s Bo Nix and what looks like a broken Mac Jones, the Patriots will pick a quarterback this spring. For sure, the new player will transform the team.
Life moves fast. Six seasons ago, the Patriots lifted the Vince Lombardi Trophy for the sixth time in 18 seasons. The winning never seemed to stop. Six seasons later, the Patriots are the joke of the league, buried under the depths of relevancy, with only the offseason to look forward to.