Disappointment, not disaster: Finishing with a losing record for only the second time this century, the Patriots wrapped up the 2020 season with a disappointing 7-9 record. While it is tempting to call the season a disaster based on the Patriots lofty standards, it is not. New England was a handful of plays away from winning against the Seahawks, Broncos and Bills. They did not make those plays, which is frustrating, but winning seven games while suffering a league-high eight opt-outs and some of the worst quarterback play in the NFL is not a disaster.
Make no mistake, it’s not good enough, but not a total disaster. Also, many young players were able to progress and get their first taste of meaningful NFL action. Damien Harris, Kyle Dugger, Josh Uche, Adam Butler, Anfernee Jennings, and Michael Onwenu will all be key pieces of the Patriots future and they all got significant playing time this season. Devin Asiasi also broke through in week 17, which could be a strong sign for his future as well.
Offense still a long way from contending: In order for the Patriots to return to Super Bowl form, they have several massive holes that need to be filled. First and foremost is quarterback. Cam Newton had a good start to his tenure including throwing for 397 yards in week two, but was a disappointment for most of the season. He was often slow on reads and his ball placement was erratic. He threw for eight touchdowns and 10 interceptions while rushing for 11 touchdowns and catching one. He also lost one fumble that cost New England a win in Buffalo. That’s 20 touchdowns accounted for, but 11 turnovers.
The Patriots offense was stagnant through many stretches and could not measure up against great competition. While Newton was a major factor, it is not all on him. The tight end position was a black hole again in 2020, just as it was in 2019. The jury is still out given that the Patriots’ top two tight ends are rookies, but New England needs them to progress this offseason. The Patriots are also in desperate need of an upgrade at wide receiver where they lack a true number one.
Defense also missing pieces: The Patriots had one defensive lineman who could be depended on in any situation: Lawrence Guy. First round picks were used in 2014 and 2015 on defensive linemen Dominque Easley and Malcom Brown, but neither one is still with the team. Akiem Hicks and Danny Shelton are also contributing elsewhere instead of in Foxboro. When opponents wanted to run over the Patriots in 2020 it was far too easy. Despite the offensive struggles, defensive tackle in the second biggest need for the Patriots behind quarterback. The secondary will also have some questions. The team would be well-served to find a way to keep All-Pro corner Stephon Gilmore, but that may not happen. If he leaves, J.C. Jackson will have to step up as the number one corner and Jason McCourty could potentially be the full-time second corner. The young linebackers showed promise, but this offseason will be critical for them to improve.
Can it all be fixed: Yes, but Bill Belichick and the front office will have to have a home un offseason. The promising young players will also have to take a jump forward next year. If they don’t, it will take an additional offseason to fill the gaps on the roster.