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In years past, Patriots seasons really didn't get humming until around Halloween. At that point, all the fine-tuning had been put in sync, acquisitions were executed and it was off to the AFC Championship. Boy, have things changed. Those dates on the calendar have come and gone and instead of rounding out into form to spring into a playoff push, New England is at the very bottom of the NFL

At the midway point of the 2023 season and with nine games under their belt, Bill Belichick's club is 2-7, which has them in last place in the AFC East, owning the worst record in the conference and tied for the second-worst record in the entire league. 

Rock bottom came on Sunday when the club was handed a 20-17 loss to the Washington Commanders, a team that had just days earlier signaled to the rest of the league that they were waving the white flag on the season by trading away two of its top players. Similar to how it's been for the bulk of the season, the Patriots' talent ceiling was as low as any team in the league and now they seem to be losing with frustration boiling over. 

Halfway through the year, it hasn't been pretty in Foxborough and, as we comb through each side of the ball along with the coaching, the midseason grades are going to reflect that.

Offense: F

At every level, the offense has broken down. 

The biggest concern coming into the season was the offensive line, specifically the tackle positions. The club didn't aggressively address that position with a Day 1 or Day 2 pick in the NFL Draft nor did they throw significant cash down on the table during free agency to provide Mac Jones with protection necessary to get the most out of him. Instead, they doubled down on Trent Brown by adjusting his contract to give him a raise and brought in 34-year-old Riley Reiff, Calvin Anderson (12 starts over three seasons before coming to New England) and Vederian Lowe (zero starts). 

Those fears of an unstable line loomed over training camp and came to fruition as the season unfolded. As of late, the line has played better (with Mike Onwenu kicking out to right tackle), but it should hardly be looked at as a strength of this team. Jones has 2.32 seconds to throw the football before feeling pressure, which ranks 30th in the NFL. While we'll talk about the need for help at the skill positions if the Patriots don't give Jones -- or whoever they have under center -- a sturdy line in front of them, it won't matter what they have on the outside. 

And while the situation around Jones hasn't been ideal, plenty of blame pie is on his plate. So much so that New England should certainly be on the lookout for alternative quarterback options this offseason either via trade, the draft or free agency. One of his great strengths coming out of Alabama was said to be his decision-making and ability to exploit mismatches pre-snap. That has been drastically missing through the first half of the year. Of quarterbacks with at least 200 pass attempts this season, Jones is tied for second with the highest turnover-worthy throw percentage and third in the league for the lowest explosive play percentage per dropback, via TruMedia. His off-target throw percentage also ranks 13th highest in the league. Again, accuracy was billed as one of his great strengths coming into the league so to see him sniffing the top 10 of this list is concerning when lacking other elite skills. 

As we mentioned before, the situation around Jones is unenviable, but he's played himself onto the bench a couple of times already this season and if the Patriots had a comparable option behind him, I wonder if he'd even be the starter at this point. 

Of course, we can't forget about the skill position players, either. Part of the blame is on the front office for not adding high-end talent to help bring this offense to a more explosive level, but there's also fault on the players who are on the roster. Jones has made clutch throws at various points this season, but his receivers have let him down. Against the Raiders in Week 6, DeVante Parker had a brutal drop that prevented the Patriots from getting into field goal range and winning the game. 

Then, in this most recent loss to Washington, the Patriots had two receivers eliminate high-impact plays. Jones threw a perfect deep ball to Jalen Reagor and the receiver let the ball fly through his hands. 

And the cherry on top was a dart to JuJu Smith-Schuster -- the club's top free agent addition on that side of the ball -- allowing the ball to slip through his hands, which tipped into the arms of a Commanders defender. Instead of continuing a drive that would have resulted in a game-winning touchdown opportunity or chance to kick the game-tying field goal, that drop by Smith-Schuster ended the game and handed New England its seventh loss of the year.  

As a collective position group, Patriots receivers have 1,041 receiving yards on the season. Currently, Miami's Tyreek Hill exceeds that number alone with 1,076 receiving yards, while Eagles' A.J. Brown (1,005), Bills' Stefon Diggs (834) and L.A.'s Puka Nacua (827) are not far behind. 

Defense: B-

New England's defense has been dealt a bad hand in a multitude of ways. With the struggles on offense, the unit is being asked to essentially play perfectly to keep the team in games, which is unsustainable. The defense has also lost arguably its top two players in Matt Judon (biceps) and Christian Gonzalez (torn labrum) early in the year. Those injuries have really stretched key areas of the defense and have left them exposed, especially when factoring in that corner Jonathan Jones and pass rusher Josh Uche have also missed some time due to injury as well. 

This season, the defense has been strong in the red zone, allowing touchdowns on just 43.75% of their opponents' trips (fifth best in the NFL). The unit's five yards per play allowed is tied for the sixth lowest. That said, the defense isn't perfect and has struggled in a few areas as of late. They've had some issues getting off the field on third down, stopping their opponents front moving the chains just 39.6% of the time (17th in the NFL). With Judon going down, that has reduced their ability to pressure the quarterback. Through nine weeks, the defense has a pressure percentage of just 31.1%, which ranks seventh fewest in the league.  

That inability to pressure the quarterback and their thinness in the secondary was on display during one of the key moments of the team's loss to Washington last week. On a second-and-10 play from the New England 33-yard line, Sam Howell threw a touchdown to wideout Jahan Dotson. While corner Myles Bryant lost Dotson in coverage, Howell also had a clean pocket to set his feet and deliver the throw with effectively zero pressure. 

The Patriots also haven't been as opportunistic as it's been in recent seasons and have just nine takeaways so far, which is tied for the fourth fewest in the league.  

Special Teams: D-

For a team that puts as much emphasis on special teams as Bill Belichick and the Patriots do, the club's special teams unit ranks 29th in DVOA. They've given up the sixth-most punt return yards and teams have averaged 14.25 yards per return thus far. The team is also netting just 71.4% of their field goal attempts (31st in the NFL).  Those issues are occurring with players -- kicker Chad Ryland and punter Bryce Baringer -- whom Belichick drafted in the fourth and sixth rounds in the 2023 NFL Draft. For those positions, that's significant draft capital to burn on players who are key contributors to ranking last in the league on this side of the ball. 

Coaching: F

I wrote earlier this year that Bill Belichick the GM is not doing Bill Belichick the coach any favors. The roster that Belichick has given himself is simply not conducive to winning football in today's NFL. At the positions that teams need to invest in the most -- specifically on offense -- the Patriots have left them barren or simply went bargain-bin shopping. Which members of the offense strike fear into an opposing defense? Who do defensive coordinators need to game plan for? Along the offensive line, are opposing pass rushers gearing up to try and bust through a brick wall, or is it more like the swinging doors at a Western saloon? 

While the low talent ceiling with the roster is a piece of the story, there have also been some questionable coaching moments for Belichick this season as well. The most egregious moment that still comes to mind was back in Week 5 in a blowout loss at home to the Saints when Belichick elected to punt from the New Orleans' 40-yard line instead of going for it on a fourth-and-3 attempt. That moment was one of the key indicators that the faith in this team seems to be lost.

With the way the team is playing, it doesn't appear like the message is getting through from Belichick, which makes one wonder if his time with the organization is on its last leg.