Tanks For Nothing
By Charlotte Wilder
It’s difficult to think of a situation as embarrassing as the New England Patriots losing to the New York Jets. It’s not every day you’re given the chance to watch the most dominant football team of the past two decades lose to a historically terrible franchise that has not won a single game yet this season.
The Patriots let me off the hook when it comes to thinking of analogies, thanks to a Nick Folk field goal at the buzzer Monday night. New England rallied from 10 points down in the fourth quarter to edge Joe Flacco and the Jets 30-27, and I now don't have to come up with pathetic real-life scenarios in an attempt to laugh through the pain.
Most norms have been flipped on their heads this year, but even the past nine months didn’t negate the strangeness of being a Pats fan worried about the ... checks notes ... Jets. This division “rivalry” used to mean nothing. The Pats would win, the Jets would lose, and even if the Jets somehow won, it wouldn’t be a referendum on New England’s season.
This season, a loss would have said it all. The Patriots might as well have hung a sign that says, “Abandon hope all ye who enter here” above the door to the locker room at Gillete Stadium. Watching Flacco execute plays at his once-in-a-while elite level felt like someone was removing a Band-Aid from my arm as slowly as possible, making sure to catch every last little hair in the adhesive.
Many Jets fans felt the same way. It’s not every day that both fanbases are thrilled with the result of a game, but most New York fans have taken solace in the fact the Jets' continually losing makes it highly likely they will be rewarded with the No. 1 draft pick. The prize? Clemson’s star quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
However: there was a lot of Galaxy Brain thinking going on among fans Monday night. I saw people on Twitter saying things like, “Bill Belichick is losing on purpose to prevent the Jets from getting Trevor." A few Patriots fans tweeted at me to say they’d prefer New England keep losing, in the hopes of the team being able to draft Ohio State QB Justin Fields.
I’d prefer to win.
Since the summer, I’ve wanted the Cam Newton Era to be a thing. I wanted to see the former NFL MVP prove he can still play at the highest level, and I wanted to watch Belichick continue to coach the Patriots to at least a winning record without Tom Brady. Some fans seem to be more altruistic than I am. They want the best for Brady no matter what happens in Foxboro. I wish him well, but I’d be lying if I said it doesn’t totally suck watching the guy who won six Super Bowls with New England find success somewhere else.
Especially when things aren’t going well for the Pats.
The team’s 3-5 record is not Newton’s fault. He bears a portion of the blame, of course. Making errors like fumbling the ball on the last drive against the Bills with a chance to tie the game made me want to pull my hair out. But Newton played well in that game up until that moment. And he rushed for two touchdowns Monday night against the Jets, making clutch throws for first downs when it counted.
Also, don’t forget eight of New England’s best players — from both the offense and defense — opted out due to COVID-19! And Newton had COVID! I don’t mean to sound like I’m making excuses, but rather pointing out the fact that comparing this year’s team to the dynastic squads of the past is like comparing Jets coach Adam Gase to Belichick.
Just not a fair fight.
Still, that doesn’t mean you give up. I don’t want the Patriots to tank because there’s still enough season left that turning the ship around — while it wouldn’t result in any trophy — would prove that there’s potential here. That maybe, with the best players back and a few more offensive weapons added, this thing can work.
Losing on purpose just doesn’t seem possible, especially after the win Monday night. It was an accident Folk made that kick or Newton pushed his way into the end zone. Losing would require a total throwing in of the towel from Newton — who has too much to prove — and every player who relies on good stats to secure his next contract.
The concept of tanking falls apart when you think about it on an individual level: These guys need to do well in order to have future success in the league. It’s a little nuts to think they would try to fail for the good of a team they might not even be on next year.
Tanking is one thing if you’re Gase and you tank because you can’t not tank. Because you are simply — no offense — a bad coach with a bad roster.
But Belichick is a good coach. And so far he and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels have adjusted the game plans to work with what they’ve got. When Newton doesn’t fumble or slip, it can be successful — look at the team’s success early in the season, and at the execution on fourth-and-inches at the end Monday night. Hell, the Pats even got close against the Seahawks! Newton’s mistakes aren’t overwhelming in numbers, but in their high-stakes nature. Get them under control, and there’s no reason to abandon hope at all.
I don’t know, maybe I’m in the minority here. Tanking clearly appeals to some fans. But what’s the fun in that? I’m desperate for fun this year. In a time when everything keeps getting pushed back or rescheduled, it would be nice to have some fun now.
So, I’m hoping the Patriots manage to turn it around. Almost losing to the Jets felt terrible, and I don’t think any amount of future high draft picks would make it feel better. If this year has taught us anything, it’s that nothing we think will happen in the future is guaranteed to happen.
It’s better to play for today.