New England Patriots: The moral victories are no longer enough

CeeDee Lamb #88 of the Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images)
CeeDee Lamb #88 of the Dallas Cowboys (Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Getty Images) /

Stop me if you have heard this before, but the New England Patriots once again sufferred a heartbreaking loss on Sunday night, falling to the Dallas Cowboys by a score of 35-29 in overtime. The Patriots weren’t necessarily expected to be able to keep up with the Cowboys’ dangerous offense, but just as they did against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, they took this one right down to the wire.

For the optimists among us, you can take away a number of “moral victories” if you feel so inclined. Realistically, that’s the way it’s been all season.

But the time for moral victories is over. It’s time for this football team to start winning games. They have yet to send the Foxboro faithful home happy this season (0-4 record at Gillette, 2-0 record for away games), and until they do so, this team will continue to be stuck in the mud.

The New England Patriots cannot settle for moral victories anymore

Once again, the top headline from New England’s Week 6 contest is going to be about how this team managed to stick around with one of the top teams in the NFL, and eventually sent the game to overtime. If you want to consider that a victory, go for it, but the fact of the matter is it still counts as a loss when it comes to the record that matters. It’s also worth noting that this is a game the Patriots very easily could have won, and maybe should have won too.

As there have been in just about every game this season, there were numerous gaffes made throughout the game that ended up killing this team. There were probably three or four different sequences where, had things gone different, New England would have won.

Let’s start with one of the earlier mistakes that ended up really costing this team. On the New England Patriots third drive, Jakobi Meyers scored a 25 yard touchdown, which should have been his long awaited first career touchdown.

Instead, James Ferentz, who was activated off the practice squad for this game, got called for a holding penalty, and the score was quickly wiped off the board. Mac Jones proceeded to fumble away the football, as he was being sacked on the ensuing play. Dallas would quickly turn that into a field goal. That’s a very costly 10 point swing, and you have to wonder how this game would have gone had New England established an early 21-7 lead.

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Then there was the clock mismanagement at the end of the first half. The New England Patriots made a mightily impressive stand on their own one yard line by stopping Dallas on four straight plays, which culminated with a Dak Prescott fumble to give New England the ball with about 90 seconds left in the half.

The problem was that head coach Bill Belichick oddly opted to hold off on calling the Patriots final timeout of the half for 30 seconds, which ended up making what should have been about 1:59 clock be a 1:32 clock for the Cowboys fourth down play.

And then once they stuffed them, they proceeded to kneel out the remaining 90 seconds of the first half. Why not make an attempt to to go get a field goal? It could have won this team the game.

In the second half, it seemed like the game was very much in the Patriots hands. Greg Zuerlein missed a 49 yard field goal, giving the Patriots offense the ball back with the lead, and just two and a half minutes left in the game. All New England needed was a pair of first downs to end the game.

Instead, they somehow managed to get a delay of game penalty after Dallas called a timeout on the first play, setting them up with 2nd & 15, essentially forcing them to throw the ball. Mac Jones threw a pass just in front of Kendrick Bourne that he couldn’t catch, and it ended up getting picked off by Trevon Diggs, who proceeded to take it to the house. They could have ended the game, but instead allowed Dallas to get right back in it.

And then after getting a miracle 75 yard touchdown from Jones to Bourne on the first play of the next drive, the Patriots defense just needed to stop the Cowboys offense one more time to get a victory. They were gifted an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty by guard Connor Williams that put Dallas into a 3rd & 25 situation with just 37 seconds left in the game. It seemed like everything was in New England’s favor.

Of course, things didn’t go their way. CeeDee Lamb burned Jalen Mills, as he did all night long, and ended up picking up 24 yards, allowing Dallas to get back into field goal territory. The fact they allowed Dallas to pick up this amount of yardage at this stage of the game is appalling. They obviously have to get a big chunk of yardage, so just play off the ball and prevent it.

It may seem petty to harp on all these mistakes, but it’s done for a reason. There’s no longer any good reason to rest on “moral victories” and the attitude of “atleast the game was close”. This was a game the New England Patriots absolutely should have won, and accepting anything less at this point isn’t going to cut it.

The mistakes being made are uncommon for a Belichick coached team, and they are absolutely killing this team. Whether it be poor playcalling, poor execution, poor discipline, or anything in between, there really is no logical reason that this team shouldn’t be 5-1. Instead, they find themselves sitting at 2-4 despite being in all but one of their games until the last few plays.

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The moral victories were OK when the season was young, and we didn’t necessarily know what to expect from this team. But now six games in, we are starting to get an idea of what this team’s identity is. They managed to hang in games with the Buccaneers and Cowboys now; that means they are good enough to beat anyone.

But they haven’t beaten anyone aside from the lowly Houston Texans and New York Jets. Sure, there are things to be excited about from a close loss to a tough team, but the main piece of the puzzle is missing, and that’s an increase in the win column. Until the New England Patriots stop settling for moral victories, they are going to continue to miss out on the victories that actually matter.