The Patriots’ humiliating loss in Las Vegas exposes just how far they’ve fallen

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Sometimes when watching sports you see a play that is so ridiculous and inexplicable that your brain can’t even properly process what just happened. Case in point: The bizarre final series of the New England Patriots’ grueling 30-24 road loss to the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday. If there was ever a moment that exposed how the Patriots dynasty officially stood in the rearview mirror, we may have just witnessed it.

Officially, the game ended with Raiders defensive end Chandler Jones picking up a lateral thrown by Patriots receiver Jakobi Meyers and thundering into the end zone for the game-winning touchdown. In the official game stats, it went down as a fumble at recovery. But none of this captures the chaos that quickly unfolded in the final seconds of the game.

Let’s start with the situation: the clock was running out in a 24-24 game. Normally the main priority in such a situation is to focus on ball security and not give the opposing team any chance to score on a turnover. Maybe give your quarterback a chance to make a Hail Mary attempt and throw straight to your end zone.

What happened instead was Patriots running back Rhamondre Stevenson ran 23 yards before he, inexplicably, lateralized the ball to Meyers. Meyers then threw the ball to… well, he threw the ball, that’s all that’s for sure. Supposedly trying to find QB Mac Jones, he was instead snatched from the air by Jones who – after arming the New England signal caller stiff to create an image that will live on in football infamy – made it to the house brought .

“We collectively made too many mistakes,” head coach Bill Belichick said in a tense post-game interview. (Yes, even more tense than usual.)

He was referring not just to that one game, which in turn involved multiple fouls, but to a series of moments spanning the loss that were inexplicable for a team that has built its brand on a mastery of situational football during Belichick’s storied tenure. In the first half, the Pats managed to nullify a possible touchdown with a mind-boggling timeout, effectively ice themselves. Then, in a taste of things to come, the Raiders blocked a Patriots punt with 35 seconds left in the first half. On the ensuing possession, they quickly scored a touchdown to give them a 17–3 halftime lead.

To be fair, the only reason the Patriots were able to win this game at any point was because the Raiders have a bad habit of blowing leads. Up to the final 34 seconds of the game, Las Vegas had allowed 21 unanswered points and there’s even a compelling argument that Derek Carr’s late touchdown against Keelan Cole should have been ruled out.

It didn’t matter in the end. The Patriots went out of their way to lose this game all by themselves. Now they are tied 7-7 with the New York Jets for third place in the AFC. New England isn’t mathematically eliminated from postseason play, but this doesn’t look the slightest bit like a postseason team and—perhaps for the first time in the Belichick era—the coaching staff clearly contributes a great deal of the debt.

MVP of the week

Josh Allen, QB, Buffalo Bills. The Bills clinched at least a playoff spot on Saturday by defeating a Miami Dolphins team hoping to keep AFC East title hopes alive. The Dolphins led by eight points in the fourth quarter before Josh Allen guided his team to a 32-29 comeback victory. In the win, Allen threw for four touchdowns and 304 yards while rushing for another 77.

Video of the week

Yep, that’s Chicago Bears QB Justin Fields making another unlikely play. It’s not just that he almost scored a touchdown here, it’s the sheer number of Philadelphia Eagles defenders he managed to dodge along the way. After Sunday’s game, Fields has already rushed more than 1,000 yards this season, something that puts him in the company of Lamar Jackson, Michael Vick… and that’s it.

Fields also had a solid day throwing the ball on Sunday, going 14-for-21 with two touchdowns for a total of 152 yards. However, as has been the case all season, his exploits weren’t enough to secure a Bears win. The now 13-1 Philadelphia Eagles beat Chicago 25-20 and now need just one win to clinch the NFC’s top seed.

Statistics of the week

33 points. That is now officially the largest deficit ever overcome by an NFL team after the Minnesota Vikings’ epic comeback victory over the hapless Indianapolis Colts on Saturday. Yes, this year’s run of Saturday NFL games began with an instant classic as the Vikings went from a 33-0 deficit to a 39-36 victory in overtime.

With the win, the 11-3 Vikings swept the NFC North, but didn’t quite answer their critics. Yes, this is a Minnesota team that has proven its ability to clear a 33-point deficit, but also a team that has proven it can become one. It takes more than a bit of luck to go 9-0 in one-score matches, as the Vikings have done this season, and now they’ll have to see if that luck holds up in the playoffs.

K. J. Osborn

Vikings wide receiver KJ Osborn reacts to his catch against the Colts during the third quarter of Saturday’s game. Photo: Matt Krohn/USA Today Sports

For the 4-9-1 Colts, this latest embarrassment feels like the unofficial end of the ill-conceived Jeff Saturday experiment. Of course, this is the team that initially hired the inexperienced Saturday as head coach, despite numerous warnings that the decision was doomed from the start, so that’s no guarantee.

Quote of the week

“I don’t think I’ve ever been a part of anything like that.” — Atlanta Falcons head coach Arthur Smith on the scary pregame clash of New Orleans Saints receiver Rashid Shaheed with Falcons defensive coordinator Dean Pees

That was probably an understatement on Smith’s part. Injuries are part of the NFL, of course, but they are less common during warmups and rarely involve a coaching staff. In a scary moment, the medical staff took Pees, the senior defense coordinator in the league, off on a stretcher. He was later treated for injuries and released.

Following the Saints’ 21–18 win, Shaheed commented on the play. “I never saw him,” he said. “I was immediately super concerned. But I heard he’s back from the hospital, he’s healthy and doing well, so I’m thankful for that. … If he sees this, I’m sorry.”

Elsewhere in the league

• The New York Jets’ playoff hopes are now desperate after their 20-17 loss to the Detroit Lions. Zach Wilson started for New York at quarterback while Mike White was not allowed to play. Wilson was unspectacular against the Detroit Lions, but he managed to lead them to a late 17-13 lead. Unfortunately, the Jets defense couldn’t hold on and got a 51-yard touchdown on a fourth down with less than two minutes left. New York was, improbably, able to give Greg Zuerlein a chance to make a 48-yard field goal, but the kicker failed to convert. Detroit improved their record to 7-7, keeping them alive in the wild card chase.

• On Sunday, Jacksonville Jaguars safety Rayshawn Jenkins came away with a game-winning pick-six in overtime against the Dallas Cowboys for a 40-34 victory. With that one play, Jenkins prevented the Cowboys clinching a postseason berth with a win and kept Jacksonville in the playoff chase.

Key to the Jags resurgence was quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who threw four touchdowns against a legitimate Cowboys defense. Since week 9, Lawrence has achieved a score of 111.2, the best in the competition during that stretch, throwing for 14 touchdowns with just a single interception. Last season, the Jaguars were last in the division, 3-14. Jacksonville has already doubled their winning total and has a real shot at winning the AFC South, especially after the Tennessee Titans’ 17-14 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.

• For the second week in a row, the Houston Texans came dangerously close to winning a game against a superior team, forcing the favorite Kansas City Chiefs to play overtime for their opponents’ inevitable 30-24 victory. The Chiefs clinched the AFC West with the win, while the Texans’ loss cut the record to 1-12-1, moving them one step closer to the first pick in next year’s NFL draft. So in a way they were both winners.

• The Arizona Cardinals’ misery season continues. In Sunday’s game against the also unlucky Denver Broncos, they lost starting quarterback Kyler Murray to an ACL tear, which meant they would have to rely on veteran backup Colt McCoy. Against the Broncos, they lost McCoy to a concussion, forcing them to bring in third-stringer Trace McSorley. Given the circumstances, it’s not surprising that the already-eliminated Broncos won the largely pointless game 24-15.

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