Patriots are an unflattering combination of undisciplined and boring - NBC Sports Boston

Through 12 games, the Patriots have 21 offensive touchdowns. Swear to God, they are going to be worse than the Cam Newton-led 2020 Patriots. No lie.

That team with a quarterback who couldn’t throw anymore had 27 touchdowns at this point and finished the season with 32. In 16 games. With Damiere Byrd, N’Keal Harry and second-year Jakobi Meyers as the main wideouts and 13-catch Ryan Izzo as the lead tight end.

Mark it down: This year’s offense in 17 games won’t find the end zone as much as that one did in 16. With an offense that’s second in positional spending at wide receiver ($35.2M) and first -- FIRST -- at tight end ($23.7M). Just to tie off the comparison, the Patriots' 2020 wideout spending was 27th in the league and tight ends was 32nd.

The Patriots had an exam last night. How much better are they now than they were in January when the Bills evicted them from the playoffs?

They showed up for said exam wearing underwear and without a pencil. And it wasn’t a dream at all.

How in God’s name can you go the WRONG WAY on the first third down of the game and fumble the football? They did. They found a way.

In the next 27 minutes of play they gave up a third-and-11, saw Trent Brown whistled for holding, saw Rhamondre Stevenson fumble (Patriots recovered), got called for DPI on a third-and-9, allowed a 28-yard run, committed a penalty during a kickoff return, lost a yard on first-and-10 from their own 9, followed that by getting called for a hold and an intentional grounding on the same play, took a delay-of-game on a punt, failed to touch a receiver who was on the ground, quit on a third-and-goal play in the end zone allowing a touchdown, went three-and-out, went three-and-out again, allowed a 41-yard touchdown bomb to Stefon Diggs, saw that wiped out by penalty (YAY!), strip-sacked Josh Allen (DOUBLE YAY!!!) then situationally mismanaged -- for the second week in a row -- the end of the first half.

They spent the second half trying to avoid getting blown out which -- while successful -- left players rightly wondering when the mighty Patriots grew afraid of their own shadow.

That’s two prime-time games in a row at Gillette Stadium that ended with an opponent taking knees. On the bright side, it wasn’t as bad as the 33-14 thrashing by the Bears. But that’s only because that game and the loss to the Ravens in Week 3 convinced the Patriots that trying to win wasn’t as appealing as trying not to lose. Better to save that face then getting it kicked in, as the last time the Patriots saw Buffalo.

The Patriots are a tentative, situationally dumb team. They don’t have enough offensive coaches. They don’t have enough offensive coaching acumen. A portion of the appeal with Matt Patricia and Joe Judge is that they came cheap (both are still collecting from the teams that fired them), were available and aren’t about to go running off to new jobs.

The team’s overall attention to detail is sporadic. The penalties and situational mismanagement must have Ernie Adams twitching uncontrollably in a darkened room somewhere. And now players are openly pleading (as much as Patriots players are allowed to plead) for just a little more in the way of urgency.

Which is a concept that’s been strangely absent since, well, 2019. Think about it. Bill Belichick said 2020 was the financial reboot and whaddya expect. And 2021 was the first year with a rookie quarterback and, well, things went bad late but whaddya expect. And this year, with Josh McDaniels gone, it was time for a new offense, a new language and grooming coaches who wouldn’t want to up-and-leave for greener pastures, so whaddya expect?

It was brought up to Devin McCourty that Patriots teams of yore didn’t do this stuff in December.

"Yeah, I mean some of the things you talk about is teams of the past,” he said. "It just kind of is what it is. Like, this isn’t that and I think we’ve got to get out of the mindset of what we used to do in December and focus on just now and what we are now. I think that’s something we’ve got to improve on. The small mistakes are killing us."

And yet, they’re still alive. After taking and failing the Bills exam in their skivvies on national television, the Patriots now go West where winnable games against Arizona and the Raiders await. An 8-6 record isn’t at all unlikely.

And a pivot to offensive competency -- like the one the Patriots enjoyed sporadically against Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Green Bay, Detroit, Cleveland and Minnesota -- can’t be ruled out either. But there’s no way you can believe in its permanence.

Bad can be OK if the product is entertaining, improvement is evident and the team is smarter than most.

Boring can be a blast if the upside of boring is a possible parade in February.

But when the on-field product is boring, undisciplined and afraid to make mistakes, and the guy in charge is genuinely surprised or in denial that that’s what it looks like? People won’t like it. Even worse, players won’t like it. And that’s what we’re starting to see happen.