The New England Patriots were on their way to winning in the yeoman’s style that has defined their team this year. And then Las Vegas Raiders outside linebacker Chandler Jones did something incredible.
Well, Patriots receiver Jakobi Meyers did something awful — something humiliating.
But that set up Jones for a game-winning play that was equal parts insane and miraculous.
With the game tied 24-24 and three seconds on the clock, the Patriots, on their own 45-yard-line, seemed poised to settle for overtime. So they ran the ball up the middle with Rhamondre Stevenson. Regulation was over, right? Not so fast. After gaining 20-plus yards, Stevenson lateraled the ball to Meyers, who ran backward and passed the ball in the direction of quarterback Mac Jones near the original line of scrimmage. The problem was that Chandler Jones caught the ball instead. And Mac was the only person between Chandler and the end zone.
You can guess what happened next.
It was an absolute nightmare for New England.
Chandler stiff-armed Mac into the ground and the outside linebacker proceeded to the end zone for a touchdown with zeros on the clock. The Raiders won 30-24, putting a major dent in New England’s chances of making the postseason.
Raiders win on miracle last play
After the Patriots attempted a lateral in lieu of a Hail Mary, Chandler Jones intercepted the backward pass and took it to the house as time expired to give the Raiders a 30-24 win over New England.
There was plenty of confusion about the play.
Did the Patriots plan to lateral?
It seemed like the coaches called a draw with the intention of running out the clock.
“I should’ve done that and got down,” Stevenson said postgame. “I take full responsibility for the play. I just gotta know the situation.”
But it wasn’t his toss that ruined New England’s chances. It was Meyers’ throw.
“I was trying to do too much,” Meyers said. “Trying to be a hero, I guess.”
And then there was the missed tackle from Jones.
“It’s on me,” Jones said. “Gotta tackle him and play for overtime. That’s on me.”
And while the coaches didn’t call for a lateral, it might not have hurt for the coaches to specify to Stevenson: Go down.
“The play didn’t work,” coach Bill Belichick said. “Made a mistake on the play.”
Everyone’s to blame.
The Patriots now have only a 19% chance of making the postseason, per FiveThirtyEight.com. Had the Pats won, their chances would be well above 50%, even with the Los Angeles Chargers winning. But New England’s failed lateral may have cost the team a shot at the postseason.
That play will live in infamy in New England. It was reminiscent of a play in December 2018, when the Patriots allowed a game-winning touchdown to the Miami Dolphins as time expired — with tight end Rob Gronkowski missing a tackle at the goal line. But the lateral is worse because it is more humiliating — and because it may cost the Patriots a playoff bid.
But also, it’s not just the one play. New England’s offense was a disappointment for most of the game. The Patriots wouldn’t have been in that situation if they’d gotten 15 more yards to kick a field goal. They wouldn’t have been in that situation if they’d held the Raiders from scoring on the previous drive. They wouldn’t have been in a situation where they needed a win over the Raiders if they’d taken care of the Bears or the Packers — both of whom stole wins from New England.
The Patriots (7-7) have been enormously frustrating to watch this season.
And at the same time, they have a surprising amount of wins, given all of their issues on offense. The defense has scored more touchdowns (six) than any other team in the NFL. Given how good that unit is, the Patriots should be a playoff contender. Maybe they should even be a Super Bowl contender. If that sounds insane, consider that Mac Jones was in the mix to win the Rookie of the Year Award last year. Consider that Jones looked like he had the potential to be a top-tier pocket passer last year.
That’s what the Patriots need: a passing attack. If they had that, they would be a legit competitor in the AFC.
Those offensive shortcomings trace back to the coaching staff — and a dash of incompetence in acquiring talented pass-catchers. Those two factors have made it impossible for the Patriots to enjoy success on offense. Jones has looked like a shell of himself from his rookie season. Once a promising prospect, he is trending the way of a bust. And you get the sense it’s barely his fault. Offensive playcaller Matt Patricia looks completely out of his depth. New England has not built an offense in which Jones can thrive. And the Patriots are on pace to miss the playoffs because of that.
So, yes, Meyers’ costly lateral was the crushing blow. But Meyers has actually been the team’s only bright spot in an abysmal passing attack. He’s one of the biggest reasons New England can move the ball in the air. And it’s a shame his mental mistake cost the team this win.
The Patriots could fight their way back into the playoff picture, with games against the Cincinnati Bengals, Dolphins and Bills to finish the regular season. But when the year is over, the Patriots need to prioritize Jones’ development. That will mean adding a real threat — a WR1 — for the QB in the passing game. And that will likely also mean making a change within the offensive staff.
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Prior to joining FOX Sports as the AFC East reporter, Henry McKenna spent seven years covering the Patriots for USA TODAY Sports Media Group and Boston Globe Media. Follow him on Twitter at @McKennAnalysis.
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