The Patriots’ humiliating loss at Las Vegas lays bare how far they’ve fallen NFL

SSometimes when watching sports, one witnesses a play so ridiculous and inexplicable that one’s brain cannot even properly process what has just happened. Case in point: the bizarre final sequence of the New England Patriots’ backbreaking 30-24 road loss to the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday. If there ever were a moment that laid bare how the Patriots Dynasty was officially in the rear-view mirror, we may have just witnessed it.

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

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 security ball and not giving the other team even a slicer of a chance to score on a turnover. Maybe, you give your quarterback a chance to make a Hail Mary attempt and throw directly to your end zone.

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

“Collectively we made too many mistakes,” head coach Bill Belichick said in a tense postgame interview. (Yes, even tenser than usual.)

He wasn’t referring to just that one play, which itself involved multiple screwups, but to a series of moments scattered throughout the loss that were inexplicable for a team that’s built its brand, during Belichick’s storied tenure, on a mastery of situational football. In the first half, the Pats managed to negate a potential touchdown with a baffling timeout call, effectively icing themselves. Then, in a sneak preview 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 honest, the only reason the Patriots were in a position to win this game at any point was that the Raiders had a bad habit of blowing leads. Until the last 34 seconds of the game, Las Vegas had allowed 21 unanswered points and there’s even a convincing argument that Derek Carr’s late game-tying touchdown to Keelan Cole should have been ruled out of bounds.

It ultimately didn’t matter. The Patriots went out of their way to lose this game all by themselves. Now they are 7-7, tied with the New York Jets for third place in the AFC. New England are not mathematically eliminated from postseason play but this does not resemble a postseason team in the slightest and – for maybe the first time in the Belichick era – the coaching staff clearly bears much of the blame.

MVP of the week

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

Video of the week

Yes, that’s Chicago Bears QB Justin Fields making yet another improbable play. It’s not just that he nearly scored a touchdown here, it’s the sheer number of Philadelphia Eagles defenders he managed to elude along the way. After Sunday’s game, Fields has already rushed for over 1,000 yards on the 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 long, his heroes weren’t enough to secure a Bears victory. The now 13-1 Philadelphia Eagles defeated Chicago 25-20 and now need just one more win to clinch the NFC’s top seed.

Stat of the week

33 points. That’s now officially the largest deficit ever surmounted by an NFL team following the Minnesota Vikings’ epic comeback win over the hapless Indianapolis Colts on Saturday. Yes, this year’s slate of Saturday NFL games began with an instant classic as the Vikings went from being down 33-0 to winning 39-36 in overtime.

With the win, the 11-3 Vikings clinched the NFC North, but didn’t quite answer their critics. Yes, this is a Minnesota team that has proven its capable of overcoming a 33-point deficit, but also one that has proved it can fall into one. It takes more than a little luck to go 9-0 in one-score games, as the Vikings have this season, and now they will have to see if that luck will hold up in the playoffs.

Vikings wide receiver KJ Osborn reacts to his catch against the Colts during the third quarter of Saturday’s game. Photograph: 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 hired the inexperienced Saturday as head coach in the first place, despite ample warnings that the decision was doomed from the start, so that’s not a guarantee.

Quote of the week

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

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

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

Elsewhere around the league

The New York Jets’ playoff hopes are now in desperate straits after their 20-17 loss to the Detroit Lions. Zach Wilson started for New York at quarterback with Mike White not cleared to play. Wilson wasn’t spectacular against the Detroit Lions, but he managed to lead them to a late 17-13 lead. Unfortunately, the Jets’ defense couldn’t hold on, giving up a 51-yard touchdown on fourth down with less than two minutes left. New York were, improbably, able to give Greg Zuerlein the chance to hit a 48-yard game-winning field goal, but the kicker couldn’t convert. Detroit improved their record to 7-7, keeping them alive in the wild card hunt.

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

The key to the Jags’ resurgence has been quarterback Trevor Lawrence, who threw four touchdowns against a legitimate Cowboys defense. Since Week 9, Lawrence has a 111.2 passing rating, the best in the league during that stretch, throwing for 14 touchdowns with only a single interception. Last season, the Jaguars were 3-14, dead last in the division. Jacksonville has already doubled their win total and have a genuine chance at winning the AFC South, especially after the Tennessee Titans’ 17-14 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.

For the second straight week, the Houston Texans came dangerously close to winning a game against a superior team, forcing the favored Kansas City Chiefs to play overtime before their opponents’ inevitable 30-24 win. The Chiefs clinched the AFC West with the win, while the loss dropped the Texans’ record to 1-12-1, bringing 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’ season of misery continues. In Sunday’s game against the similarly hapless Denver Broncos, they lost starting quarterback Kyler Murray to an ACL tear, meaning they would have to rely on veteran backup Colt McCoy. Against the Broncos, they lost McCoy to a concussion, forcing them to put in third-stringer Trace McSorley. Unsurprisingly given the circumstances, the already-eliminated Broncos won the mostly meaningless matchup, 24-15.

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