New England Patriots Finish Season Just Shy of 7th Seed

The New England Patriots ended the 2022 season with an 8-9 record, just missing the playoffs after a season filled with ups and downs and injuries. The team ended up in third place in the American Football Conference (AFC) East division. After a 47-17 blowout defeat to the Buffalo Bills in the Wild Card round last season, they hoped for playoff success this year, as their previous playoff win was in the 2018 season.

Earlier in 2022, during the offseason, former offensive coordinator and quarterback coach, Josh McDaniels, left for the Head Coach position at the Las Vegas Raiders. This was not the first time McDaniels left the Patriots for a Head Coach position. During the 2009 off-season, he joined the Denver Broncos. After two unsuccessful seasons, ending with an 11-17 record, McDaniels was eventually fired in the middle of the 2010 season.

When McDaniels took the job at the Raiders, he brought three Patriots assistant coaches with him. They were wide receivers coach Mick Lombardi, offensive line coach Carmen Bricillo, and quarterbacks coach Bo Hardegree.

In February, former head coach of the New York Giants, Joe Judge, was hired back by the Patriots after coaching two unsuccessful seasons. Judge was a former special teams coordinator before the Giants hired him. Judge became the offensive assistant and the quarterback coach.

Matt Patricia was given the role of senior football advisor and offensive line coach. Before the start of the season, Patricia became the de facto offensive coordinator, given the responsibility of calling plays. Patricia started his coaching career in the league with the Patriots as an offensive assistant. He then moved to defensive coaching positions like linebackers and safeties before becoming the defensive coordinator that helped win two Super Bowl championships. He rejoined the Patriots after a couple of seasons as head coach for the Detroit Lions.

Long-time coach Ivan Fears announced his retirement in June after 24 seasons with the organization and was the running back coach for the past 19 seasons.

During the free agency period, some players the Patriots signed were strong safety Jabrill Peppers from the Giants and cornerback Malcolm Butler. This would be his second stint with the team as Butler signed with the Patriots as an undrafted free agent in 2014. Butler is known for his goal-line interception against the Seattle Seahawks during Super Bowl 49 that sealed the victory for the Patriots. Butler was released before the start of the regular season after being placed on Injured Reserve (IR).

On March 17th, 2022, the team parted ways with 2019 third-round pick defensive end Chase Winovich by trading him to the Chicago Bears in exchange for linebacker Mack Wilson. On that same day, guard Shaq Mason was traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, reuniting him with former Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, with whom he won two prior Super Bowls during their tenure together.

Leading to the draft, some of the most significant needs for the team were at the cornerback position and the offensive line. Some key players from the 2021 season who departed were All-Pro cornerback J.C Jackson, linebacker Dont’a Hightower, and linemen Ted Karras and Mason.

In the 2022 NFL draft, the Patriots selected offensive lineman Cole Strange from Chattanooga with the 29th pick after trading down with the Kansas City Chiefs with their 21st pick. Some other notable selections were the second-round wide receiver (WR) Tyquan Thornton, third-round cornerback Marcus Jones, fourth-round quarterback Bailey Zappe and cornerback Jack Jones. 

Before the start of training camps, former first-round pick N’Keal Harry got traded to the Bears for a late-round pick in 2024. This came as Harry struggled to find success for the past three seasons. He was also injured a lot during his Patriots career, having missed several games during his rookie season and his last season with the team. The season prior, also during the summer, Harry’s agent announced that he had formally requested a trade from the team. Harry wanted a fresh start, but he ultimately stayed with the Patriots for the 2021 season.

The Patriots had three preseason games before the start of the regular season. They faced the Giants on August 11th, the Panthers on the 19th, and the Raiders on the 26th. Before the games, joint practices were held with the Giants and the Panthers. Later in the season, the Patriots will visit the Raiders in Week 15.

Head Coach Bill Belichick explained why he preferred joint practices. He said, “in some respects you get a lot more out of them.”

Thornton suffered a fractured clavicle injury in the preseason finale against the Raiders. He was then placed on IR to start the season, which means he is mandated to miss four weeks before being allowed to return. His expected return was estimated to be around 6-8 weeks, early or late October.

The Patriots started the season by visiting the Miami Dolphins for their week one matchup. This was the third consecutive season where their opener was against the Dolphins. After losing the two matchups last season, the Patriots had hoped to avenge their losses by coming out of the game with a win. 

Unfortunately, the Dolphins’ defense completely dominated the entire game. Out of nine offensive series, the Patriots turned over the ball four times, punting three times, and only scored once after time expired during the first half. Tua Tagovailoa, the quarterback for the Dolphins, became the first quarterback to start against the Patriots to be 4-0 against Belichick.

On the road against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Patriots got their first win of the season in week two.

In their first home game, hosting the Baltimore Ravens, the Patriots were down 11 points during the fourth quarter before scoring a touchdown to cut the lead down to only five. The team attempted to mount a comeback, but their last three offensive drives ended with two interceptions and a fumble that sealed their fate that day with a loss.

Late in the fourth quarter, Patriots quarterback Mac Jones left the game with a leg injury that appeared severe as he limped off the field in agony. It was later determined to be a high ankle sprain that was said to sideline him for several weeks.

Following Mac Jones’ injury, Brian Hoyer started the week four game against the Green Bay Packers. Hoyer suffered a head injury halfway through the first quarter, forcing Zappe in for his debut. With 19 seconds left in the first half, cornerback Jack Jones intercepted Aaron Rodgers, returning it for a 40-yard pick-six, his first career interception, and touchdown. Throughout the rest of the game, both teams scored multiple touchdowns before going to overtime (OT).

After the Packers won the toss during OT and decided to receive, they were forced to punt because they failed to convert a third down. New England failed to capitalize on this, ending up punting the ball back to the Packers. This time, they were able to march down the field using almost 7 minutes before the kicker made a field goal with four seconds left to give Green Bay a 27-24 OT win.

In the following week against the Detroit Lions, Zappe made his career debut. Against a top-ranked offense at that time, the Patriot’s defense did not allow a score. They had an interception and a fumble recovery that led to a touchdown. New England prevailed 29-0.

New England’s first season primetime game came in week 7, against the Bears, on Monday Night Football. Mac Jones returned from his injury and started the game before being replaced by Zappe after tossing an interception in the second quarter. After the offense found success immediately, scoring two touchdowns in consecutive drives, the Bears scored 23 unanswered points the rest of the game, ending at 33-14.

Over the course of the next three weeks, the Patriots defeated the Cleveland Browns and the New York Jets twice before a close loss to the Minnesota Vikings. Against the Vikings, Mac Jones threw a career-high 382 yards in what was perhaps his best performance of the season so far.

In consecutive weeks, weeks 15 and 16, New England suffered two devastating losses within the game’s final minutes. Against the Raiders, both teams were tied at 24 points in the last minute of the fourth quarter. The Patriots received the ball at their 25-yard line. They ran a few plays hoping to get within field goal range to get a last-second score. With 10 seconds left, running back Rhamondre Stevenson ran up the middle before he lateralled the ball back to receiver Jakobi Meyers. He then passed it backward, intended for Mac Jones, but was intercepted by Chandler Jones, a former Patriot, who ran the ball for a Raiders touchdown.

Facing the last season’s AFC champions, Cincinnati Bengals, in week 16, New England faced a 22 points deficit late in the third quarter. Marcus Jones returned an interception of Joe Burrow to put the first score of the night for the Patriots. New England’s offense found momentum for their next two drives, scoring touchdowns and closing the lead down to four in the fourth quarter.

With about three minutes left in the game, edge rusher Matthew Judon forced a fumble on WR Ja’marr Chase that was recovered by Marcus Jones on Cincinnati’s territory, giving a good position for the Patriots’ offense.

As the game neared the end, the offense tried to drive down the field for a touchdown while running some time off the clock. The offense had the ball on Cincinnati’s 5-yard line when Stevenson ran the ball but was hit and fumbled, leading to a recovery by the Bengals. This incited some reactions from fans as they thought he should have been ruled down because of forward progress.

New England lost their two matchups against their division rival Bills in an effort to avenge their Wild Card loss last season.

During week 18, Nyheim Hines of the Bills returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown. After the touchdown, emotions were tense among the crowd and players as Damar Hamlin, a Bills player, had suffered a cardiac arrest on the field days earlier. Hines returned the second kickoff touchdown within a couple of hours, becoming the first player since 2010. 

As a result of these special team’s errors, the Patriots lost the game by two scores, 35-23.

Despite missing the playoffs, there are plenty of offensive and defensive talents the team can build around for next season.

Seven defensive touchdowns, a new franchise record, were some accomplishments during the season. They also accumulated over 50 sacks, the most ever under Belichick.

Judon was selected to his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl and attained a career-high 15.5 sacks. Marcus Jones was chosen to the All-Pro Team as a punt returner.

New England has a lot of work to do before the new season starts if they want to get back into the playoffs. Namely, hiring an actual offensive coordinator and upgrading the offense.

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