BOSTON -- I don't know who needs to hear this, but there's no longer any reason to talk about Bill Belichick catching Don Shula's wins record. It's officially irrelevant with regard to his status and future in New England.
For years now, the magic number of 347 has hovered over the Patriots' operation as Belichick chased after it. When he and the Patriots racked up 10 more wins in 2021 (by beating up on a bunch of bad teams), the number seemed reasonably attainable. When the win total dropped to eight last year, the picture became a little clearer: It was going to take two, maybe three years for Belichick to pass Shula. After that, Belichick and the Patriots could amicably end their long relationship, Belichick could retire, and all would be well.
Robert Kraft even more or less admitted that the record mattered to him when he spoke to reporters last spring. Kraft did so with the caveat that winning mattered above all else, but, well, it's a wins record, so that's kind of part and parcel to the matter.
The story seemed to go that even if the Patriots continued to roll along in mediocrity, winning 7-10 games every year and maybe making the playoffs once in a while, the train would roll on until Belichick got that record.
However you or anyone else might have felt about that setup matters no more. It's over.
Because when you lose at home to Sam Howell, Ron Rivera, and the Washington Commanders, just days after they traded away their top two pass rushers at the deadline in a sign of intentional tanking, you're not going to get the wins record.
When that loss comes after you've already lost 34-0 at home to Derek Carr, Dennis Allen and the New Orleans Saints, you're not coming close to that record.
When the loss comes after you lost to Josh McDaniels and the Raiders (for the second time in a calendar year) just two weeks before McDaniels gets fired, you're not going to get the wins record.
And when you sit at 2-7, looking at an inadequate roster filled with few players who would start for other teams, looking ahead to what will be a miserable trip to Germany before a seven-week run to end the season, the wins record feels light years away.
Bill Belichick has 331 wins. He needs 16 more to tie Don Shula and 17 more to pass him. He's added two (2) wins to that total this year. It's hard to envision him adding more than three or four wins to that tally by the end of the year.
At that point, he'd be a dozen wins away from tying the record, coming off a 6-11 season. The can could no longer be kicked down the road.
How does it all play out in the short term? That's for Kraft and Belichick to figure out. Maybe they will. Maybe they won't. My money's on the two longtime partners reaching an accord.
But at the very least, the idea that the driving need for this record that nobody has ever really cared about needs to dictate the decisions made by the franchise can at least be put to bed.
As for this clunker of a 20-17 loss to Washington, here we go, leftover thoughts.
--Tyquan Thornton went from healthy scratch last week to in-game scratch this week. It's not good. His first play of note was a bad throw by Mac Jones on a fourth-down incompletion.
The next one was a bad route by Thornton on a third-down incompletion.
They didn't let him play after that.
One catch. Seven yards. He's now up to ... 15 yards on the season.
His best trait was supposed to be his speed, yet his career-long reception is 29 yards. Two Commanders had longer receptions on Sunday.
It's not looking great for Thornton.
--Also not good: Jalen Reagor dropping what would have been a 50-yard reception on a long bomb from Mac Jones.
That drive ended in a punt.
Reagor had one reception ... on six targets. He did have a slick pass breakup on one of those passes, an effort play that negated a pick. But still. That's where the Patriots' receiving corps is at.
--Well, also here, too:
Bill Belichick also said that Mike Gesicki is basically the team's fifth receiver. He had no catches. One target. On that target, he stopped running his route.
There's really no reason for Kayshon Boutte to not be playing ... but to think he or any one single player could change the shape of this offense would be misguided. The receiver situation is somehow just as bad or even worse than most said during the offseason.
--Brenden Schooler was ... perturbed at the holding penalty called on him during Washington's final punt. He insulted the character of the officials, one would say.
On the one hand, the frustration is understandable, because that was a Montreal Canadiens-esque flop by Jartavius Martin. At the same time, though ... there was a clear and obvious hold before the embellishment.
In a perfect world, the NFL would have a flopping penalty. That would rule. As it is, the hold was a penalty.
--Perhaps this official just didn't have a clear view of the defender grabbing and twisting Demario Douglas' face mask here:
Must have been some things in the way.
--Mac Jones definitely didn't get much help in this one. JuJu Smith-Schuster made a nice grab on an off-target pass on a fourth down before the game-losing drop, and Reagor had the aforementioned PBU against Emmanuel Forbes. Other than that, Jones pretty much had to be perfect in order for anything good to happen.
Still, he had some head-scratching plays on his own.
What was this?
Have you ever seen a throw like that before?
What was this?
Why did the man throw the football like that? The pressure was coming, yeah, but yeeting a back-foot jump throw is a recipe for an interception and nothing else.
Jones does enough to make you think he could be a capable NFL quarterback in a better situation. But he also does enough to make you wonder if some parts of his game are irreparably broken.
--The Commanders faced a big third-and-3 in the fourth quarter, backed up deep in their own end. The Patriots left the middle of the field wide open, sending Ja'Whaun Bentley after the quarterback. It was ... a choice.
The Patriots could have given themselves a better chance if they at least competed on that third down. Instead, Washington -- thanks to the Mack Wilson punt penalty -- took two more minutes off the clock and made the Patriots use all of their timeouts.
--And to make matters worse ... the Patriots now have to run into this guy at this moment.
It's a tough spot for the New England Patriots.
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