This is how it ends for Bill Belichick

The Patriots were soundly outplayed by the Commanders, a team that had lost five of six games. They couldn’t move the ball against the NFL’s 31st-ranked scoring defense, gaining just 327 yards and unable to make long drives. Their quarterback can’t throw the ball easily. And the team can’t get out of its own way with penalties and negative play.

With injuries hitting the Patriots hard, especially at receiver, it’s hard to see much improvement over the final eight games of the season. The scary thing is that Sunday’s loss may not be the lowest point yet.

The Patriots won’t play the Chargers again until Dec. 3 at Gillette Stadium. Will Belichick still be the head coach? It once seemed absurd to think that he would be fired midway through the season, but if the Patriots don’t beat the Colts in Germany next week, Kraft may have to consider doing so during the Week 11 bye.

It’s a depressing loss and could be a sign of bleaker days to come.

The Patriots won’t play in Gillette again until December. Will Bill Belichick still be the head coach?Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

▪ I’ll say this: Sam Howell is better than Mac Jones. Howell, last year’s fifth-round pick, finished with 325 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He has a dynamic arm, throws well against the run, and had some impressive throws like Jahan Dotson’s 33-yard touchdown and Terry McLaurin’s McLaurin’s 26-yard touchdown. Howell is the NFL’s most sacked player with 41 sacks, and he can also pass the ball quickly, completing three sacks and advancing minus 17 yards.

If not for an inexplicable interception at the end of the first half, Howell would have had a stellar day.

▪ Meanwhile, Jones is once again in disarray. The former first-round pick didn’t do much with Kendrick Bourne, DeVante Parker and Trent Brown out, but Jones is his own worst enemy and he Too many passes dropped and poor footwork. He missed Tyquan Thornton’s opener on fourth down in the opening round. He knocked Rhamondre Stevenson into the slot on a wheel route in the fourth quarter. He finished third and third behind Ezekiel Elliott.

Jones threw a great touchdown pass to Hunter Henry and set up Jalen Reagor for a couple of deep balls. But Jones completed just 24 of 44 passes (55 percent) for 220 yards and couldn’t sustain the rush — two touchdowns came on a fumble in the red zone and a 64-yard run by Lamond Stevenson move. This game against the Commanders ranked 31st in points allowed and 29th in yards allowed.

If it wasn’t clear that Jones wasn’t the answer, a loss to a depleted Commander squad should perhaps solidify that.

▪ With multiple injuries at wide receiver, this is a good opportunity for players like JuJu Smith-Schuster, Thornton and Mike Gesicki to make an impact. Instead, they barely made a murmur.

Smith-Schuster had at least a season-high six catches for 51 yards and a couple catches on the final drive, but still wasn’t close to what the Patriots signed in the offseason to replace Jakobi Mai. Yes players behave like that. Thornton caught 1 of 4 passes for just 7 yards and was chewed out by Jones who was sacked for not running his routes correctly. Gesicki continued to remain invisible, catching only one pass from one target.

With Bourne out for the season, the Patriots are going to have a lot of ugly, low-scoring games the rest of the way.

▪ Frankly, the Patriots are lucky to be in this game. The Commanders outgained their 327 yards with 432 yards and had the ball for 14 more minutes. This would have been a crushing loss if it weren’t for Howell’s poor interception, a horrific roughing pass to Washington that gave the Patriots three points, and Stevenson’s lucky 64-yard touchdown run.

▪ The Patriots struggled on third-and-long last week against the Dolphins, and it was even worse on Sunday. The Commanders completed nine of 17 third-down possessions and did so from distances of 7, 8, 10, 10 and 23. Howell’s 24-yard run on third-and-23 may have been Belichick’s worst third-down defensive performance in 24 years. patriot. In an attempt to calm the game down, the Patriots gave up a key first down on third-and-1 with four minutes remaining.

If the Patriots can’t get off the field against Howell, it’s going to be a long break in the season.

▪ Finally, the long drive of the Patriots offense. Stevenson’s touchdown was their longest from scrimmage since Week 13 of 2021, when Damion Harris ran for a 64-yard touchdown against the Bills. Kendrick Bourne had 75 yards against the Cowboys in Week 6 of 2021. Reago’s excellent blocking in the frontcourt set up Stevenson.

It’s nice to see the offense explode. At the same time, if this is the only way they score, they’re in trouble.

▪ Ah, yes, the lineup is also a mystery. Cornerbacks Jake and Jack Jones were firmly on the bench in the first quarter, with Jonathan Jones, Shaun Wade and Myles Bryant taking their places. Belichick denied after the game that Jackson and Jack Jones were benched, but it did appear to be another example of Belichick’s discipline. When a team is 2-7, coaches have to deal with more players challenging their authority or breaking the rules.

▪ The Patriots only had four 30-yard penalties, but three of those came on special teams. Brenden Schooler received a face mask penalty in the fourth quarter, forcing the Patriots to start the drive at the 9-yard line. Mack Wilson went offsides on a punt late in the fourth quarter, giving the Commanders a free first down and forcing the Patriots to waste a timeout. Schooler was called to hold on to the next punt, forcing the Patriots to start their nine-and-two-minute drive again.

The number of penalties the Patriots’ special teams took was unacceptable and unusual, when normally those penalties were pretty good.

▪ Well, at least rookie punter Bryce Baringer had a good day, averaging 54.5 total yards and 45.8 net yards on his six punts, including calling a command late in the game A punt that the officials forced deep into their own territory. Demario Douglas made at least one smart play, letting the punt roll into the end zone for a touch.

Ben Volin can be reached at

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