FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts/notes around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. Top five disappointments: Several Patriots players have mentioned over the past week that they believe they are better than their 2-4 record. It's another way of saying the Patriots -- 0-4 at home as they prepare to host the New York Jets on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS) -- are one of the NFL's underachieving clubs.
There is still time for them to turn things around, of course. It's not like they are getting blown out each week, as they have been in every game but have not made the clutch plays needed in their losses.
But as of now, here is one view of the top areas that have been surprisingly subpar:
Offensive line: What looked like a strength coming out of training camp has become a glaring weakness that has handcuffed the attack -- starting with left tackle Isaiah Wynn not performing like a first-round pick, and right tackle Trent Brown not able to get on the field (right calf). Would the Patriots like to open things up more for rookie quarterback Mac Jones? Absolutely. But not at the expense of injury. The O-line is holding them back.
Defense/coaching: With the chance to put Sunday's loss away with the Dallas Cowboys facing a third-and-25, the Patriots were in a dime defense and a coverage call resulted in an easy 24-yard gain. That's a tough pill to swallow and generally reflective of a unit that has performed below expectations in the clutch, with few decisive answers from the sideline. There have also been multiple timeouts burned to get the proper personnel on the field.
Running back: Four lost fumbles from the position -- two by Damien Harris and one each for Rhamondre Stevenson and J.J. Taylor -- easily leads the NFL. Similar to the offensive line, this looked like it could have been a strength of the team, which led to the preseason trade of Sony Michel. In hindsight, that one hurts.
Punt protection: Two punts blocked in six games? The Patriots haven't had two punts blocked in a full season under coach Bill Belichick prior to this year. They had no punts blocked in the previous five seasons combined. For a team that devotes as many resources as it does to special teams, and views the third phase of the game as an opportunity to create an edge, the results have been demoralizing at times.
Jonnu Smith: The tight end's time could soon be coming, but after signing a four-year, $50 million contract as an unrestricted free agent, he bottomed out in Week 3 against the Saints. It's fair to expect more than 16 catches for 124 yards, one touchdown and up-and-down blocking.
2. Option play: If the Patriots could do it over again, would they still pick up the fifth-year option of Wynn for the 2022 season? All teams had to decide on options for 2018 first-round picks by May 3, and given the value of the left tackle position, one can understand why the Patriots picked up Wynn's and guaranteed him $10.4 million for '22 in the process. But seeing what they have to this point, it's hard to imagine they are thrilled. Wynn might want to send a thank-you note to the NFL Players Association for negotiating the timeline in which teams have to decide on fifth-year options.
3. Gunner holds: A primary reason the Patriots signed practice-squad kicker Riley Patterson last week is that veteran Nick Folk (left knee) remains limited in practice. So that meant punter Jake Bailey was kicking field goals in his absence. And since Bailey is the regular holder, it then pressed Gunner Olszewski into emergency holding duties. Meanwhile, here is another thought as it relates to Olszewski: Given how short the Patriots are depth-wise at defensive back, could he follow the same path as Troy Brown and Julian Edelman before him and also be an emergency option on D? He played cornerback at Bemidji State, after all.
4. Tavai for two: Linebacker Jahlani Tavai's promotion to the Patriots' 53-man roster, from the practice squad, came as a bit of a surprise given that the team already had Dont'a Hightower, Ja'Whaun Bentley, Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins and Harvey Langi at that off-the-line spot. But part of the thinking seemed to be that Tavai's intelligence, and ability to lead the huddle and play a signal-calling role, had depth-based value in 2021 and possibly in a larger role next season when Hightower, Bentley and Collins are all scheduled to hit free agency. The contract signed by Tavai, a 2019 second-round pick of the Lions, is for two years.
5. Williams on borrowed time?: Tavai didn't last more than two seasons with the Lions after being selected in the 2019 second round (No. 43), and the Patriots' second-rounder that year -- cornerback Joejuan Williams (No. 45) -- might be on borrowed time in New England. Williams was a healthy scratch last week against Dallas, which came after he was benched the game prior after giving up a touchdown on a flea-flicker. If Williams can't find his way on to the game-day roster at a time the Patriots are desperately in need of depth at defensive back, there doesn't seem to be much point in keeping him around.
6. Stidham/Cowart in play: Quarterback Jarrett Stidham and defensive tackle Byron Cowart began practicing on Wednesday, the first day they were eligible after opening the season on the physically unable to perform list. The Patriots will have a three-week window until they have to decide whether to place them on the 53-man roster or injured reserve. If the Patriots like what they see from Stidham -- who underwent a procedure on his back to address lingering discomfort -- a scenario where they activate him and move veteran Brian Hoyer to the practice squad would make sense. Hoyer wouldn't have to clear waivers.
7. Receivers dish on miscues: Because reporters aren't in the locker room after games, and all interviews are coordinated through the team, it sometimes takes days to learn more about some players' insight on key plays. Last week, in particular, had some notable examples. Receiver Kendrick Bourne said Jones' late pick-six against the Cowboys was his fault, because he was supposed to run a three-step slant and instead ran a one-step. And on Nelson Agholor's killer drop at the start of overtime, he said it was a case of him getting too eager by "peeking ahead," and he needs to do a better job of staying in the moment. He said he was still upset about it -- four days after the fact.
8. Jump on Jets early: Something to consider in Sunday's game -- the Jets' offense, led by rookie QB Zach Wilson, has totaled 79 yards and no points in the first quarter this season as opponents have outscored them 30-0 (and 75-13 in the first half). The last team with no first-quarter points in the first six games of a season was the 2008 Lions, who went 0-16.
9. Game with the Greats: This marks the 15th year that the Patriots Alumni Club is hosting its "Game With the Greats" event, which gives fans a chance to watch one of the team's away games with former players at Gillette Stadium. The event is Sunday, Oct. 31 in the Putnam Club, as the Patriots take on Justin Herbert and the Los Angeles Chargers. Proceeds from the event support the club's mission to give back to youth football in New England.
10. Did You Know: The Patriots have won their past 11 games against the Jets, tying for the second-longest win streak in franchise history. The longest is 15 games, against the Bills, from 2003-2010.