New England Patriots need clutch plays to prove they are good team

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Pro Football Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells once famously coined the phrase, "You are what your record says you are."

The 2021 New England Patriots are a 2-4 football team after Sunday's crushing 35-29 overtime loss to the Dallas Cowboys at Gillette Stadium. That's not very good.

Multiple players have a differing view, however, which highlights a notable disconnect for coach Bill Belichick's team.

Defensive tackle Davon Godchaux tweeted after the game: "Tough one!! Got a good team but the record doesn’t show it! Keep going and keep getting better!"

Core special teamer/cornerback Justin Bethel added, "I think we are a good team with a bad record right now."

While there have been glimpses of hope, good teams still find a way to win the games the Patriots are losing. And good teams don't open the season 0-4 at home.

So, while there might be some promising signs -- such as quarterback Mac Jones' resilience and a stingy short-yardage run defense -- the bottom line is the Patriots, who next play host to the New York Jets on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS), have to start closing teams out when they have a chance. The opportunities were plentiful against the Cowboys.

Most disheartening was the end of the fourth quarter after Jones connected with Kendrick Bourne on a 75-yard touchdown pass, and then found Jakobi Meyers for a 2-point conversion and 29-26 lead with 2:11 remaining.

The Patriots' defense had the Cowboys in a fourth-and-4 from their own 35. One play would have ended it.

And even if you give quarterback Dak Prescott and receiver Cedrick Wilson credit for making that play (a 13-yard catch on the sideline), what unfolded four plays later -- on third-and-25 -- was more about a Patriots breakdown than anything else.

Good teams don't give up a 24-yard catch in that situation (receiver CeeDee Lamb caught it on the in-cut in front of cornerback Jalen Mills).

"A little better on that play changes the game," safety Devin McCourty said.

McCourty lamented that the Patriots didn't have more defensive backs in the game. They previously had to play a stretch of the action without cornerbacks Jonathan Jones and Bethel, and safety Adrian Phillips, because of injuries. They also looked tired, with the Cowboys having held a 39:17 to 26:51 time-of-possession advantage by game's end.

This is where coaching and roster management warrants some scrutiny. The Patriots voluntarily went into the game shorthanded in the defensive backfield, essentially dressing an extra linebacker over cornerback Joejuan Williams (healthy scratch) or potential practice-squad elevation Myles Bryant, another cornerback.

And on the playcall, they rushed four and dropped seven, appearing to play man coverage in their dime package (six defensive backs). Belichick said Monday that the dime package was what they planned on playing in that situation.

"Good throw and a good catch. Coverage was pretty good," Belichick said, in an analysis that is fair to challenge.

In retrospect, the combination of roster management and playcall seemed to hurt the Patriots.

Meanwhile, when the offense had a chance to dictate things at the start of overtime, the drive started with a brutal drop by receiver Nelson Agholor, who was wide open on a slant over the middle.

And while it was disappointing to the Patriots that officials missed a face mask penalty committed on Agholor on an incomplete pass on third down, Jones talked the most sense after the game when he said: "Sometimes it goes your way and sometimes it doesn't. You can't blame everything on the refs. We have to find ways to not be in that position."

Precisely, that's what the good teams do.

"When you look at the big picture, you never want to say you're close; it's hard to do that," Jones said. "But the games we've lost we've been two or three plays away. I guess that's how the NFL works, and I'm learning that the hard way."

Added center David Andrews: "A few plays here or there, but that's how it goes in this league. There's not a big margin for error."

If the Patriots truly want to be considered a good team, it's time for them to start making those plays.