New England's season is over, save for one final meaningless game to close out the 2020 season.
If that felt strange to read, you're not alone. It's even odder to watch Bill Belichick on the sideline, coaching a game that is unimportant, not because his team has already locked up its playoff berth and seeding, but because his team was mediocre for most of 2020.
Monday night captured it perhaps better than any other week in this first season of the post-Tom Brady era. New England took a 3-0 lead to start its game against Buffalo, and then was outscored 38-6 the rest of the way, mounting very little resistance to the Bills' offensive onslaught. Belichick's team seemed to lack heart and any semblance of offensive direction, breaking four minutes in a possession just once the entire night, punting seven times and gaining a whopping 201 yards of offense.
Cam Newton was not good (5-of-10 passing for 34 yards and a passer rating of 57.9), but most everyone was bad Monday night, save for Sony Michel's 69 yards gained on 10 carries. Because the Patriots are officially going to finish below .500, and because Newton is on a one-year deal, Belichick was asked again about Newton's play in Week 16.
"He did what we asked him to do," Belichick said.
As for Newton starting Sunday against the Jets, Belichick was fittingly short in his response.
"I would imagine," he said.
All right, but that's not all. The lingering curiosity surrounding backup Jarrett Stidham -- once penciled in to be the potential starter before the Patriots threw roughly $1 million at Newton to come play quarterback and bring his eraser with him -- has fueled this now weekly questioning of when folks might see Stidham in a game, to the point where it has taken over as filler commentary for Patriots games. ESPN's Brian Griese went on and on about needing to see what the Patriots had in Stidham during Monday night's second-half snooze-fest, finally getting his wish in the fourth quarter, in which Stidham finished 4-of-11 passing for 44 yards and a passer rating of 49.1 (yes, it was as ugly as it reads).
So, why haven't we seen more of Stidham with little else to play for? Well, because the Patriots might not need to see more of him, accepting that they could already know all they'll learn about him.
"I think there would be some truth to that," Belichick said Tuesday, via WEEI's Ryan Hannable.
It's a harsh, cold reality the Patriots are facing in this strangest of seasons, but there is liberty in failure. New England might get a chance for a fresh start with a different signal-caller in the offseason if it doesn't want to run things back with Newton, and Belichick's resistance to starting Stidham should tell you all you need to know about his prospects as a Patriot.
It's ugly now, but might not be forever. As for Sunday, we'll see if Newton can salvage his 2020 season with a better performance than the team-wide failure that was Week 16.