Another Patriots dud showed why NFL pulled them from prime time, sacrificing audience of Swifties

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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — The NFL made the right decision by flexing the New England Patriots’ home game against Kansas City out of the high-profile “Monday Night Football” broadcast and into a regular old Sunday afternoon slot.

The once-proud Patriots (2-10) have lost five straight games and are the worst team in the AFC. Things have gotten so bad for the six-time Super Bowl champions that the league pulled their Week 15 matchup against Kansas City out of prime time — even though it meant giving up a national TV audience for the defending NFL champs, quarterback Patrick Mahomes and megastar Taylor Swift, whose trips to watch love interest Travis Kelce play have created a whole new cohort of football fans.

But Sunday’s 6-0 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers showed how poor the NFL product can be when it’s played by at least one — and probably two — teams lacking in talent and coaching. With just two field goals scored, it was the lowest-scoring game since 2018; neither team advanced past the 20 yard-line; combined, they punted 15 times in 20 full possessions.

“It’s a very simple game: You’ve got to score points. You’ve got to score points to have a chance to win,” Patriots center David Andrews said. “You can boil it down to whatever you want, but at the end of the day, it comes down to points. We’ve got to find ways to generate more points.”

The Chargers (5-7) at least have quarterback Justin Herbert to give them hope for the future. Incumbent Patriots QB Mac Jones was benched on Sunday in favor of Bailey Zappe, who’d won his only two NFL starts while Jones was injured last year.

But Zappe was no better, completing 13 of 25 passes for 141 yards. Although he managed to avoid an interception — he’d thrown one in each of the previous two games after relieving Jones, with a chance to win it — he was sacked five times. Twice he went down on back-to-back plays to take New England out of field goal range.

And that’s against the team that had given up the most yards in the NFL this season.

How bad have things gotten for coach Bill Belichick, who fell to 27-36 since Tom Brady left for Tampa Bay? (Brady won a Super Bowl there; the Patriots haven’t won a playoff game without him.)

It’s the Patriots’ first five-game losing streak since 1995. They have scored the fewest points in the NFL, and they are on pace to be the lowest-scoring team in the league since 2011. They were shut out at home twice in a season for the first time in franchise history. The are the first team since the leather helmet-wearing 1938 Chicago Cardinals to allow 10 or fewer points in three straight games and lose them all.

“It’s frustrating. Very frustrating. I’m frustrated, I know we’re all frustrated,” tight end Hunter Henry said. “The defense is hanging us in there. We’ve got to be better offensively and score some points and find a way to get a win.”

WHAT’S WORKING

The defense has allowed 10 points or fewer in three straight games. It has allowed one touchdown in the last 11 quarters. It held the Chargers to 29 yards on 24 carries, with Austin Ekeler — a top 10 offensive player in the league last season — gaining 18 yards on 14 carries.

WHAT NEEDS WORK

Everything else.

STOCK UP

With Arizona's victory over Pittsburgh, the the Patriots moved ahead of the Cardinals and into the No. 2 spot in the potential 2024 draft order. Next year's class offers potential franchise quarterbacks Caleb Williams of Southern California and Drake Maye of North Carolina, as well as Ohio State receiver Marvin Harrison Jr. — all of whom could be an instant upgrade for the offense.

STOCK DOWN

Neither Jones nor Zappe is the answer. The Patriots may next turn to rookie Malik Cunningham, who was activated off the practice squad on Sunday but did not get into the game. Will Grier is also on the roster.

INJURIES

RB Rhamondre Stevenson ran for 39 yards on nine carries before he suffered what appeared to be a serious ankle injury (which might also explain why he fumbled on the play). WR Demario Douglas missed the game and remained on Monday's injury list with a concussion, and WR Kayshon Boutte was also kept out of the first practice for Thursday night's game against Pittsburgh.

KEY NUMBER

13.9 — Despite forcing eight punts, the Patriots’ average starting position of the 13 yard-line was the worst in the NFL in at least 23 years. Chargers punter JK Scott pinned them inside the 20 seven times in eight punts, with New England starting on the 13, 6, 9, 9, 18, 2, 20 and 13.

NEXT STEPS

Do the Patriots tank and try for a top-two draft pick, or try to salvage something out of the season? With Belichick pursuing — in theory, at least — Don Shula's record for all-time coaching victories, don't expect him to give away any wins. Thursday night's road game against the Steelers (7-5) and backup quarterback Mitch Trubisky could be an opportunity to snap the losing streak.

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL