FOXBORO, Mass. (AP) — Over three weeks and three straight losses, Mac Jones has walked into the Patriots team facility ready to face the kind of truths only game film can reveal.
It’s been difficult to watch and many of the same themes continue to pop up each week — turnovers, penalties and poor fundamentals.
Yet as much as the season seems to be slipping way with each passing game, it hasn’t affected the third-year quarterback’s resolve to help his team find a way out of its current malaise.
“We definitely need to improve but have to keep swinging,” Jones said. “If you don’t swing, you’re not going to get any hits. Definitely going to keep swinging.”
Sunday’s 21-17 setback at Las Vegas has dropped the Patriots to 1-5 for the first time under Bill Belichick.
They remain in last place in the AFC East, with back-to-back matchups against the division’s top two teams up next.
While many of the issues that need to be corrected are clear, what’s also undeniable is that New England’s problems are being exacerbated by mounting injuries.
The Patriots ended the practice week with a season-high 17 players on the injury report. By Sunday seven of those players were declared out, including left guard Cole Strange (knee) and receivers JuJu Smith-Schuster (concussion) and Demario Douglas (concussion).
Despite center David Andrews and left tackle Trent Brown being the only two healthy regular starters on the offensive line, the group did manage to help end what had grown to a 12-quarter touchdown drought. It came via Ezekiel Elliott’s 2-yard TD run in the third quarter.
But it followed yet another slow start by the Patriots that put them in a double-digit hole. It marked the fifth time this season the Patriots have trailed to open a game.
It’s a recurring theme that coach Bill Belichick acknowledged he hasn’t been able to figure out.
“If I had the answer to that question, then maybe it wouldn’t be that way,” Belichick said. “We’ve tried a number of different things, and we’ll keep working on it. … It’s been hard to play from behind. It’s not the way you want to play in this league or really any competitive sport I can think of. We’ve got to do a better job of that, there’s no doubt about it.”
Defense. Despite being without linebacker Matt Judon and cornerback Christian Gonzalez for the second straight week, New England’s defenders kept the Patriots in the game, holding the Raiders to just one touchdown on six chances inside the 20-yard line.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Team discipline. The Patriots finished with a season-high 10 penalties for 79 yards. The offense accounted for six of them, the fifth time this season that unit was responsible for the majority of the team’s infractions.
Linebacker Jahlani Tavai. He was in the right place at the right time in the first quarter, pulling in an interception off a ricochet when Ja’Whaun Bentley broke up a pass intended for Davante Adams and knocked the ball into the air.
It was the Patriots’ first turnover in four games. The three-game drought had been tied for the longest in franchise history.
Tight end Hunter Henry. His holding penalty in the second quarter nullified a 74-yard catch-and-run touchdown by Elliott. It would have been the longest play of the season for New England. Henry is usually a top option for Mac Jones. But he was a non-factor offensively, catching just one of his three targets for 7 yards.
Defensive end Keion White left the game with a head injury in the first quarter. Cornerback Jonathan Jones left with a knee issue. Henry (ankle) and linebacker Josh Uche (foot) were both hurt in the second half.
0-3 — Belichick’s record against former assistant Josh McDaniels. McDaniels beat his former boss once as Denver’s coach in 2009 and has done it with the Raiders each of the past two seasons.
The Patriots host the Bills on Sunday. Including the playoffs, Buffalo has won the past four meetings.
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