"You are what your record says you are." — Bill Parcells
If the former Patriots coach is correct, then over the past calendar year — since the Patriots visited Houston on Dec. 1, 2019 and left with a 28-22 loss — the Patriots have been a losing franchise with a 6-10 record.
That's fairly significant, and not a small sample size. This isn't a 2-4 close to a season, like last year. Or a 4-6 start to this one. Those you can explain away.
That's a full NFL season worth of games. And for the first time since his very first season with the Patriots, when the team was 5-11 in 2000 (and it actually stretched to 6-14 after a 1-3 start to the improbable 2001 season), Bill Belichick has piloted a losing team. And the coach is a realist in this regard.
When asked by OMF on WEEI about Cam Newton's comments that Belichick had told the team they're better than their record, Belchick basically recoiled.
"I don't think I ever said that," he said. "... If you're asking me, are we better than our record? Our record's our record.”
He knows. From his postgame comments on Sunday, it finally hit home watching his defense — his pride and joy and where he has spent most of his best assets in recent years — look helpless to stop the 2-7 Texans.
If you think this is just about the quarterback, that because Newton has replaced Tom Brady and come up short in the clutch where TB12 normally excels, then I have news for you. Brady was the starting quarterback for 38 percent of those 6-10 games, including two of the largest — the season finale at home against the Dolphins, and the home playoff loss to the Titans.
I'd submit that Newton is a product of his environment. The Patriots are less talented, that's just a fact. Everything has been hard for them — arguably going back to the 2018 Super Bowl season that was almost as improbable as 2001.
Sure, the Patriots are 2-4 in one-score games this season with Newton. But they were 1-4 with Brady in one-score games down the stretch last season.
A combined record of 3-8 in one-score games makes it clear: this isn't about the quarterback, it's about the roster.
The question is, how far away are they?
A little over a year ago, we went through a regular exercise around here, where we analyze the Patriots' roster for Blue Chips (elite players), Purple Chips (good NFL starters), Red Chips (NFL starter) and White Chips (Reserves).
Some were early projections on players, and we missed on some of those. But what we found largely backed up what we thought at the time, that Belichick had put most of his chips on defense, and that ultimately let him down:
... in our estimation, 12 of the 26 offensive players for the Patriots are White Chips, or reserves in most circumstances — they would not start for most teams in the league. That’s almost half the offensive personnel (46 percent).
On defense, just three of 23 players (13 percent) are truly reserves.
That means the defense is rolling with a roster where 20 players would be starters on an average NFL team. You can only play 11 at a time. That means nine spots are two-deep with NFL starters.
Where does the roster stand right now? How far has it fallen off?
Let's take a look, including a possible link to 2011: