FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — The New England Patriots gave up.
Down 24-0 early in the second half, hearing boos at home like they used to on the road, a week after the worst loss of coach Bill Belichick’s career, with quarterback Mac Jones on his way to the bench for the second straight game, the Patriots punted the ball away on a fourth-and-3 inside Saints territory.
The move netted New England 27 yards — a minor flip of field position that accomplished nothing. Two more punts and an interception — his second — later, Jones was replaced by Bailey Zappe, bringing out one of the few cheers of the day.
“Obviously it wasn’t really good and everyone’s frustrated,” Jones said after the 34-0 loss to the New Orleans Saints. “Of course we’re frustrated. At the end of the day, you have to turn that into action.”
A week after a 38-3 loss to Dallas that established an all-time low for Belichick, the Patriots may have topped it with the biggest home shutout in the once-proud franchise’s history. The only time the team was blanked worse: a 52-0 loss to the undefeated 1972 Miami Dolphins.
These were most decidedly not the ’72 Dolphins.
New Orleans (3-2) beat Tennessee and Carolina — a pair of last-place teams — by a combined four points, and followed that with losses to the Packers and Buccaneers. But the Saints found a way to snap their two-game losing streak: a trip to New England, which fell to 1-4 for the first time since Belichick’s first season in 2000.
“Obviously it was a poor performance here today,” Belichick said in a largely inaudible postgame news conference that began with him lowering two microphones and taking one off the stand completely. “Slow start. We just couldn’t get the game under control.”
Jones finished 12-of-22 passing for 110 yards and two interceptions — one of them a pick-6 where he was hit while throwing the ball, the other went in and out of a receiver’s hands. His 30.5 passer rating was the second worst of his career.
Things started out poorly, and never improved.
New England’s first possession ended with a three-and-out, and the second ended when Tyrann Mathieu picked Jones off and ran it in from the Patriots 27. Their next drive was their longest — seven plays for 49 yards — and it ended with a missed 48-yard field goal.
His remaining possessions: Punt, punt, punt, fumble, punt, punt, interception.
“We don’t want to score zero points. It’s not the goal,” said Jones, who has regressed since a rookie season in which he outplayed the four quarterbacks drafted before him and earned a trip to the Pro Bowl. “We didn’t score any points. That’s the important part: scoring points.”
Jones has five touchdown passes in five games this season but has also given up scores on three interceptions and a fumble. His four pick-6s in 19 games at Gillette Stadium are as many as Tom Brady threw in the building in the regular season in his 18 years.
Asked if Jones was still the starter heading into next week’s game against Las Vegas and longtime Patriots assistant coach Josh McDaniel, Belichick said: “There were a lot of problems, it certainly wasn’t all him.”
Zappe wasn’t much better, overthrowing open receivers and failing to earn a first down in four possessions while completing 3 of 9 passes for 22 yards. And when the Patriots did go for it on fourth down twice fourth quarter, they couldn’t convert then, either.
“We put a lot into each week, and to go out there and not put your best foot forward is tough,” center David Andrews said. “Can’t lay down; can’t quit; long year. We’re going to come back in and go back to work. That’s all I know how to do.”
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