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Patriots clinch worst season in Belichick's coaching career with loss to Bills

Bill Belichick New England Patriots Bill Belichick - The Canadian Press

The game meant nothing to the New England Patriots.

And any chance they had of playing spoiler disappeared in a turnover-filled first half.

Bailey Zappe threw interceptions on two of his first three passes, added another in the second quarter and his first completion was fumbled away by receiver Pharaoh Brown in Sunday’s 27-21 loss to the Buffalo Bills. With the loss, the Patriots clinched the worst record of Bill Belichick's coaching career.

“That first half, you can’t do that. You can’t turn the ball over four times,” center David Andrews said. “The best team in the world, it’s hard to win when you turn the ball over four times.”

The Patriots remained in the game thanks in part to Jalen Reagor’s touchdown on the game-opening kickoff. But, down one score, they couldn’t get a first down on their last possession and then they couldn’t stop the Bills, allowing them three first downs on a game-ending drive that ate the last 5:02 off the clock.

“Obviously, a terrible first 20 minutes,” Belichick said. “Just (needed to) stop turning it over. Once we did that, we were competitive.”

The Patriots (4-12) had long been eliminated from playoff contention but they could have continued to torment their AFC East rivals, whom they’d already beaten once in this lost season. A win would have eliminated Buffalo from the division race and left it with a 50/50 chance of missing the playoffs.

Now, no matter what happens in the finale against the New York Jets, the Patriots will finish with a worse record than the 5-11 Belichick managed in his last year in Cleveland in 1995 and again in his first year in New England in 2000.

All that remains for the Patriots is to see if Belichick can move one win closer to Don Shula’s NFL record for coaching victories — and perhaps save his job in New England.

Andrews said the players continue to believe in Belichick.

“It comes from Coach, obviously, No. 1. He drives the ship,” Andrews said. “I just think guys are fighting. Got a lot of pride, and I can respect that. It’s more about us than it is them.”


Zappe, the runner: The Patriots quarterback ran five times for 37 yards and his first career touchdown run, a 17-yard scramble in the second quarter that cut the Bills’ lead to 20-14. He also picked up first downs on an 18-yard run and on a keeper. In all, he ran five times — two of them essentially kneel-downs — for 37 yards.


Zappe, the passer: The former backup threw three interceptions in New England’s first six possessions (one of them went off the receiver), giving him seven picks to go with six touchdown passes this season. His totals on the day: 16 for 26 passing for 209 yards. He was also sacked three times for 18 yards.


Reagor returned the opening kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown. It was the Patriots' first kickoff return for a score since 2018, the first on the game-opening kickoff since 2004 and the fourth in franchise history.

Reagor, who had caught just five passes for 66 yards all season coming into the game, also had a 39-yard catch. Last week, he had a 28-yard reception.


Chad Ryland missed yet another field-goal attempt, and only a delay of game penalty saved him from going 0 for 2. Ryland’s 47-yard attempt at the end of the first half was wide left; he tried again from 52 yards and was wide right, but New England didn’t get the snap off in time.

Ryland is 15 for 24 on the season with misses in five of the past seven games. (In the other two, he did not get an attempt.) He also missed an extra point in last week’s game against Denver.


LB Jahlani Tavai was slow to get up but able to walk off on his own in the third quarter. WR DeVante Parker left the game with a rib injury.


176 — Belichick’s 176 career losses (including playoffs) are one short of the NFL record. With a loss to the New York Jets next week, he would tie Tom Landry for the most in league history. A loss on Sunday would also tie the record of 165 regular-season losses held by Jeff Fisher and Dan Reeves.


The Patriots clinched their worst season since the 1992 team went 2-14. That year, Dick MacPherson was fired and Bill Parcells came in to replace him. They drafted Drew Bledsoe No. 1 overall and reached the playoffs in two seasons, and the Super Bowl two years after that.

Belichick could be looking for a new place to chase Shula next season. Is there another franchise quarterback in their future? With four wins, New England is out of running for the No. 1 overall draft pick but could still pick as high as second.