2022 was somewhat of a season of exploration in New England, but Bill Belichick isn't leaving his future to speculation: He will be back in 2023.
The head coach stated as much on Monday, directing his and the Patriots' collective focus toward next season when wrapping up their postseason-less 8-9 campaign with reporters.
"Up until this point, certainly last week, everything was focused on Buffalo and our opportunity to play our best game against them and get into the postseason. We weren't able to do that," Belichick said. "So, we'll begin to turn the page, and move on to do the things and start to do the things that we feel like we need to do to improve our team, be more competitive and have better results."
When asked if he wanted to return in 2023 for his 24th season as Patriots head coach, Belichick referred to his previous comments, which focused on self-evaluation and appropriate action.
"As I just said, we'll evaluate everything that we've done," Belichick said. "From me on down to everybody else and evaluate things and make improvements where we feel like we can. Again, there were a lot of positive things over the course of the year in all areas that we can build on. But in the end, it wasn't what we want it to be or need it to be. So that'll all be -- we'll look at everything."
Such a process will certainly include an examination and judgment on Belichick's staff decisions, which saw the coach rely on veteran assistants and former head coaches Matt Patricia and Joe Judge to direct New England's offense. The choices appeared unusual at the time, given that Patricia and Judge each came from defensive and special teams backgrounds, and the results fit the external skepticism.
Mac Jones and Bailey Zappe both saw action at quarterback for New England in 2022, and the offense took on slightly different appearances depending on who was under center. Neither was able to find enough consistency to keep the offense afloat. New England fell out of the top 16 in scoring, finishing with an average of 21.4 points per game, good for 17th in the NFL. It was only the third time in the last 23 seasons that New England ranked outside of the top 15 in scoring offense under Belichick. The Patriots missed the playoffs in each of those three seasons.
Jones finished outside of the top 20 in passing yards per game, passing yards per attempt, passing touchdowns and passer rating. Despite briefly capturing the hearts of Patriots fans everywhere, Zappe didn't see the field often enough to qualify for any passer rankings.
Many critics traced New England's offensive struggles back to Belichick's choice of lieutenants to lead his offense. The Patriots' struggles also dealt a blow to the public's long-term confidence in Jones as New England's franchise quarterback.
Belichick admitted he and his staff learned a lot about everything in 2022, and nothing is off the table concerning potential changes this offseason.
"I think every year you learn everything," Belichick said. "You learn the players, the team, how certain teams handle and react to certain things, what things are easy for some teams and what things are hard for some teams. Sometimes that includes players, certainly signal callers, operations and so forth.
"Again, we'll look at everything and continue to try to find the best ways to operate. I think a lot of things were streamlined and became more efficient during the season but there's still a lot of room for improvement. So we'll continue to look at those and address them."
New England was able to reach Week 18 needing only a win to make the playoffs, but their weaknesses were once again apparent when battling the division champion Bills with their postseason lives on the line. Jones tossed three touchdowns in the game, but his three interceptions doomed the Patriots in the 35-23 loss, leading to some fair follow-up questions regarding Jones' standing with the organization.
"Mac has the ability to play quarterback in this league," Belichick said. "We have to all work together to try to find the best way as a football team, which obviously the quarterback is an important position, to be more productive than we were this year. So that's incumbent upon all of us. We'll all work together on that. Again, look for better results."
Better results could be the product of coaching changes or roster moves, including at quarterback. This isn't the first time Belichick has been in such a situation, but it is the first time in a long time that he's had to take such a deep look at the state of his team -- which had problems that extended well beyond its offense -- after missing the postseason.
Belichick knows his team was close. He also knows close isn't good enough in a league he dominated with Tom Brady for nearly two decades.
"Well, we were within winning a game yesterday of being in the postseason. We didn't do that, so that's where it has to start," Belichick said. "Can't do anything in the postseason until you get into the postseason. There were other opportunities along the way during the year, not just yesterday, but yesterday was really the – that was our postseason. We weren't able to advance. Until you get past that, there isn't much to compete for."