FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Bill Belichick teams don’t beat themselves. That’s always been a trademark of his teams. Fact, not opinion.

Belichick-coached teams rarely lose a game because they’re not disciplined, or commit penalties at the absolute worst moments. It just doesn’t happen.

Death by stupidity is usually what happens to the other team. Not Belichick’s group. That’s why this latest rash of penalties really raises an eyebrow.

Is it possible this Patriots team hasn’t received the memo from Belichick, or simply hasn’t taken the coaching?

The last two games in particular have been head scratchers given the inordinate amount of penalties and/or openings the Pats have been offering up.

They’re just handing over freebies, and field position left and right.

Against Tampa Bay last Thursday night, the defense graciously gave the Buccaneers additional chances by committing penalties on third down.

And they kept helping the Bucs with special teams penalties. It was so uncharacteristic, so glaring because of the man coaching them on the sideline.

Belichick, who is so detail-oriented and leaves no stone unturned, is now seeing repeated problems, and repeat offenders.

Against the Panthers a week ago, Stephon Gilmore committed two costly illegal use of hands penalties on third down, each leading to scores – the second one really killing the Patriots in the 33-30 loss.

On Thursday, there were more players not using their noggins. The Bucs were facing a third-and-20 from the Pats’ 33, and two players committed fouls. Deatrich Wise didn’t learn from Gilmore, getting called for illegal use of hands. The Bucs got a fresh set of downs, and later scored.

Then Wise and Cassius Marsh committed roughing the passer penalties on back-to-back plays right before the half to help the Bucs get into field goal range. Why would you beat up the quarterback the same way, after just being flagged for doing it? Fortunately for the Patriots, Nick Folk missed a 56-yarder.

But the mistakes and undisciplined play didn’t end there. Those were just a few examples.


In all Thursday, the Pats were charged with 12 penalties, which was a season high. A week ago Sunday, they had seven in the loss to Carolina.

Belichick wasn’t happy, and that’s putting it mildly.

“Two weeks in a row, we’ve had far too many penalties,” he said. “Whether it’s not being coached well enough, we have too many mistakes in that area. I’ve got to do a better job and our team has to do a better job. We can’t keep giving opportunities to good football teams. We’re continually having to overcome penalties, so I’ve got to do a better job of getting that corrected.”

The team record for penalties in a game occurred in 2014 when the Pats drew 15 flags in a win over the Vikings. The dozen committed Thursday night has gotten Belichick’s full attention, and no doubt, special teams coach Joe Judge is right behind.

Judge’s unit has taken more penalties than any other positional group, adding four more Thursday night. Brandon Bolden was flagged twice (illegal block above the waist, neutral zone infraction), Joe Cardona once (false start) and Nate Ebner once (offensive holding). Collectively, special teams has accounted for 10 penalties through five games.

This isn’t Bolden’s first rodeo. He’s one of Belichick’s top special teamers, which is another reason this is so surprising.

The penalties on rookie Wise certainly hurt, but it’s more a coaching point for him.

Bolden? He is supposed to know the drill, said former Patriot Heath Evans. He’s been weaned on playing smart football.

“When you’re breaking into the so-called ‘Patriot Way,’ I think you’re given a little leeway because it is different how you’re spoken to and taught and prepped. It’s just very different than most places,” Evans, now an NFL Network analyst, said Friday.

“But when you’re Brandon, who’s one of their best special teams players, who is Mr. Consistency, you can always dial him up on offense, and he’ll give you exactly what you need even though he hasn’t played all game, those are the things that are surprising, seeing him with those two penalties. So I don’t know how you quantify that.”


In other words, the new guys are still learning and acclimating, and Belichick will get to them and iron out the kinks. And if they’re still making dumb mistakes in December, they won’t last.

But Bolden? A six-year Patriots veteran and two-time Super Bowl champion?

“Was he having a bad day? Was he playing with an injury? Was he fully mentally locked in? I don’t know if any of those things are true,” Evans said, “or if he was just lazy mentally?”

They have a little time to figure it out before the game with the Jets on Oct. 15, but right now, this Patriots team isn’t recognizable from that perspective. In the past, you could always count on a Belichick team to refrain from shooting itself in the foot with dumb plays and stupid penalties. Five weeks into the season, that hasn’t been the case.

“That’s been something that’s been killing us lately. Staying on the field because of penalties, not getting off the field on third down,” safety Duron Harmon said. “We’re killing ourselves. We know we can’t do that.”

Special teams captain Matthew Slater agreed.

“Hopefully we got our penalties out of our system (last Thursday night),” said Slater, “because we can’t continue to play like that.”

They were just lucky Thursday night, the Bucs made more boneheaded plays than they did.