Patriots owner Robert Kraft, left, said he believes in Coach Bill Belichick, right, but that New England needs to start winning again. Adrian Kraus/Associated Press

PHOENIX — At the Arizona Biltmore on Monday morning, Coach Bill Belichick was asked why Patriots fans should be optimistic that the team is heading in the right direction for the 2023 season.

“I don’t know. The last 25 years?” Belichick replied.

There’s no denying the six Lombardi Trophies the Patriots have accrued over Belichick’s tenure – and he’s 19 wins away from breaking Don Shula’s all-time wins record (347) – but the recent history has been spottier. New England has finished with a losing record in two of the past three seasons, and they’ve gone four years in a row without a playoff win.

Four hours after Belichick spoke to reporters at breakfast, Robert Kraft emerged from the Biltmore to take questions in front of a 15-foot cactus during the lunchtime hour. The Patriots owner was asked if Belichick’s job could be in jeopardy with another losing season, or whether he’d definitely be sticking around the break the all-time wins mark.

“I’d like him to break Don Shula’s record, but I’m not looking for any of our players to get great stats,” Kraft replied. “We’re about winning and doing whatever we can to win. That’s what our focus is now. It’s very important to me that we make the playoffs. That’s what I hope happens next year.”

Is Kraft as comfortable now will Belichick running the football operation as he was five years ago?


“Look, I think Bill is exceptional at what he does and I’ve given him the freedom to make the choices and do the things that need to be done,” the 81-year-old owner said. “His football intellect and knowledge is unparalleled from what I’ve seen. Just when you talk to him, the small things analytically that he looks at.

“But in the end, this is a business. You either execute and win or you don’t. That’s where we’re at. I think we’re in a transition phase. I think we’ve made some moves this year that I personally am comfortable with and I still believe in Bill.”

KRAFT REITERATED that he doesn’t believe Jerod Mayo has any ceiling and hopes to keep him in New England for as long as possible.

“There’s no ceiling on his ability to be a head coach – and he’ll be a head coach. I’m sure of that. I hope he’s with us, so we’ll see what happens,” Kraft said.

The Patriots put out a highly unusual statement after the season saying they were in negotiations to retain Mayo and it’s clear that Kraft believes the linebackers coach will find a way to succeed at just about anything.

“Jerod is an individual I think there’s no ceiling for his ability to grow and how competent he is,” Kraft said. “We had the privilege of having him as a player and I saw how intense he was and the leadership skills he had on the field. I saw him leave us and go into private industry and learn the X’s and O’s of business and then come back and be a coach and do that with us. Good coaches get hired away, so I was happy we were able to sit with him and try to keep him here long term. I’m going to do everything I can to try to make that happen.”


WHEN HEALTHY, Mac Jones has started every Patriots game the past two seasons. So will Jones be the team’s starting quarterback again in 2023?

Belichick, who declined to commit to Jones during his end-of-season press conference in January, kept his options open again on Monday.

“Well, everybody will get a chance to play,” Belichick said. “We’ll play the best player.”

Last season, Jones regressed statistically under first-year offensive assistants Matt Patricia and Joe Judge, who have since been replaced. Jones completed 65.2% of his passes for 2,997 yards, 14 touchdowns and 11 interceptions after a rookie Pro Bowl campaign. Ever since Jones returned from a midseason ankle injury last October, Belichick has refused to name him the Patriots’ quarterback of the future.

During his four-week injury absence, rookie backup Bailey Zappe surprised with his play and started a couple of blowout wins over the Browns and Lions. Asked about Jones and Zappe possibly being in a position competition, Belichick said everyone on the roster must earn their opportunities; though in previous years, Belichick proclaimed and backed Tom Brady and Cam Newton as his starting quarterback.

“If they earn an opportunity to play based on what they do in practice and all that, then they’ll get an opportunity to play,” Belichick said. “Certainly the veteran players that have been on the team before, if they’re still on the team, they’ll all get an opportunity to play.”

Asked what Jones could improve upon next season, Belichick said that information would stay private.

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