New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton runs off the field after a loss to the Los Angeles Rams on Dec. 10 in Inglewood, California. AP

Dear Santa,

We’ve been good this year.

The team we root for? Not so much.

We don’t know how quickly news makes it up to the North Pole, but the Patriots are missing the playoffs this season for the first time since 2008. They’re going to finish without a winning record for the first time since 2000. That’s 20 years, Santa.

Because we’re not the most patient fans around and we’re a little — OK, more than a little — on the spoiled side, we’re having trouble accepting this. We don’t like when other fans laugh at us and welcome us to their world, and say things like “It’s about time, you entitled brats.”

We want answers, Santa. And we want them right away.

That’s why we’re sending this list. The Patriots need a lot of help, but if you can bring us these items, it would be a great start.

No. 1 — A brand-new quarterback

The Cam Newton experiment is hopefully on its last legs, and is showing the folly of trying to wing it at the most important position on the field. The Patriots were either blindsided by Tom Brady’s departure, or were lackadaisical in replacing possibly the greatest quarterback to ever play. As a result, they went into this season with a backup in Jarrett Stidham they have been reluctant to trust and a veteran in Newton that they were gambling could find his 2015 MVP form while making Bob Cratchit money.

The gamble didn’t work. Newton has been a shell of his former Pro Bowl self, and the Patriots’ offense hasn’t come close to a level that can be counted on to win football games. New England has been able to compete solely by getting ahead and controlling the game on the ground. Any deviation from the plan, and the team can’t recover.

The Patriots need to put resources into the position for next year, whether that comes in the form of a proven, capable veteran or a rookie in the draft that the team thoroughly scouts and feels good about. Simply waiting for the bargain, whether it’s someone like Newton off the scrap heap or Stidham after falling into the later rounds, won’t do it.

No. 2 — A dynamic tight end

The Patriots’ offense, hindered by poor quarterback play, has been further crippled by meager contributions from the tight end position. Ryan Izzo has panned into what you would expect from a seventh-round pick, someone who doesn’t block nor catch well enough for full-time work, and rookies Dalton Keene and Devin Asiasi have been either injured or ignored throughout the year.

Those three, along with Jordan Thomas, have combined for 15 catches and 209 yards. Keene and Asiasi, brought in to help fill the gaping hole at the position, have combined for two catches and 10 yards.

New England tight end Ryan Izzo is the top producing tight end for the Patriots with just 13 catches for 199 yards and one touchdown. Steven Senne/Associated Press

A play-making tight end changes the coverage picture for the defense, gives the quarterback a security blanket and makes an offense more versatile. The Patriots saw for themselves what such tight ends could do when Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez were here, but there have been plenty of examples popping up all over the league. The Chiefs and Travis Kelce. The Ravens and Mark Andrews. The Eagles a few years ago and Zach Ertz. Tight ends force a defense to get outside of its comfort zone, and set up either mismatches for receivers or the tight ends themselves.

It’s hard to envision New England’s offense returning to form if that position remains a non-factor. We’re not asking for Gronk, Santa. But we need something.

No. 3 — A defensive anchor at linebacker

The Patriots rank 11th in the league in total defense, sixth in passing defense, and seventh in points allowed. The makings of a good enough defense are there. Players like Chase Winovich, Josh Uche and Kyle Dugger have shown promising flashes.

Several times, however, they’ve been unable to get off the field enough to give their limited offense a shot. And a run defense that’s the sixth worst in the league has been a big reason why.


New England Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower (54) runs for a touchdown after recovering a fumble against the Cleveland Browns last season in Foxborough, Massachusetts.

Teams that have come in determined to run the ball and bully the Patriots haven’t met much resistance from Bill Belichick’s group. New England has allowed over 100 yards on the ground nine times in 14 games, going 3-6 in those contests. All but one of those instances saw the opponent surpass 125 yards. Notable debacles included losses against San Francisco (197 yards, 5.3 per carry), Buffalo (190, 5.0), the Los Angeles Rams (186, 5.2) and then Miami (250, 6.0) last week.

New England has not been able to force teams into 3rd-and-longs that favor their decent secondary, and there are plenty of places to point the finger. The Patriots are weak on the line, but the real hole seems to be at linebacker, where the team is thin and always having to choose between players who are either too small to handle a power game or too slow to contain faster backs.

A solution would be a fixture at linebacker, filling the role previously occupied by Tedy Bruschi, Jerod Mayo and Dont’a Hightower. Hightower’s plans going forward are unclear, and even if he returned, there’s no guarantee that at 31 years old he’d be the player he was. The Patriots need someone who can take on different responsibilities, shoring up the run defense while showing an ability to help out in pass coverage and sniff out where the ball is going.

Changes in the way the game is played has made the thumping, downhill middle linebacker somewhat outdated. But like the other two positions on this list, it’s not a position that can be ignored either by any team with a sturdy defense.

There are other positions — wide receiver, safety, offensive tackle, to name a few — that would help too. But we’ll keep it easy for you, Santa. You’ve got people to see.

Merry Christmas.

Oh, and please bring a smooth winter and spring sports season to those student-athletes in Maine, while you’re at it. They deserve it.

Yours truly,

Patriots fans

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