"when they got caught with their pants down by the Airbus A320neo?"
Not that they needed to: The Boeing 7J7 was developed and then shelved in 1989 for one very simple reason: It wasn't a 737
Boeing already had it and the 757 able to step into where the 737MAX operates. It was AIRLINES who demanded this aircraft. MCAS was an attempt to ensure it flew like older 737s - avoiding needing a supplemental type certificate. However Boeing utterly screwed the pooch on the software and implementation of the system hardware.
MAXes will fly again - quite possibly with MCAS disabled by regulation in EU airspace - and it's quite likely that pilots will have to have supplementary type certification to fly it - which wipes out every single piece of commercial advantage that Boeing (and airlines) expected to gain from rat rodding the airframe one last time.
NGs already have undesireable handling characteristics near stall meaning pilots have to put the stick forward and and _wait_ until the nose is actually down before throttling up (this goes against every bit of stall training given in other aircraft up to this point). MAXes had it in spades plus excessive throttle-related pitch changes in normal flight - and MCAS was supposed to prevent the latter.
(This is quite apart from the other scandals involving Boeing parts suppliers falsifying documentation for substandard (handmade, well out of spec, not CNC milled) NG parts and Boeing assembly lines beating the shit out of them and the skins to make the things fit, then falsifying _their_ paperwork and painting over the damage before sending them down the line for final assembly. This happened in the late1990s-early00's and the FAA helped Boeing cover it up, including shitting all over the whistleblowers - 3rd generation Boeing employees)