FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — With four of their final six games away from Gillette Stadium, the New England Patriots’ woebegone road issues have become a primary focus during their playoff push.
The Patriots are 1-3 in road games heading into Monday night’s outstanding matchup at the Superdome with the undefeated New Orleans Saints. It’s a disturbing trend for New England, which was 21-3 in road contests from 2006-08 and had only lost three regular-season road games three times in its previous eight seasons. Two of those occasions occurred in 2001 (5-3 on the road) and 2002 (4-4).
They have been a model of consistency in all areas since 2001, so it comes as little surprise that the Patriots were 47-17 in regular-season road games from 2001-08. Comparatively, they were 50-14 at home during that span.
However, from 2005-08, the Patriots were actually better on the road than at home. They were 26-6 outside of New England in that span and 23-9 at Gillette Stadium. Because of this, it’s a little disconcerting for those in the locker room to experience so much trouble this season.
“You want to be able to play on the road,” center Dan Koppen said. “Unfortunately, we haven’t had as good of a record as we’d like around here, so we’re going to go down there and it’s going to be a hostile crowd. Fans are going to be into it. That’s another thing we’re going to have to deal with and make sure everyone is on the same page.”
The Patriots’ lone road victory this season came against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in London, so they have yet to win a game in another team’s stadium. To New England’s defense, the three road losses have come against the New York Jets, Denver Broncos — both of whom were playing their best football of the season at that point — and Indianapolis Colts.
Most frustrating for the Patriots, though, is that they had halftime leads in each of their three road defeats. They led 9-3 at halftime against the Jets before falling 16-9, 17-7 against the Broncos before losing 20-17 in overtime and 24-14 against the Colts before going down 35-34.
In those three contests, the Patriots outscored their opponents by a combined 50-24 in the first half but were outscored 47-10 in the second half and overtime.
“When you’ve got a lead, you’ve got to be able to finish,” cornerback Terrence Wheatley said. “If you don’t finish, being at home, they’ve got the crowd. They’ve got the momentum. This is a game of swings and emotions. Once you’re up, you’ve got to stay up and finish the game.”
“We just have to play for 60 minutes,” Koppen said. “It’s not a 30-minute game. It’s 60 minutes, and we’ve got to understand that [the Saints are] a very good team that we’re facing, and it’s going to take all 60 against them.”
The Pats’ four remaining road games are against a mixed bag of opponents. They’ve got the Saints (10-0 overall, 5-0 at home), Miami Dolphins (5-6, 3-2), Buffalo Bills (4-7, 2-3) and Houston Texans (5-6, 2-4) to close out the regular season. On one hand, Monday is the Patriots’ last chance to make a statement on the road before the playoffs, but three consecutive road contests against some fairly lame competition could give the Patriots some momentum before the postseason.
The Patriots understand that momentum can gain some steam on Bourbon Street.
“We’ve just got to be able to execute more,” Wheatley said. “The games we’ve lost on the road, we’ve kind of made little mistakes here and there, haven’t capitalized on some of the opportunities that we’ve had. You can’t go out there and either not make turnovers or have turnovers, and you can’t do that against good teams on the road. This is definitely one game when you can’t do any of that.”
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