FOXBORO, Mass. — For the first month of the 2017 NFL season, the New England Patriots boasted an explosive offense and a struggling defense. In their last four games, the roles have been reversed.
Though it’s not nearly as dysfunctional as the defense was in September, the Patriots’ offense underachieved in the second quarter of the season, failing to crack 25 points in wins over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, New York Jets, Atlanta Falcons and, most recently, the Los Angeles Chargers.
The reason for those offensive struggles is clear: The Patriots aren’t finishing drives. In Sunday’s 21-13 victory over the Chargers, they drove inside L.A.’s 25-yard line on six of their final seven drives but ended each with a field-goal attempt. Stephen Gostkowski made four of those kicks but missed two others as New England’s offense managed just 12 points over the final 44 minutes of game time.
“We’re not scoring as many points as we’re capable of scoring,” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said after the game. “I know that. I wish there was a simple answer for it, and the simple word would be execution. I mean, it’s just throwing and catching and blocking and running and doing all those things, staying on track in the red area, but we have more opportunity out there. I mean, we know it. We just haven’t done a great job finishing off the last three or four weeks, but hopefully we’re going to get back to it.”
As Brady alluded to, finding the end zone has been a pervasive issue for the Patriots. They have converted on just five of their 15 red-zone opportunities over the last four weeks, including a 1-for-4 effort against the Chargers. This trend of settling for three rather than seven has prevented the Pats from putting away opponents, as three of those four games were decided by eight points or fewer.
New England managed just one touchdown Sunday: a 2-yard pass from Brady to tight end Rob Gronkowski on the first play of the second quarter. Gronkowski, who finished with five catches on nine targets for 59 yards, blamed himself for the Patriots’ lack of production near the goal line.
“Whenever we get a win, I’ll take it no matter what,” Gronkowski said. “But definitely, we’ve got to clean it up. I mean we had like six field goal attempts or something in the red zone. We’ve got to pick it up, and it starts with myself. I’ve definitely got to be playing better throughout the four quarters.
Wide receiver Brandin Cooks, who had five catches on eight targets for 26 yards, said the Patriots “absolutely” made things tough on themselves with sloppy play late in drives. New England had five drives of 10 or more plays against L.A., but only one of them produced a touchdown.
“As far as making it tough, sometimes we bite ourselves in the foot by not playing smart football,” Cooks said. “We’ve got to watch it and fix our mistakes before we can do anything else.”
The Patriots will have plenty of time to make corrections before they take the field again. They have a bye next weekend, giving them two weeks to prepare for their Sunday night road matchup with the Denver Broncos on Nov. 12.
“We’re obviously not doing a very good job in that area, and that’s something we have to do better at,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “No question about it.”
Thumbnail photo via Stew Milne/USA TODAY Sports Images