FOXBORO, Mass. — Poorly timed penalties doomed the New England Patriots in their Thanksgiving loss to the Minnesota Vikings. But head coach Bill Belichick doesn’t view flags as a major, persistent problem for his team.
Asked Sunday about the Patriots ranking 10th in the NFL in accepted penalties entering the weekend, Belichick replied: “We didn’t have any penalties last week offensively in Minnesota.”
“We’re one of the least penalized teams in the league defensively,” he continued. “We haven’t had very many. We had a couple of penalties in the last couple of weeks, but we’ve been low penalties in the kicking game this year, and I think we’re one of the least penalized teams defensively this year. And then last week we didn’t have any offensive penalties in Minnesota. You tell me.”
It is true that the Patriots, over the course of the season, have been more disciplined on defense than they have been offensively. Just 22 of their 77 total penalties (28.6%), including those that were declined or offset, were committed by defensive players. Another eight came on special teams. Forty-seven were on the offense, including 19 offensive holding penalties and 11 false starts.
Infractions on defense and in the kicking game burned the Patriots in their loss at U.S. Bank Stadium, however. Five of their six penalties resulted in Vikings first downs, including a brutal running-into-the-kicker flag on rookie running back Pierre Strong that extended what proved to be the game-winning drive for Minnesota. Three plays later, Kirk Cousins found Adam Thielen for a 15-yard touchdown that gave Minnesota a 33-26 lead it would not relinquish.
The Patriots also have been unlucky in the penalty department. Officials in last week’s game missed several clear fouls by Vikings players — including a blatant hold against Kyle Dugger on Kene Nwangwu’s 97-yard kick-return touchdown — and overall, Patriots opponents have committed the fewest penalties in the league entering Sunday, according to NFLpenalties.com.
New England also ranks last in both net penalties (-23) and net penalty yards (-167). Belichick’s club committed more penalties than its opponent in eight of its 11 games this season — yet still managed to go 6-2 in those contests.
And though it ranks in the top third of the NFL, this season’s Patriots penalty count isn’t egregious compared to previous New England teams. They’re currently averaging an even seven penalties per game, a mark they’ve hit or surpassed 10 times since 2001. And, in a somewhat surprising discovery, those squads have been some of Belichick’s best.
In the 10 seasons since ’01 in which the Patriots averaged seven-plus penalties per game, they reached the Super Bowl five times and the AFC Championship Game in three others. The Belichick-era franchise record for penalties per game is 8.9, set by the 2014 team that went 12-4 and won Super Bowl XLIX.
Conversely, New England has averaged five or fewer penalties in two seasons during that span (2008 and 2020) and missed the playoffs in both.
“We’ve never coached penalties,” Belichick said. “We’re not (ranked) high on defensive penalties.”
Regardless, the Patriots will be eyeing a cleaner performance when they host the Buffalo Bills this Thursday night at Gillette Stadium.