FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The good news for the New England Patriots is they are right where they want to be heading into their bye week, winners of four straight games following a 21-13 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday. The Patriots are 6-2 and remain a top AFC contender.
The not-so-good news: Quarterback Tom Brady‘s goal of having the offense feel good about itself heading into the midpoint of the season wasn’t realized because the unit couldn’t reverse a troubling trend.
Too many field goals. Not enough touchdowns.
And at times, those field goals weren’t even a guarantee because kicker Stephen Gostkowski — who entered the day with just one miss in 17 field goal attempts — was off the mark twice (both from 43 yards) in six attempts.
Brady had lamented the Patriots’ inconsistency in the red zone leading into the game, and they were 1-of-4 against the Chargers — although the final trip was smartly played conservatively late in the fourth quarter with a five-point lead.
But the stats were also misleading because the Patriots advanced deep into Chargers territory twice in the third quarter — starting one drive on their 25-yard line and having first down on the Chargers’ 22-yard line on the next drive — only to come away with a total of three points.
“[Struggle] is a good word for it,” said Brady, who finished 32-of-47 for 333 yards, with one touchdown and no interceptions. “We didn’t finish them off. We just have to do a better job of that. I know I’ve said that about 100 times this year. It’s tough. The execution is just coming up a little short.”
The bye week comes at a good time to figure out why.
Two weeks ago, Brady had pointed the finger at himself, saying, “Some of these games wouldn’t be as close if I was playing better in the red area. I think some of these missed opportunities in the pass game with me hitting guys would really help our team. Hopefully I can do a better job for this team.”
But while it might start with Brady, he’s hardly the only problem. Tight end Rob Gronkowski, who is the team’s top red-zone weapon and scored the team’s lone touchdown Sunday, said, “We definitely have to clean it up and it starts with myself. I’ve got to be on my game the whole time. Some plays here and there, I do good, and others I feel like I just don’t have it for that one.”
Added coach Bill Belichick, “There’s a lot of plays that we can get more out of — there’s more there than we’re getting, so we’ve got to find a way to get more out of those. … We’re obviously not doing a very good job in that area, no question about it. We’re giving up too many big plays on defense and can’t convert on third down in the red area. Those are two huge issues.”
The result is something seldom seen over the past decade-plus with Brady leading the Patriots’ offense: The team has posted victories while scoring 19, 24, 23 and 21 points in the past four games.
For a team accustomed to putting up 30 points, this stretch has allowed opponents to stick around, with the Patriots relying on their defense and special teams to help pull them through.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because the best teams find different ways to win. After all, it was only a month ago that Brady was fielding questions about the possibility of in-house division because the offense had to bail out the defense.
Now, if the Patriots are to realize their championship hopes, they know what needs to be fixed first: Surprisingly, it starts with Brady and the offense turning those 3s into 6s.