FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The good news for the New England Patriots is that they are 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. 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 Sunday.
Too many 3s. Not enough 6s.
And at times, those 3s 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.
“It’s a small margin of error, but I think we realize that. It’s a tight space,” Brady had said before the game of the red zone, where the Patriots had 30 trips inside their opponents’ 20-yard line through the first seven games (which includes one play when they were kneeling on the ball) and had scored just 16 touchdowns. “There’s a lot of tight throws. It’s just something we’ve got to do a better job of. Those extra four points obviously are very critical, and we’d love to convert more of them. But we just haven’t done as well as we’re capable.”
The bye week comes at a good time to figure out why. Two weeks ago, Brady had pointed the finger at himself.
“Some of these games wouldn’t be as close if I was playing better in the red area,” he said at the time. “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.”
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 in tight games, 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 on a regular basis. 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.