FOXBORO — There’s a consistent theme developing over the first quarter of the season for the Patriots – inconsistency.
Julian Edelman said it after Sunday’s 16-9 win over the Raiders at Gillette Stadium. Tom Brady repeated it to Dennis and Callahan Monday morning and, after watching the film in detail, Bill Belichick echoed that same message in his Monday conference call.
The Patriots are making plays but not consistently. It’s one of the characteristics of the 2014 Patriots that has fans concerned despite a 2-1 record.
“Pretty much I feel the same way as I did yesterday after the game. Like I said, it was a grind-it-out kind of game ‘ tough, hard fought, it came down to a couple plays in the fourth quarter,” Belichick noted. “Fortunately we were able to make them. We just need to do a better job in a lot of areas; just keep working to improve.
“I thought we did some things well but not consistently. We’ve just got to keep working to get to a higher level all the way across the board in all positions, all the units, coaches, players ‘ all of us. We just have to keep working harder to improve and be more consistent. We have an extra day this week so hopefully that will give us an extra opportunity to do that. It’s what we need to do.”
The Patriots don’t play again until next Monday when they travel to Arrowhead to take on the Chiefs.
One area the Patriots clearly need to improve is their red area execution. They were 1-for-4, including an ugly sequence at the end of the first half when they had six chances inside the Raiders 5 and couldn’t punch it in the end zone, settling for three points and a 10-3 halftime lead. Tom Brady appeared to lose track of the down-and-distance following a first-down run by Stevan Ridley that had the clock run from 46 seconds down to 12.
The Patriots used a timeout with eight seconds left. That was followed by a bad snap and the Patriots were forced to settle for a field goal. Time management didn’t seem to be ideal.
“I’d like to score there,” Belichick said. “That’s the main thing. We had eight seconds to go on the last play. The ball was on the three-yard line, two-yard line, whatever it was. Obviously we couldn’t afford to get sacked or be tackled but it was a play, a chance to throw in the end zone.
“Eight seconds is really plenty of time to do that ‘ throw in the end zone and either catch it or kick a field goal, kind of similar to the Baltimore game in ‘11. We had three downs down there. We had our chances. We had three downs and we just didn’t, we ran two runs and we felt good about those runs but we just didn’t, we weren’t quite able to get them in and then threw on third down.”
As for third down overall, the Patriots showed some improvement, converting exactly half of their 18 chances on Sunday, but only four of 10 in the second half as the Patriots were looking to extend drives and put away the Raiders.
“I think third down is related to first and second down,” Belichick said. “That’s all tied together. I think we just have to be more consistent on every down, certainly third down. We were 50 percent on third down, including the one at the end of the game, so that would lead the league, or come close to it, almost every year.
“But we have to do a better job on first and second down and create better opportunities on third down or just bypass third down altogether and convert on more second downs. We need to do a better job on third down too. I think our consistency is an area for us to improve in offensively all the way across the board. The downs before third down are important too.
Here are more takeaways from Belichick’s conference call from Monday:
Q: Yesterday you said the defensive pass interference call on Logan Ryan was something you wanted to go back and look at it. Did you see the same things you thought you saw? Also, the offensive pass interference call on Brandon LaFell. It looked like maybe he was close to establishing his spot there after he ran his route. What did you see on that play as well?
BB: I’d say going back and looking, they’re close plays. I think you’d have to talk to the officiating department and the league and get a complete explanation since they were the ones who threw it. It doesn’t really matter what I think. The only thing that matters is what they call. We have to play penalty-free.
Q: The timeout before the Rob Gronkowski touchdown, can you take us through what you were discussing during that timeout and what you were trying to correct and what Tom Brady might have seen that he didn’t want to run the play that was called?
BB: It was pretty late in the second quarter there, I think there was like less than five minutes to go. We had three timeouts so we felt like [in] a situation like that, a critical situation ‘ third down in the red area ‘ to make sure we get the best play called and get in the best situation so what we had, I thought that what we had maybe wasn’t the best that we could do and I think Tom sort of saw the same thing. We all decided ‘ Josh [McDaniels], we all just decided it would be better to take the timeout [and] make sure we got a play we wanted in there and go with it. As it turned out, it would have been good to have another timeout possibly at the end of the half, even though we didn’t lose a down or we didn’t really need it but it might have been good to have there. But, yeah, that was a critical play and after we saw their substitution and their matchup at the timeout, then we just decided to go to a different look and not let them defend what we had shown the play before that we didn’t run.
Q: Kenbrell Thompkins was inactive last week and this week Aaron Dobson was inactive this week. What made Thompkins a better matchup this week against the Raiders?
BB: We just try to take everything into consideration when we go with our final 46-man active roster ‘ the game plan, the matchups, the different roles in the kicking game and sometimes how that affects other positions. In the end, if we could have more than 46 players active, we would have loved to have several of the guys that were deactivated at the game. There’s probably a good chance that several of them would have played. But in the end, we just have to [with] the combination of all the things I just mentioned, try to make the decision that we feel is best for the team relative to the 46 guys that are there. Again, that is a function of multiple things.
Q: It looked like Vince Wilfork dropped off the line of scrimmage when he intercepted that ball, similar to what we saw the week before with Dominique Easley and similar to what we saw earlier in the game with defensive linemen dropping. Is that something you’re experimenting with or is it something you’ve always done?
BB: No, that’s something that we’ve had in our system for quite a while. I would say the difference though in this one is Vince didn’t drop out. He was part of the rush. They had all five linemen in and so it was kind of congested there in the middle and I think [Derek] Carr sort of pump faked or looked outside and I think that kind of slowed our rush down a little bit. Maybe Vince saw him pump and he came off the rush thinking he was going to throw the ball. Then when Carr came back inside, kind of reloaded it and came back inside, then Vince had, I don’t want to say stopped rushing but was kind of reacting to where the quarterback was throwing rather than continuing to rush.
“So, he was part of the three-man rush on this one, whereas I think the play you’re referring to last week on Chandler’s [Jones] sack and it came up a couple other times too, where we actually had another guy in coverage. So, on this play, the one you’re talking about, the interception, [Rob] Ninkovich actually would have been the eighth guy in coverage and Vince as just kind of rushing the quarterback. But he didn’t drop out on that play.
Q: Did Easley drop out on one of the third down plays?
BB: Yes, earlier in the game. Yeah, he did. I think the first third down, he did, [yes]. That’s right, if I remember right ‘ yeah, the one where they threw to the tight end outside. It was the first third down, or second third down, it was early in the game. Yeah, I know what you’re talking about. So, yeah, we’ve done that from time to time, yes. But on the interception, Vince was part of the three-man rush and Ninkovich was part of the coverage.
Q: How do you balance your practice time with that extra day? How do you balance that time between addressing the things you need to address with your time at the same time you’re preparing and scheming for Kansas City?
BB: Right, yeah, I think that’s something that we’ll talk about as a staff and try to answer that question, the one that you just asked. Really, that’s a question that we have to ask ourselves, is how do we get the most out of the time that we have. That’s something that we’ll have to talk about this week. Certainly there’s a balance between working on things that we need to work on no matter who we play and working on things that are specific to the Chiefs. Yeah, I think there’s a place for both there and we’ll have to talk about the best way to utilize our time and get the most out of it. As we all know with every long week is a short week and with every short week is a long week. So, it all in the end kind of washes out. This week we have an extra day.
“Next week, we won’t have one. Not that we’re planning ahead but I’m just saying that the opportunity to use the extra day this week, we’ll try to figure out how to get the most of that. In weeks when we have less time, we’ll just have to look at that whole timeframe and try to maximize the time that we do have. I think that’s really more the decision, ‘OK, here’s what we have to work with.’ Just from a planning standpoint of that particular week, how do we get the most out of it? I think there are a number of things that you take into consideration there.
“One is what do you have to deal with, with your opponent. Two, what are the things that you need to work on. Three, what’s the health and physical status of your team or certain positions and how much can you really get done depending on who you have, who can practice, or how much they can practice and so forth? I’d say those are all the things that are kind of part of the conversation. Then we have a number of young players on the team, either on the roster or on the practice squad that are developing that it’s another opportunity for them to improve, not knowing when you might or might not need them but you want to keep working with those players too and see how they’re coming along. That’s another consideration. But again, it’s a question of how do you utilize your time and that’s really a weekly decision. This week we just have a little bit extra work but it’s kind of the same thing every week that we have to discuss and plan for.”