The Patriots’ third-quarter offensive struggles are so bad, they make the Buccaneers feel better about themselves.
The Patriots offense has been sluggish at several points over the course of the 2013 season, but one of the commonalities to its struggles is the fact that New England hasn’t been able to do much of anything in the third quarter. Through the first seven games of the season, the Patriots have scored just nine third-quarter points -- only the woeful Buccaneers are worse in that span with seven third-quarter points.
“I don’t think there’s been one consistent theme. I think that there’s no magic formula for any team to come out and do well, whether that’s the beginning of the game or the third quarter,” offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said Tuesday when asked about the third-quarter problems. “I’d love to say that there’s a personnel grouping or a style of play or certain types of play calls that could insure us a certain level of success, but I don’t really believe that that’s the case.
“The third quarter has been an area that we haven’t done very well in,” he added, “and we’re going to need to certainly focus a lot of our attention on that, and come out and have a good idea of what we want to do and execute our offense the same way in the third quarter that we try to do in every other quarter. ... I’ve got to do a better job of trying to put us in positions to make some plays coming out of halftime.”
Since the start of the season, the Patriots had single field goals against the Bucs, Falcons and Saints, but other than that, it’s been zeroes from start to finish when it comes to third-quarter scoring. (By way of comparison, through seven games in 2012 the Patriots had scored 55 points in the third quarter.) On Sunday, their offensive inadequacies in the third quarter were on full display against the Jets. The Patriots ran 15 plays and gained just 31 yards from scrimmage in the third, coming away with just two first downs in the process. Seven of their 15 plays were for no gain, resulted in negative yards or ended with a turnover.
“I think its poor execution,” quarterback Tom Brady said when asked about the third-quarter struggles in the wake of the loss to the Jets. “We had a great opportunity to take control of the game and we didn’t. We fought hard. We just didn’t do what it takes to beat a good defense.”
To Brady’s point, it’s also a total team effort. While it’s important to remember that each game and each drive needs to be place in the proper context, it’s clear to see that after seven games, New England isn’t running the ball or throwing the ball in the third quarter as well as they do in the other three. Using a statistical breakdown via PatsFans.com, it’s easy to point out New England’s offensive shortcomings. For Brady, it’s not far behind his performance as it relates to the rest of the game, but it’s certainly where he’s been at his statistical worst.
• Brady in the first quarter: 35-for-58 (60 percent), 387 passing yards, 5 sacks, 2 TDs, 0 INTs
• Second quarter: 45-for-79 (57 percent), 425 passing yards, 6 sacks, 4 TDs, 1 INT
• Third quarter: 32-for-59 (54 percent), 301 passing yards, 6 sacks, 2 INTs
• Fourth quarter: 45-for-85 (53 percent), 579 passing yards, 3 sacks, 2 TDs, 2 INTs
The same is the case for the ground game. While it’s not a dramatic dropoff, it’s clear the Patriots have stumbled a bit when it comes to running the ball in the third quarter.
• First quarter: 43 carries, 210 rushing yards, 4.9 yards per carry, 1 TD
• Second quarter: 59 carries, 228 rushing yards, 3.9 yards per carry, 3 TDs
• Third quarter: 39 carries, 163 rushing yards, 4.2 yards per carry, 0 TDs
• Fourth quarter: 54 carries, 212 rushing yards, 3.9 yards per carry, 1 TD
The Patriots' best third-quarter drive of the season came in the opener against the Bills, when New England put together a very impressive 15-play, 79-yard sequence with four first downs that took 6:51 and did a very nice job mixing run and pass (with seven passes and eight runs) … and ended when Brady fumbled the ball on the Buffalo 1-yard line.
“I think our process has really been the same in terms of trying to look at what we’ve done, what the defense has played us like, what their calls by personnel or situation may be, and try to make sure that we put out a game plan for the second half, just like we do in the first half, accordingly,” McDaniels said.
Again, each situation presents its own set of challenges for the offense, but at the same time, there are some common themes to their struggles, one of which is an inability to stay on the field and have sustained drives. Overall, the Patriots are converting their third-down opportunities at a rate of 33 percent. (That’s compared to 48 percent through the first seven games in 2012.) In the third quarter of Sunday’s loss to the Jets, the Patriots did not convert a single third-down chance on any of their four drives, going three-and-out on three of their four series. (The other sequence ended with a pick-six thrown by Brady.)
In addition, while the Patriots have done a good job playing complementary football for the other three quarters -- and the defense has been surprisingly stout for much of the first seven games of the year -- if there’s an Achilles' heel for New England defensively, it’s been the third quarter. Overall, the Patriots have yielded 44 points in the third quarter, the most when compared to their quarter-by-quarter performances over the course of the season. (New England has allowed 23 first-quarter points, 27 second-quarter points and 30 fourth-quarter points.) The third quarter is the only quarter in which the Patriots have been outscored -- an astounding 44-9 (minus-35) deficit.
Compounding the problem on Sunday was the fact that the Jets were really impressive out of the gate after halftime -- they scored 17 unanswered points to turn a 21-10 deficit into a 27-21 advantage. They picked off a Brady pass, and came up with their second-most impressive drive of the afternoon, an eight-play, 57-yard sequence that ended with quarterback Geno Smith plunging in from short range to give the Jets their first lead of the second half.
“You’ve got to come out, especially in the second half there, you’ve got to come out and start the second half with high energy,” said Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich. “Almost like you’re starting the game out, trying to keep everyone going. You’ve got to start fast. That’s huge in this league -- starting the game fast, start the second half fast, and I don’t think we had that sense of urgency that we needed to have to start that second half.
“We’re going to get together and come to some type of plan for us to get going here and have a better third quarter in these games.”
For much of the season, the Patriots have been fortunate to have excellent performances for the other three quarters, which have allowed them to paper over some of their third-quarter deficiencies and lift them to a 5-2 mark to start the season. By way of example, Brady delivered a great fourth-quarter effort in the win over the Saints, while the defense has managed to really be the difference in the win over Tampa Bay, as well as the September victory against the Jets.
But going forward, a sharper third quarter will almost certainly be a point of emphasis for the Patriots this week, especially considering they’re facing the Dolphins, a team that has 31 third-quarter points through its first six games. (The Patriots also have games remaining with the Broncos, who lead the league with 86 third-quarter points, as well as Carolina, which is fifth with 45 third-quarter points.)
“I know ultimately whatever we choose to do, we’ve got to put our guys in a position where they can execute and succeed, so I think we’ve just got to keep grinding away at it,” McDaniels said. “It’s not for lack of effort on anybody’s part, and I think that we’ll definitely take a look at everything we’ve done and try to improve in every area, including the beginning of the second half.
“We’ve just got to find a way to play better.”