The New England Patriots are making a habit out of blowing two-score leads in the final minutes of road games this season.
While it's easy to blame the much-maligned defense for the team's failure to close games out, the reality is that this team is built around Tom Brady and the offense. Thus, it's the offense that needs to move the ball at the end of the games in order to run the clock out.
The Patriots defense—particularly the secondary—is just not up to the task of putting the opposition away.
The Patriots defense is allowing 8.1 yards per pass attempt, 27th in the league. They finished 29th at 8.0 yards per pass allowed last season, and 21st in 2010. The shaky secondary play and the mediocre pass rush—the Patriots are 27th in sack percentage this season—are nothing new in New England.
On the bright side for the New England defense, they are only allowing 3.4 yards per rush this season, fourth-best in the league and a full yard better than last season. They are making teams one-dimensional, yet they still can't stop the passing game with any consistency.
Still, after allowing 10 points on Seattle's first two drives Sunday, the defense stiffened up and gave the offense an endless series of chances to put the game away. Yet Brady and the offense, who moved the ball up and down the field all day long, couldn't execute enough to put the Seahawks away.
Leading 14-10 at the end of the second quarter, the Patriots staged an 11-play drive to get the ball deep in the red zone, but they settled for a field goal.
After Seattle fumbled the ball away on a punt attempt, the Patriots had the ball deep in the red zone again before the half. Rather than settling for a field goal with six seconds left, the Patriots went for a touchdown. An intentional-grounding penalty by Brady forced a 10-second runoff, and the Patriots came up empty.
The Patriots defense continued to stifle the Seahawks, and the offense moved the ball into the red zone on their first possession of the second half, but they again settled for a field goal.
Leading 20-10, the Pats moved the ball into Seattle territory again, but Brady was intercepted when he forced a throw to Deion Branch. The Pats defense held again, and at the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Patriots moved the ball to the Seattle 6-yard line, when Brady was picked off for the second time.
The Pats defense once again held, and the offense drove into the red zone and settled for another field goal.
That's six possessions in which the Patriots offense moved the ball into Seattle territory, five of which ended in the red zone, yet they only came away with nine total points.
All the while, the Patriots defense was shutting down the Seahawks offense. The Patriots offense continually had opportunities to put the game away, but the intentional-grounding penalty, two interceptions and settling for three field goals left a ton of points on the board. A 20-10 game could have easily been 34-10.
Even after allowing a touchdown to cut the lead to 23-17, the Patriots defense stiffened up on the second-to-last drive, forcing a Seahawks punt that would have ended the game if Brady and the offense could have gotten a first down. Alas, the offense went three-and-out, the Seahawks easily scored another touchdown and the Patriots gave away a game that they had dominated for most of the day.
The Patriots also blew a two-score fourth-quarter lead on the road against Baltimore in Week 3. In the final quarter, the offense settled for a short field goal in the red zone when it was unable to punch it in, then punted on its last two possessions when it could have put the Ravens away.
The Patriots defense just isn't going to be good enough this season to win games on its own in the fourth quarter. They can stop the run and force turnovers (league-leading 16 takeaways), but they can still be gashed with the passing game because they don't have a dominant pass rush and the secondary isn't very good again. The safety play has been particularly porous again this season.
Thus, Brady and the offense will have to do a better job of building bigger leads by getting touchdowns in the red zone and then putting games away with better drives at the end.
Right now, the Patriots are 3-3 because they've given away winnable games. That's a trend that needs to end immediately.
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