Patriots’ Offense Slow to Start, Tough to Stop
Foxborough, Mass. — It takes the New England Patriots a while to get their offense going. Then the second half starts and Tom Brady’s attack is very tough to stop.
The Patriots (9-3) have outscored their last two opponents 61-21 after intermission despite trailing by double digits at halftime. In both games, they scored on each of their first five possessions of the second half. The final scores were identical: 34-31 over the Denver Broncos, one of the NFL’s best teams, and the Houston Texans, right now the worst.
“As the game went on, we were able to see how Houston was going to match up to our different personnel groups,” New England coach Bill Belichick said Monday. “Let’s say, defensively, when you’re facing a team that uses a lot of personnel groups, it’s hard to have a lot of things ready for a lot of different groups.”
The Texans (2-10) hadn’t seen many two-back alignments in watching video of Patriots games. So they might not have prepared for seldom-used James Develin, who powered his way to a 1-yard touchdown on the first series of the second half as offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels used a fullback more often Sunday.
“Josh did a good job of mixing the groups,” Belichick said. “It’s just hard (for a defense) to have a game plan where you have eight or nine different calls against seven, eight groups. You just run out of time to practice it and time to work on it.”
The Patriots trailed 17-7, the fourth time in their past five games they were behind at halftime. But seven minutes into the third quarter they led 21-17.
“Coach will come in at halftime and say ‘OK, these are the things we’re going to have to do well to move the ball,’ ” Brady said. “We started with a great drive there at the start of the third quarter, then scored again, then scored again and scored again. It was really a great way for us to play offense.”
The Patriots didn’t play that way in the first seven games when they scored just 54 points after halftime.
But in the last five, they have 133 points after intermission, including three in overtime. They’ve scored on 23 of their 36 possessions (64 percent) with 16 touchdowns and seven field goals.
The post-halftime percentage is even better in the past three games, when the Patriots have scored on 14 of 20 possessions (70 percent) with nine touchdowns and five field goals. Brady has completed 73 percent of his passes for an average of 233 yards.
“You give up a touchdown drive and then you go over there and you come right back out on a three-and-out or turnover or something like that and you don’t get everything fixed,” Belichick said of opposing defenses. “Sometimes those plays reappear in the next drive and hurt you again.”
Now, if only the Patriots could improve in the first half.
Four games have been decided by a touchdown or field goal in the final 5 seconds. They split two that were won on overtime field goals and won two by scoring with 5 seconds left. And the winning margin in nine of the Patriots’ 12 games was seven points or less. They won six of them.
“When it does come down to those types of games, we feel comfortable,” running back Shane Vereen said. “It’s something that we’ve done so many times.”
On Sunday, the Patriots snapped a three-game road losing streak.
“Every team has talent so it’s tough to win on the road, especially when you get behind 17-7,” Brady said. “You pump a lot of life in to them there. It ended up being a dogfight for us, but we found a way to pull it out.”
They did it without Stevan Ridley, their leading rusher, who was inactive after losing fumbles in the previous three games.
“There’s no sending a message. You sit down and talk to somebody man to man and talk about the situation,” Belichick said. “This isn’t cryptic. We’re just trying to win a football game.”
Texans defensive end Antonio Smith wondered how the Patriots excelled against a defense that had some new wrinkles for the game.
It was “miraculous” how they changed their offense to key on the defense, Smith said: “Either teams are spying on us or scouting us.”
Belichick said he was aware of Smith’s remarks, but “I don’t have any comment on them. I think that’s a league matter.”