By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
The New England Patriots have answered a lot of questions about themselves in recent weeks, particularly on the offensive side of the football. But there’s a big-picture problem that’s been impossible to solve over the course of their three-game winning streak.
Can they play this well on the road?
The offense has transformed in the past three weeks with the return of Julian Edelman, the addition of the fast-learning Josh Gordon, and the gradual emergence of Sony Michel. It remains to be seen if they can execute at the same level they have in Foxboro.
Numbers aren’t kind to the Patriots’ home/road splits, and it starts with the stark reality that they’re 4-0 at Gillette Stadium and 0-2 away from it. Their two road games so far have been their two ugliest all-around performances of the season.
Offensively, they’re averaging 36.5 points at home and 15 points on the road. The unit certainly looks much different from Weeks 2-3, so it lines up for an inevitable improvement on Sunday at Soldier Field – even against a talented Bears defense.
“Yes, I mean we’ve got to play better on the road, no doubt about that,” said tight end Rob Gronkowski on Wednesday. “We’ve got to go out there with a fast start, we’ve got to get going, we’ve got to get first downs, we’ve got to get the ball moving, we’ve got to get the chains moving. We really didn’t do that, I would say, on the road in the first two games. We’ve got to pick it up and we’ve got to definitely play better.”
The “first downs” part is a big one. Tom Brady and the Patriots offense converted just 6-of-21 third downs (28.6 percent) in Jacksonville and Detroit. Contrast that with 10-for-15 (66.7 percent) in their Week 4 resurgence against the Dolphins, and 12-for-23 (52.2 percent) since Edelman returned to the lineup.
Improvement is needed on the road, to be certain. But not just on the offensive side of the ball. Although Sunday’s second-half drubbing at the hands of the Kansas City Chiefs is fresh in everyone’s minds, Week 2 against Blake Bortles and the Jaguars was still the Patriots’ worst 60-minute defensive effort. The decidedly mediocre Bortles carved the Pats up from wire to wire, as opposed to the “Tale of Two Halves” against the dynamic Patrick Mahomes. New England got outscored 34-6 in the first half between their loss at Jacksonville and even more stunning defeat to the Lions in Detroit.
Defenders are echoing Gronkowski’s call for a better first half in Sunday’s game against the Bears.
“[It’s going to take] a great week of practice, preparation, and just everybody doing their job and starting fast,” said cornerback Stephon Gilmore.
The Bears are no doubt a very talented team on both sides of the ball, even at quarterback. But Mitchell Trubisky and head coach Matt Nagy are eons behind Tom Brady and Bill Belichick in the experience department. Chicago’s talent will have to take over, because this is certainly not the first time the Patriots have played a tough opponent on the road.
But this year’s team still needs to prove they can get the job done in those spots. With a much-improved offense heading to Soldier Field, there’s little excuse not to be better.
Matt Dolloff is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at email@example.com.