By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
Sunday night was nothing new for the Patriots offense. In fact, it was a bizarre continuation of a strange trend that feels like it shouldn't happen on a week-to-week basis.
The Patriots scored seven points in the first 5:27 of the game, and another 14 in a span of 4:41 between the end of the third quarter and the start of the fourth. And only three points in the other 49:52.
They've been timely. Certainly good enough to win games like Sunday's against the Vikings, which featured a superb effort for the defense. The drive-to-drive inconsistency has just been curiously ... consistent.
It's not the first time this has happened.
Sunday was practically a mirror image of the Patriots offense in their 31-17 win over the Packers in Week 9. The Patriots went 59 yards in 10 plays for a touchdown on their opening drive in that game, and Brady was 5-for-6 passing for 39 yards. The next 26:40 was decidedly up-and-down, as the Pats' next seven drives went punt, field goal, punt, touchdown, end of half, turnover on downs, punt. The fourth quarter featured two explosive touchdown drives as they unlocked the consistency they've been looking for on offense and pulled away from the Packers.
It was far from the first time the Patriots got a fast start on the offensive side of the ball. In Julian Edelman's return against the Colts in Week 5, Brady went 9-for-9 for 78 yards and a touchdown. In Week 7 at the Bears, he went 4-for-5 for 45 yards and a touchdown to Edelman.
The Patriots have had a lot of strong starts and strong finishes. Why can't they consistently find the same level of execution in-between?
Part of it is just that the Vikings have a talented defense that make you earn your points.
"They're going to make you drive the ball down the field," said running back James White after the game. "Every drive's not going to be a three-play drive with a touchdown, so you've got to be able to string those drives together, and whenever you can do that, once you get the ball in the red zone, you need to score touchdowns. You can't just turn those into field goals. So, that was something we always emphasize."
The Patriots did move the ball in-between the 20's between their touchdowns, but the execution wasn't as crisp as those early and late drives. The sloppiness and lack of discipline reached baffling levels on a third-quarter drive that ended with a missed field goal for Stephen Gostkowski.
Despite Brady going 5-for-6 for 52 yards and converting a fourth-and-1 to Chris Hogan, penalties made the drive much harder than it needed to be. Sony Michel committed a false start on the first play, then Gronkowski and Joe Thuney pushed them back with separate holding penalties. That wasn't exactly new, either; the offense committed six penalties for 55 yards last Sunday against the Jets, too.
Belichick wasn't afraid to admit why the Patriots haven't been able to finish drives as consistently as they'd like.
"Well, the first thing would be to get fewer penalties," said Belichick. "We're going backwards too many plays, so this is two weeks in a row we just have too many penalties. We've got to eliminate that. That's obvious."
The bright side is, the Patriots mostly beat themselves when they didn't execute on offense. That should be a relatively easy fix. If they can clean up the penalties, the group could get rolling more consistently. Had they done it against the Vikings, the game could've been 38-10. It felt like that kind of an ass-kicking, anyway.
Ultimately, this is just a nitpick of an otherwise solid offensive day in a strong all-around effort against a good team. It certainly wasn't all bad.
Besides one head-scratching play-call, a third-and-1 direct snap to James White before the end of the first half, Josh McDaniels delivered an excellent game plan anchored by screens and short passes. Brady spread the ball around and smartly took what the defense gave him, which was often just leaving a guy wide open.
If the Patriots can execute on offense like they have so often in the first and fourth quarters for 60 full minutes, look out below.
Matt Dolloff is a 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 protected].