Penalties becoming the latest issue for Patriots offense to clean up

Oct 29, 2018; Orchard Park, NY: A general view of a penalty flag during a game between the Buffalo Bills and the New England Patriots at New Era Field. (Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports)
Oct 29, 2018; Orchard Park, NY: A general view of a penalty flag during a game between the Buffalo Bills and the New England Patriots at New Era Field. (Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports)

By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com

The Patriots offense has been strangely up-and-down this season. It's been inconsistent from week-to-week, drive-to-drive, play-to-play.

Coupled with the hit-or-miss execution lately has been the discipline. The Pats remain the fourth-least-penalized offense in the NFL with just 28 accepted flags. But for whatever reason, 12 of them have come in the past two games.

Bill Belichick wasn't going to hem and haw on the matter.

"Well, the first thing [to finish drives better] would be to get fewer penalties," said Belichick after the Patriots' 24-10 win over the Vikings, in which the offense committed six penalties. "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."

Dec 2, 2018; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick on the sideline during the second quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Half of the Patriots' offensive penalties in that game came on one bizarrely disastrous drive in the third quarter, with the Patriots holding on to a 10-7 lead. They went backward right from the get-go with a false start by Sony Michel. Rob Gronkowski and Joe Thuney both got popped for holding later in the drive, which ultimately ended with a missed field goal for Stephen Gostkowski.

How can the Patriots offense avoid that kind of sloppiness on Sunday in Miami, where they've historically struggled and enter the game averaging just 18.2 points on the road?

"It’s just staying focused," said running back James White. "I think that’s all it is, staying focused for four quarters. The penalties have definitely been hurting us and you can’t have those down the stretch because it can cost you football games. I think everybody just has to lock in. It’s just a lot of pre-snap penalties too so we’ve got to cut those out."

FOXBOROUGH, MA - DECEMBER 02: James White #28 of the New England Patriots runs with the ball during the second half against the Minnesota Vikings at Gillette Stadium on December 2, 2018 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

The aforementioned drive was a stark contrast to the first possession, in which Tom Brady went 4-for-5 for 70 yards and the Pats scored a touchdown. But! They still committed a penalty, as they started right off with a false start by Gronkowski.

White agrees that the Patriots' drive-to-drive inconsistency has been an issue of focus, which is something they'll have to improve in a hurry with road tilts in Miami and Pittsburgh on the horizon.

"I think it’s similar, just staying focused throughout the whole game," said White. "Pay attention to the finer details, don’t take any plays off. I mean, one play can change a football game so you’ve got to stay locked in at all times."

We're not used to seeing the Patriots offense lose focus like it has in recent games, and in spots throughout the season. The penalties over the last two weeks have been especially stunning. But on the bright side, the flags didn't really cost them like they could have. They at least recognize what they need to do, and this is typically the time of the year where they minimize their problems and start to play their best possible football.

Miami would be a good time to get that rolling.

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].