The two-minute drill that wasn’t
Dec 1, 2022; Foxborough, Massachusetts, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones (10) runs the ball against the Buffalo Bills in the second quarter at Gillette Stadium. Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
From big picture self-inflicted wounds, to the more immediate ones. There were a number of questionable sequences from the offense Thursday night, but none topped what happened at the end of the first half.
After starting slowly, the defense started to pick up the intensity late in the first half. That included a Josh Uche strip sack with about a minute and a half to go until halftime, setting the Patriots up with the ball just shy of the 50 with two timeouts in a 17-7 game. With a short field ahead of them, the Patriots’ offense had a great chance to cut the game to a single score margin and pick up momentum heading into the locker room.
That sounds great, but it’s not what happened. The drive started promising, with Rhamondre Stevenson gaining 14 yards on first down. That was followed by a nine-yard completion to Jakobi Meyers on the sideline, stopping the clock before a 2nd & 1 at the Bills’ 35.
However, that’s when the Patriots fell into a trap they’ve repeatedly caught themselves in this season. Instead of using the 2nd & 1 opportunity to take a shot down the field, they seemed fixated on picking up the one yard and the first down. With 50 seconds left on the clock, they ran Stevenson up the middle but failed to gain the yard, and after trying to go no-huddle were forced to take a timeout after 16 seconds had come off the block. On 3rd & 1 they went with a QB sneak, and although Jones picked up the first they had to take their final timeout. In total, the Patriots ran two plays, gained two yards, burned both their timeouts, and the clock ran from :50 to :32.
With that sequence, the Patriots were significantly limited in what they could do. The middle of the field was a no-go at that point, and a sack would have taken them out of scoring range. They ran a couple of short passing plays to the boundary, then kicked a 48-yard field goal that Nick Folk missed short. Despite the gift in field position and the chance to pick up momentum, the Patriots came away empty-handed.
“Kind of short on a third down, cost us another – we didn’t pick it up on third down, so we had to use a timeout there,” Belichick said when asked about the sequence after the game. “I mean, in the end we should have had a field goal at the end of the half and we ended up not getting it.”
Would better execution in that specific sequence have been the difference between the Patriots winning and losing? No, probably not. But those individual moments continue to pile up, and this was yet another example of something situationally the Patriots used to be very good at, but now feels more like a weak spot.