Patriots solve problem
Higher tempo helped offense produce more
SAN DIEGO — Tom Brady likely said it best: “What offense?’’
Asked about his Patriots’ first-half output in San Diego Sunday, when they got more gifts from the defense than Lindsay Lohan has gotten chances from California judges, that was the quarterback’s answer.
Ineffective is not a strong enough word to describe the unit’s performance over the first 30 minutes of what became a 23-20 New England win. In the opening half, the Patriots had six first downs (three by penalty), went 0 for 6 on third down, and gained 38 yards of total offense. They scored just 13 points despite starting their seven possessions, on average, at midfield.
New England couldn’t run the ball before the break — BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead picked up 27 yards on nine combined carries — nor could Brady effectively throw it, completing just 6 of 16 passes for 35 yards.
A big part of Brady and the passing game’s struggles were because of the Chargers: San Diego entered the game with the top pass defense in the NFL, and was able to pressure Brady early and often. He was sacked on back-to-back snaps after Rob Ninkovich’s 63-yard fumble recovery gave the Patriots the ball at the Chargers’ 8, a goal-to-go failure that was salvaged by a Stephen Gostkowski field goal.
At halftime, the Patriots decided to go no-huddle. What resulted wasn’t exactly enough to give observers the feeling that the high-octane 2007 offense had made a return, but it was enough to move the ball and help New England control the game.
“Using the no-huddle really changed the tempo,’’ wide receiver Wes Welker said. “It tired out the [defensive] linemen, and the rush wasn’t such a factor. The change in tempo helped.’’
New England received the second-half kickoff, and Brady led the offense on a 17-play, 79-yard touchdown drive that took more than eight minutes off the clock. The Patriots converted twice on third down and once on fourth.
On that possession alone, Brady was 6 of 7 for 79 yards. He did take his fourth sack of the day, but the Patriots converted a second and 17 thanks in large part to the high-stepping Woodhead, who picked up 16 yards on a screen pass.
“It was good; we needed that,’’ Brady said. “We’ve done that — scoring a couple of times right after halftime. But we have to do a better job starting the game and taking advantage of turnovers. I have to do a better job of finding open guys. We had some great short fields and opportunities [in the first half].’’
“We just knew we had to get it going on offense, so we came out firing the ball,’’ said rookie tight end Aaron Hernandez, who had an 18-yard third-down catch to keep the chains moving. “We were trying to take control of the game at our tempo and it worked out pretty well.’’
Agreed wide receiver Deion Branch, “It changed the game. We have so many different things that we can do during the course of the game, and that’s one of them.
“That’s one of our advantages. It’s something that we work real hard on in practice. The only thing is that it burns the guys, so we’ve got to make sure we take advantage and score points when we do it or we’ll be burned out.’’
The Patriots found their rhythm, and while they finished with only 179 yards of total offense, 141 of those came after halftime. Brady completed 13 of 16 passes in the third and fourth quarters.
“They had success with it,’’ said coach Bill Belichick. “Once you kind of get going and you keep it going at a fast pace, that builds the confidence.’’
Switching to the no-huddle was effective in that situation. However, the Patriots’ offense is also versatile enough to be able to slow things down, as it showed most notably in the second half of the win over Buffalo.
Then, with the defense foundering, New England controlled the clock, killing time by methodically grinding out yards and first downs.
It is certainly a plus to be effective both ways.
“It is good,’’ Welker said. “But no matter what the situation, we have to execute plays. It comes down to making plays in the end.’’