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BY Jon Lyons
The Patriots have lost two in a row, first a 33-26 loss against Minnesota that was filled with their own mistakes and a 24-10 loss last night in which their offense was completely inept. There have been several common themes in the two losses, but one that stands out is their ineffective clock management at the end of the first half.
Against the Vikings, the Patriots got the ball at their own 25-yard line with 1:30 left and two timeouts. On their second play of the drive, Mac Jones hit Hunter Henry down the right sideline for a 22-yard play. While a good catch and run, Henry could have run out of bounds and stopped the clock after 16-17 yards. Instead, the stayed in bounds, was tackled, and the Patriots were forced to use a timeout. The next two plays were completions to DeVante Parker that totaled 30 yards. Parker got out of bounds after the second catch, stopping the clock at :30 on the Vikings 18. The next play was a killer mistake form Jones. He started to scramble and had an opening to throw the ball away. Instead, he slid down for no gain and the Patriots were forced to use a timeout. Jones then hit Nelson Agholor over the middle for 13 yards, but because they had no timeouts left, New England had to spike the ball with nine seconds left at the five-yard line. This allowed them to only take one shot into the end zone before settling for a field goal. Had Henry run out of bounds or Jones thrown the ball away, the Patriots would have had at least 15 seconds with the ball at the five and one timeout. This would have allowed three shots into the end zone.
Things were even worse against the Bills to close out the first half. After Josh Uche forced a Josh Allen fumble, the Patriots took over at their own 42-yard line with 1:11 left and two timeouts remaining. After a 14-yard Rhamondre Stevenson run, Jones hit Jakobi Meyers for a nine-yard gain. This was when the wheels came off. On 2nd and 1, the Patriots ran Stevenson for no gain. They then waited an extra 3-4 seconds after the play to call timeout. Coming out of the timeout, they called a QB sneak for Jones to pick up the first down, but had to call their final timeout after the sneak to conserve time after a pile up. So, two timeouts were used to gain one yard. This left the Patriots at the Bills 33-yard line with no time outs and 26 seconds left. Jones threw two passes along the sideline, one of which was completed to Hunter Henry for four yards before throwing the ball away on 3rd Down. This set up at 48-yard field goal attempt for Nick Folk, which he missed. The Patriots used 1:01 of clock and two timeouts to gain 29 yards and miss a field goal. Had they managed the situation around the QB sneak better, they would have had another timeout in their pocket or at least 7-10 more seconds to use to get themselves in better field goal range at a minimum.
The Patriots also had turnovers on their final drives against Green Bay and Chicago. They did do a good job of managing the clock to close out the first half against Baltimore in Week 3.
A lot of things have gone wrong for the Patriots offense this season. They’ve had a couple good moments, but for the most part have been disappointing. One area the Patriots used to master was executing at the end of the first half; it would often separate them from teams. Over the last two weeks, they’ve been completely inept in those situations and haven’t been great for most of the season to close out halves. This failure is a systemic one. It starts with the coaching staff not being aware enough of situations and timeout usage and players not executing little things to save time. It also makes one wonder if the Patriots have devoted adequate practice time to critical situations such as this; the results would say they haven’t. Having this failure happen in back-to-back games is inexcusable.