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Those aren't the Patriots' third-down conversion stats from last Thursday's loss against the Vikings (though they're close -- 3-for-10).
That's New England's touchdown success rate in the red zone over their last four games. Two short touchdown throws to Jakobi Meyers (against the Jets in Week 8) and Rhamondre Stevenson (vs. the Colts in Week 9) are the only scores they've had inside the opponent's 20-yard line in the last month.
Once again, their two touchdowns against Minnesota came from outside the red area on long scoring passes to Nelson Agholor and Hunter Henry. While the explosive plays are welcome, those two touchdowns alone weren't enough to get them past a playoff-caliber opponent after feasting on bad quarterbacks the previous three weeks.
Mac Jones has repeatedly acknowledged that truth when speaking to the media in recent weeks. But Monday's appearance with the "Merloni. Fauria and Mego" show on WEEI might have been the first time the second-year quarterback suggested the offense might be pressing when they get down to the goal line.
“We need to realize that it has more significance than a normal play, but it’s just a normal play," said Jones.
It might sound like word salad until you see plays like the failed end-around to Kendrick Bourne in the first quarter against Minnesota or the 1st-and-goal misfire in the third quarter a few plays before the Hunter Henry touchdown-that-wasn't where Nelson Agholor and Rhamondre Stevenson almost ran their routes into one another.
One was an example of Matt Patricia trying to get cute instead of sticking to what was working, and the other was just a lack of focus. Even the Henry play itself might have been different if Jones makes a slightly better throw (still should've been ruled a catch, though).
Misplays won't cost you against the Jets or Colts, but they'll hurt you against the Buffalo Bills when you need every point you can get.
Also, the Patriots' inability to run the football lately has gotten lost as a reason for the red-zone issues. Over the past five games, in fact, they've been arguably the worst rushing team in football, according to rbsdm.com's EPA/play charts.
Case in point: the Patriots gained a grand total of -3 yards on three red-zone rushing attempts against the Vikings. Some of that is related to New England's shuffling on the offensive line without David Andrews, in particular. But regardless of the reasons, the simple fact is that the Patriots can't afford to be one-dimensional when they get into the red area.
Yes, Mac Jones has to prove he can elevate his team and help them score in those crucial spots. But this offense isn't built to put everything on the quarterback's shoulders. The entire unit has to raise its game and sharpen its focus when the going gets tough while also sticking to the strong execution that got them near the goal line in the first place.