Since 2007, when the Patriots have scored 21 points, or fewer, in the playoffs, they hold a record of 1-6.
Or, over that same time period the Patriots have won every game when they score more than 21 points.
Or, the only times the Patriots have broken 30 (or 40) points have come in the divisional round.
Or, the Patriots have averaged 34 points in victories, and a more-than-anemic 15.8 points in defeat.
Or, the Patriots have a major crisis on their hands when it comes to scoring in the playoffs.
We came to this conclusion after the Patriots were unceremoniously discarded from the 2010 playoffs by the New York Jets and the truth remains. The Patriots offense vaporizes in the playoffs and needs to be a greater point of focus.
Sure, the defense allows 25.5 points per game in losses, and 18.7 in defeat. But that can be put into context by the offense handing the ball over twice, basically in the red zone, in the Baltimore Beatdown of 2009, as well as the three straight second half TD drives in the Baltimore Beatdown of 2012, where the Patriots went 3-and-out and then turned it over in between (and posted 13 points on the day).
But the offense is falling nearly three times as hard as the defense. So what changes? Yes, the competition level increases, but is that the sole reason for the Patriots impotence?
Turns out there are oh-so-many reasons.
1) Turnovers. The Patriots offense turned the ball over on 9.4% of drives in the regular season from 2007-2013. That number spikes to 14.0% in the playoffs, 11.9% in wins, an astonishing 16.1% in losses. Sure, they didn't turn the ball over against Denver, but seeing a 71.3% increase in turnovers in the playoffs should spark serious concern. Whether it's Tom Brady being less careful with the ball (interception rates double from 5.6% of drives in the regular season to 10.1% in playoff games, 11.3% in losses!), or just bad play calling, the Patriots need to reevaluate how they handle the football in the playoffs.
2) Reduced drives. You know how the Patriots slowed down the game against Denver, to try and reduce their scoring chances and prevent the game from becoming a shoot out? That's basically how every team has tried to play the Patriots in the playoffs. In the regular season, the Patriots average over 11 drives per game, and that holds consistent with their playoff victories. That number drops to 10 drives per game. It may not sound like much, but when the team's expected points per regular season drive is 2.62, then the Patriots are essentially missing out on a field goal worth of points. (I will note that the Patriots' expected points per drive falls to 2.3 in the playoffs)
3) Improved defenses. This is the nature of the playoff beast, but in conjunction with reduced drives it causes trouble for the Patriots. Not only are they seeing the ball for less time, they're forced to punt at an increased rate. In the regular season and in playoff wins, the Patriots are punting 32.4% and 31.3%, respectively. That spikes to 38.7% in playoff losses. So reducing their amount of drives (which lowers their expected points by 2.62), and increasing the time they're punting (increase of half a punt per game) can account for some of their offensive underproduction.
But is it as simple as saying the other teams are just outmaneuvering the Patriots? As much as it pains me to say it, it's definitely possible. Defenses are capitalizing on Brady's mistakes, and they're not giving the Patriots the chance to recover. Whether that's Brady making poor throws, the coordinator calling bad plays, or Bill Belichick not adjusting to the opponents game plan, it has to be addressed.
The defense isn't playing as well as it could, but it's far from the problem.
The offense's issues run deep. Whether it's poor offensive line play (averaging 2.4 sacks, 3 hits, and 11.4 pressures over the past five losses), or just lack of receiving talent on the field, it must be improved. The Patriots offensive identity can't afford to be derailed with the loss of one tight end, as it has been the past three seasons.
The Patriots are a young team, there's no denying that. They proved the strength of their depth this season, fighting through all the injuries with third and fourth stringers. But the fact remains that the Patriots need to be flawless in the playoffs to win the Super Bowl and the talent on the roster can't expect to be perfect.
The offense, once again, needs to reassess itself and see how it can approach the off-season to gain an advantage on the field. It will start with the interior line, where impending free agent center Ryan Wendell performed at an unacceptable level, right guard Dan Connolly left much to be desired, and left guard Logan Mankins underperformed when evaluating the cap space he eats.
It comes with reviewing the depth at tight end, where the Patriots, flush with talent in the preseason, all of a sudden found themselves without a viable option at the position. It comes with looking at the wide receiver spots, where all three rookies flashed, but maybe only Aaron Dobson separated himself from the field. Where the free agent signing Danny Amendola saw one target (dropped) in the conference championship game, while the possibly-departing Julian Edelman reeling in 10 receptions on 15 targets and journeyman Austin Collie had the third most targets on the team (6!).
It's where the Patriots need to find a way to fix Stevan Ridley's fumble problems, where they can get the ball into Shane Vereen's hands in the open field (without defaulting to the low percentage wheel route), where LeGarrette Blount sees more than 5 touches when trying to dictate the pace of the game.
It's evaluating Josh McDaniels and his inexcusable play calls. Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia and their inability to adjust to the loss of their fifth defensive starter as they allowed the Broncos to move the ball at will with Talib on the sideline.
The Patriots are not in an identity crisis. They are a young team, full of potential, with only two or three free agents worth fighting for (Talib, Edelman, maybe Blount). The nucleus of this team will return next season, a year older, a year smarter, a year hungrier, and when they add more talent in the draft, they'll have the potential to fight for the crown.
But this is an offensive unit undeniably in need of some soul searching. And that search starts now.