The New England Patriots were outscored by the Tennessee Titans 13-9 in the second half and the team appeared to be lethargic after halftime. Quarterback Tom Brady spoke about the second half performance on his weekly WEEI appearance.
"I wish we could execute like we did on the first drive for the entire game," Brady said. "We'd score a lot of points that way. It just didn't work out that way."
Brady highlighted penalties and protection breakdowns leading to throwaways as the reason for the stalled second half offense, but nothing was more important than the loss of wide receiver Danny Amendola right before the half- and the Patriots clearly wanted to end the game as quickly as possible.
"There's a lot of risk/reward as you get into the second half and you have a a pretty big lead," Brady said. "So I thought we just kind of did what we did to win the game and then dealing with just a couple guys going out with injuries, I think that obviously always plays a part in your game plan and what you're trying to do, and things change a little bit when you're counting on someone to do one thing, and now someone's forced into a different position. We've dealt with that quite a bit over the last month, it's a little bit challenging over the course of a game to deal when guys are going out, but we still found a way to win, so ultimately that's the most important thing."
Before Danny Amendola got hurt, Patriots averaged 7 yards a play. After he got hurt, Patriots averaged 4.56 yards a play.— Ryan Hannable (@RyanHannable) December 20, 2015
Running back James White fielded four straight short passes before the half, with wide receiver Keshawn Martin seeing one target of his own, before kicker Stephen Gostkowski missed the 48-yard field goal attempt. White only saw one target for the rest of the game, and it was called back by a bogus offensive pass interference penalty (and Brady agrees with this reasoning).
In the second half, Brady threw 16 passes, and eight of them were directed towards tight end Rob Gronkowski. They connected on just three for 37 yards, but it felt like the Patriots wanted to force-feed Gronkowski, who was playing in memory of a recently-deceased friend.
Brady only threw five second half passes more than 15-yards down the field, and all of them were directed towards Gronkowski (0/3) or wide receiver Brandon LaFell (2/2 for 49 yards and a bonus 15-yards Unnecessary Roughness). The five targets to non-Gronkowski or LaFell were all short passes to Keshawn Martin, Brandon Bolden, or Michael Williams.
The Patriots let newcomer Joey Iosefa rush the ball 10 times for 30 yards in the second half, while Bolden carried 5 times for 9 yards. While the offense didn't fully transition into an obvious rush the ball, kill the clock mode upon the departure of Danny Amendola, the short passing offense acted as an extended running game and served a similar purpose.
In this view, if the Patriots really were trying to drain the clock and avoid additional injuries, they should have bubble wrapped Gronkowski instead of feeding him half of the targets. So maybe the poor second half had more to do with coaching and player decisions, rather than a desire to end the game as quickly as possible.