Hidden in Bill Belichick’s post-game speech about playing complementary football after the New England Patriots demolished the Denver Broncos 41-16 was a seemingly innocuous statement.
“How about one penalty?,” Belichick asked. “How about one penalty?”
The Patriots had been flagged for 59 accepted penalties in the first eight games of the season, the 10th-most in the NFL over that span.
On Sunday Night against the Broncos, the Patriots faced just one accepted penalty: a defensive holding call against Stephon Gilmore. Sure, that penalty was on third-and-six and resulted in an automatic first down, but at the end of the day, the Patriots were penalized once for five yards.
This is an ideal outcome for the Patriots, but it might be surprising how rare it is for New England to face so few penalties. In fact, the Patriots are just the 9th team all year to see one or fewer penalties in a game this season.
The last time the Patriots saw one or fewer penalties was in week 16 of the 2015 season, when they were flagged once for seven yards against the New York Jets; the Jets won 26-20 in overtime.
The time before that? Week 15 of the 2013 season against the Miami Dolphins, where the Patriots were flagged once for 2 yards; the Patriots also lost that game 24-20.
Sunday against the Broncos was just the 15th time under Belichick that the Patriots were flagged one or fewer times, an average of less than once per season. Interestingly enough, the past six times have all come on the road, where officials usually err on the side of benefiting the home team.
The Patriots entered their bye week with a goal of cleaning up a lot of their unforced errors in the second half of the year. They wanted to avoid penalties that set them behind on down and distance and made scoring opportunities unnecessarily difficult. While it’s unreasonable to expect the Patriots to play as unblemished football as they did on Sunday night, it’s certainly a step in the right direction.