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After rough start, the Patriots third-down offense is back where it belongs

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And “rough” is an understatement.

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NFL: New England Patriots at New York Jets Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

If and when Tom Brady ever actually retires from playing professional football, one of the best biographies anyone’s ever done on the G.O.A.T is going to need a lil’ update.

That book is called “Moving the Chains” by Charles P. Pierce.

It came out in October of 2007.

Brady’s done a little more than move the chains ever since, but in what’s become an annual September tradition over the last several seasons, moving the ball on offense feels like January at the gym. It’s loud, there’s too much stuff going on, I don’t know what any of this stuff does or what it means, and I want to go home already.

Come on, like that’s NOT the way you felt after the Lions game.

The Patriots went 2-9 on third down in the Patricia Bowl, and that brought them down to 29th in the entire NFL in third-down conversion rate at 28.6 percent. You know September doesn’t mean jack when this is happening to Tom Brady and the Patriots while the rest of the world is in awe of prime Fitzmagic.

Not like they were killing it on third down before then, either - after the Week 2 Super Bowl loss to the Jaguars, New England was 8 for 26 on third down, and in a bizarre case of “life is tough when you suck”, the Pats weren’t really any better on third-and-short than they were on third and anything else. Through those first two games, when they were facing third and five or less, they went 4 for 11 in conversions.

Of course, it doesn’t help when after the Detroit game in Week 3, Brady was 1 for 8 throwing to Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett on third down, which is basically to say that the Pats offense in those situations looked like this dude when he has to learn to grill with HIS DOCTOR PEPPER HAND:

BUT WAIT.

As we’ve learned by now that it goes with the Patriots, the first few weeks of the season looked like the rest of us trying to learn this year’s Madden, and by Halloween, things were looking up - according to our good buddy Mike Dussault at Pats Propaganda, by the end of the Bears game, New England was up to converting 44.2% of their third downs - and that’s good enough for 7th in the NFL (at the time, obviously).

And after this week’s game where the Patriots might as well have told the entire Vikings team to shut the f*#$ up, their third-down prowess is, to paraphrase our friend Ace Ventura:

I HAVE EXORCISED THE DEMONS!!!

Even though they’ve played some solid-to-pretty,pretty-good defenses in the Titans, the Bills, and the Vikings, they’re still 10th in the NFL at third-down conversions, moving the chains on 40.8% of their chances.

(oddly enough, Tampa Bay is #1 in the league at 49.3% on third down, which...I got nothing. Your guess is as good as mine)

Then there’s this, which as much as we hate to give ESPN credit for anything around here, is both interesting and mildly infuriating. Check out where the Patriots rank on third-and-short, third-and-medium, and third-and-long:

Not much to see there, presumably they’re middle-of-the-road somewhere, which, given the way this season started, sounds about right.

Third and medium, this is where stuff gets weird:

You’re telling me that the king of the quick slant, the sultan of the spot route, the duke of the drag, the emperor of the in-route, Tom Brady, can’t pick up a third-and-5? Johnny from Foxboro High could hit that!

Want to get real weird? Let’s get weird! Let’s get weird!

Converting 27.4% of your third-and-longs might not sound great on paper, but that still puts the Pats in top-10 territory.

And without more data, it’s really hard to say why that’s the case. It’d be really fun to find out what kind of defense New England was facing in all of these situations - like, on your third-and-longs, for example, are more defenses running man coverage and blitzing, or dropping back in a cover-3 or quarters coverage to allow short stuff but limit the YAC? How many of those were drops or picks, and how many were throwaways? How many of those were running backs getting stoned at the line of scrimmage?

These are the things we think about here.

And with the Miami game in Miami being a complete wild card, all these numbers may very well be shot in a couple days anyway.

After all, a now-fully-healthy Josh Gordon alone should be enough the make the rest of the AFC audibly shart themselves.