The New England Patriots had plenty of issues against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday. For head coach Bill Belichick, however, one stands out above the rest: New England’s issues on third down on both sides of the ball.
While the Patriots offense was able to move the chains on only one of its 10 third-down plays, the defense failed to get off the field in six of 12 such situations. As a result of this, the Bills dominated time of possession and continuously played the game on their terms. Buffalo ended up winning with a final score of 33-21.
“That was really the story of the game, their efficiency on third and fourth down,” said head coach Bill Belichick during a media conference call on Monday. “You know, we’re 1-for-10 on third down, so obviously got to do a better job in both areas.”
Before talking to reporters, Belichick had already appeared on WEEI’s The Greg Hill Show. The topic of New England’s disappointing third down performance was brought up as well.
“Obviously, the biggest problem in the game was third down,” Belichick said. “Had we done a better job on third down, then things probably would have looked differently. Third and fourth down on defense, combination of it. We were 1-for-10 on third down on offense and 6-for-12, and then they’re 3-for-4 on fourth down. That would’ve been a big factor in the game had we done that better.”
The Patriots defense has generally had success getting off the field this season. Entering Week 16 it had allowed only 34.9 percent of third downs to be converted, as well as 51.9 percent of fourth downs. It failed to perform at the same level against Buffalo, but an argument can be made that the offense was still the bigger problem.
Josh McDaniels’ unit is ranked 13th on the year with a third-down success rate of 41.3 percent, but it sits at only 28.8 percent over its last five games. That stretch includes two meetings with Buffalo that saw New England go a combined 3-for-22.
One of the issues for the Patriots, at least on Sunday, was insufficient early-down performance: the Bills had to travel an average of 6.7 yards on their third downs; the Patriots had to gain 7.8 yards on theirs.
“We had some long-yardage situations. They weren’t all 3rd-and-10s, but there were some and that was a problem,” said Belichick.
“Just in general, we didn’t do very well on third down. A couple of them we converted on fourth down, but overall our third-down offensive and defensive execution just wasn’t good enough against a team like Buffalo.”