Bill Belichick’s favorite book is The Art of War, and one of the book’s main lessons is the importance of planning and preparation. Battles are often already won and lost by the time opponents take the battlefield, or in this case, the gridiron.
Accordingly, Belichick has a reputation as one of the best coaches in the NFL at preparing his players every week, especially on defense. That hasn’t been true lately, however, particularly on offense.
The Patriots have started flat in both of their games so far, which is a major reason why they’re 0-2. They quickly dug themselves into a 16-0 hole during the first quarter against the Eagles in Week 1 and ended up losing 25-20. Week 2 brought more of the same, as New England trailed 17-3 at halftime en route to a 24-17 loss.
In both games, the Patriots were held scoreless in the first quarter. As Mike Reiss notes above, early turnovers are largely to blame for that, as New England has already coughed up the ball three times in the first quarter alone.
This isn’t just a 2023 trend either. Mac Jones’ career splits since 2021 show a similar pattern. In 33 career games, he has just a 7:7 TD/INT ratio in the first quarter and has been sacked 21 times — his most in any quarter. That’s despite playing far fewer snaps in the opening frame, too, due to Belichick always deferring whenever he wins the coin toss.
Sluggish starts wouldn’t be such an issue for the Patriots if their offense was more explosive, but it isn’t. With their running game and short-range passing game, they’re built to play with a lead. Their lack of playmakers and ability to score quickly makes it harder for them to come back, as we’ve seen in each of the last two weeks.
New England needs to start limiting early mistakes and opening games better if it wants to have more success, especially now that it no longer has Tom Brady to save them. With only 1 career game-winning drive and fourth-quarter comeback to his name, Jones can’t be trusted to make big plays in crunch time.
The Patriots need to stop putting him in those positions, and that starts with Belichick doing a better job of preparing his team to play.
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