By: Ian Logue/PatsFans.com
October 16, 2002

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FOXBORO, MA -- If Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Charlie Weis were looking to pass the ball the majority of the time because they wanted to jump start the offense, it certainly hasn't worked out very well.

At least not in the last three weeks.

They've watched their 3-0 start disappear and are now 3-3 with a week off before they return to action on October 27th when they play host to the Denver Broncos at Gillette Stadium.

One of their biggest problems as of late has been their play in the first two quarters of play.  They went into the locker room at halftime with leads of 10-3, and 10-0 in their first two games of the season which were 30-14 and 44-7 victories over the Steelers and Jets, but have trailed 10-9, been tied 14-14, trailed 16-0, and trailed 14-3 in their last four games, the final three of which have all been losses.

They've put the ball in quarterback Tom Brady's hands over three times as much as runningback Antowain Smith is carrying the football in the first half of the games this season. Brady has thrown the football a total of 143 times, with Smith rushing just 42 times for 145-yards.  Brady's thrown five touchdowns and five interceptions during that span, with the offense facing third and long due to penalties or incompletions.

As a matter of fact on Sunday the team faced eight 3rd-down plays in the first half, only three of which were for less than 8-yards.

Not exactly the best scenario for running the football.

So it should come as no surprise that Brady leads the team in third down rushing with six carries for 32-yards total so far this season, ahead of Antowain Smith who has carried just five times for 8-yards.  Strangely enough 26 of Brady's yards came against the Packers on third down last Sunday.

Brady started 14 games last season and had 413 passing attempts, but he's already half way there this year after just six games.  While the offense may have scored three touchdowns in their three playoff victories last year Belichick says that had nothing to do with the reason why they've tried to open up the offense so far this season.

"That's not really true," said Belichick when asked if their offensive production at the end of last season had anything to do with the reason why they've thrown the football so may times this season. "We didn't make that decision."

"What we decided after the season was we were going to try to increase our efficiency in the passing game. That's what we wanted to try to do. It wasn't the decision to say, 'well, we're going to throw the ball so many times.' That's really not the way it is."

"I'll go back to the Miami game a week ago, there are not very many passes there in the first half (7-passes, 10-rushes). The score changed that game and changed the way we really wanted to try to play it. Those are just the facts."

The facts are that they only trailed 16-0 at the half at that point, and came out in the second half throwing five straight times following a Miami fumble en-route to a 34-yard touchdown play to David Patten.  The touchdown cut the lead to 16-6 early in the third quarter with plenty of football left to be played.

They then passed 23 more times, one of which ended in an interception, three of which were spiked passes to stop the clock.  The ran just three running plays (one of which was Brady scrambling on a bad snap) from that point on.

That playcalling kept the defense out on the football field in 90 degree, 70% humidity for nearly 40-minutes.

The one thing fans will remember from last season was the fact that they tired out opposing teams with short passes mixed in with Smith carrying the football.  They controlled the game and were able to put together long drives that ate up the clock and caused frustration against the opposing team.

This past Sunday all they did was frustrate the fans and themselves.

They opened the game in the fashion that people hadn't seen in a while.  They completed short passes of 8, 4,10, and 5-yards with Smith then getting carries of 8-yards followed by Kevin Faulk rushing for 2-yards.  Then facing 2nd-and-8 Weis apparently called for Brady to chuck the ball down the field to David Patten only to see the ball picked off.

Drive over.

They had success running the football on the next series and the short passing game worked well until an offensive pass interference penalty on Deion Branch for 10-yards now put them in 2nd-and-17 followed by 3rd and 8.  The penalty killed them and lead to a punt.

The next drive they again ran twice for no gain mixed in with seven pass plays.  They got a field goal.  But the Packers  drove down for a touchdown on the ensuing drive, and a turnover by the Patriots immediately after lead to an 8-yard touchdown by Green Bay.  On the next possession Weis had Brady in the shotgun throwing on six straight plays, the last of which was picked off.

They panicked, and they paid the price.

Belichick says they'll spend the next week starting over.  Hopefully they do it as the team that remained poised and gained the reputation of controlling the football game and forcing their opponent to play from behind as opposed to the way things have gone down the past few weeks.

There is plenty of football left to be played and plenty of time for them to recover from their three straight losses, and plenty of time to change the way they've been doing things and get back to basics.

"I think we've proven to ourselves earlier in the year that we can play pretty well," said quarterback Tom Brady on Wednesday. "We just have to get back to those things that allow us to sustain drives and sustain leads."

A good place to start is getting back to what had made them the best in football last season and almost lead to success last weekend.  The defense may be struggling against the run, but the team gave Green Bay 21-points off of turnovers and penalties.  That's not the way to win football games.

Hopefully they put it all behind them before they come back to face Denver.  They have the tools to be successful and the coaching staff to help get them back there.  They simply need to help their players find their way on both sides of the football.

"The passing game, at times, has been good," said Belichick.  "At other times it has been below average. When it's good, it's great and everybody is happy. And when it isn't, we're not."

"The idea is to try to improve the performance of the passing game, the running game, which compliment each other."


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