The scene was set and the New England Patriots were ready to take a victory from the New York Jets in the Meadowlands on Sunday … and as we have seen time and time again in the past two seasons, they let the game go.
When looking back on last season, of the six games the New England Patriots lost, four of them were lost after leading or being tied going into the second half.
The last three regular season games for the Patriots are a good illustration of what I mean. In the last game of the 2009 campaign, the Patriots lost 34-27 to the Houston Texans after leading 20-13 after three quarters. In the Cincinnati Bengals opener, the Patriots had a 24-3 halftime lead and then were outscored (21-14) and outgained (272-128) in the second half. The scoring spree made the game a lot closer than what it should have been. Then there was Sunday versus the Jets where three crucial turnovers in the second half gave the game away to New England's bitter AFC East rivals.
Why have the New England Patriots -- who, until recently have always been able to close out games in the past -- become a team that squanders their lead late in games? Is it because of the team being so young and no veteran leadership presence? Is it because of lack of conditioning causing the players to wear out before final gun goes off in the game?
These are all questions that need to be addressed soon if the Patriots are going to make a run at the Lombardi this year.
When coach Bill Belichick was asked about the loss on Monday he answered, in typical Belichick fashion "We just didn't do well enough," adding "If there were some switch, I would flip it."
Even quarterback Tom Brady was befuddled when asked about the letdowns in the second half. "I think when it comes down to these second-half games and our level of toughness, we've got to go out there and play tougher," Brady said. "I have to do a better job of leading this team and certainly execute better when it's crunch time."
That was a good answer by Brady but where is this toughness and leadership going to come from? Is it going to be safety Brandon Meriweather, now in his fourth year, or will it comes from third year linebacker Jerod Mayo?
Leadership can come in many different forms on this team but to put it simply, it has to come from somewhere within. With the loss of RB Kevin Faulk, of one of the team's captains, due to a torn ACL, there is one less veteran leader to look to.
Before 2009 when the team was pushed around, players like Rodney Harrison and Tedy Bruschi were there to help to make adjustments and lead the younger players through the tough times.
Obviously if the head coach or the quarterback have no idea what causes the meltdowns in the second halves, then we have to make assumptions as fans of the game. The top assumption would be that the team lacks mental toughness and on-the-field leaders. The team needs to focus onplaying 60 minutes of football in order to finish off the games that they should be winning.
The other portion of this that cannot be brushed aside is the coaching in these losses. When teams go into halftime, the crucial piece of success is the preparation and game planning in the locker room at halftime. In both games to start this season, the second half adjustments that Marvin Lewis and Rex Ryan made were far more successful than the ones Bill Belichick and the coaching staff in New England came up with. So, not only does this team need leadership on the field and in the locker room, they need a game plan that will put them in a place to win.
So it is simple right? Go into halftime, make the adjustments and come out and rely on your leaders to execute the strategy. Easy enough, correct?
I guess that is why I sit at home and write instead of playing on the field … sometimes the phrase "easier said than done" comes to mind
Hopefully the Patriots can get in the right mindset with the struggling Buffalo Bills coming to Foxboro this Sunday.
Shane Leketa is a long time Patriots fan who bleeds red white and blue. Leketa runs the site @MyPatsSpace