The wait for the return of the superlative New England Patriots offensive efficiency that we have taken for granted over the past several seasons is finally over. No, not because the Patriots offense finally showed up on Sunday and put on a clinic that made us think that it was 2010 all over again. On the contrary, despite scoring 27 points in a victory over the Miami Dolphins, the performance of the Patriots offense made it pretty clear that the unit, as we have come to know it, is but a shell of itself. Every time the Patriots score is now a surprise and every time the offense goes three-and-out is an inevitability. The wait for the return of the New England Patriots offensive efficiency has become the real-life version of Samuel Beckett's famous play, Waiting For Godot.
The whole game was a lesson in futility for the Patriots offense. They ended the game having averaged just 4.1 yards per offensive play. Of their 10 third downs, they converted just two into first downs; the Patriots did convert their lone fourth-down opportunity, but that little bit of offensive execution is not enough to excuse all the places they came up short.
Incredibly enough, the aforementioned miserable offensive numbers actually encompass the second-half during which the Patriots offense showed dramatic improvement. During the first half, the Patriots possessed the ball on six different occasions, although one would barely know it from the little that they ended up doing with their possessions. In all, the Patriots ran 24 plays in the five possessions in which they were trying to gain positive yardage, with the last play of the first half being a kneeldown by quarterback Tom Brady, and ended up with just 81 net yards for an average of 3.4 net yards per play and 16.2 yards per possession.
Even those meager numbers were skewed by a 13-play drive on which they gained 64 net yards, 21 of which were penalty yards, and ended in a 34-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski, representing the only points the Patriots mustered in the first half.
The Patriots scored an additional for 24 points in the second half, but the significant improvement on the offensive side of the ball could not mask the fact the offense failed to record a single first down on three of the seven second-half possessions during which the Patriots were trying to gain positive yardage. Overall in those seven second-half possessions, they ran 37 plays and gained 205 net yards for an average of 29.3 net yards per possession and 5.5 net yards per play. For this version of the Patriots offense, those numbers represent an almost miraculous level of play, especially when one considers they converted all three of their red-zone opportunities.
Yet, the Patriots' second-half improvement does not completely erase the first half into non-existence; the performance of the Patriots' offense must be looked at in total. Once that examination is complete, one cannot help but conclude the Patriots offense is simply still not good enough to go toe to toe in a shootout with any of the elite offensive teams in the NFL, which makes it a good thing that the Patriots only have one of those teams left on their schedule; the Patriots will face the Denver Broncos on November 24.
Fortunately, for the Patriots offense, having to endure trying to keep up with the Broncos in a shootout is unlikely to happen if the Patriots defense continues to play as the unit did today. Although the Dolphins did manage 17 points against the Patriots in the first half, the Patriots held them in check for the majority of the game. The Dolphins offense averaged just 3.8 yards per play, turned the ball over three separate occasions (two interceptions, one fumble), and were able to turn only two of their four red-zone opportunities into touchdowns; one of the fumble recoveries by the Patriots after a strip-sack was converted into an easy touchdown.
Additionally, the Patriots defense absolutely wreaked havoc on the Dolphins' offensive line and passing game as the unit sacked Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill six times for a loss of 47 yards; The Patriots also recorded eight quarterback hits and eight tackles for loss, controlling the line of scrimmage in almost every way during the contest.
If the Patriots could find a way to pair their staunch defense with at least a league-average offense, this team would be even more formidable; the 6-2 record the Patriots currently hold still seems a little fraudulent. However, with a lack of consistently good offensive play by the offense, that day might never come for the Patriots. Instead, it appears as if it will be only a matter of time before one of their opponents exposes them for their shortcomings, whether in the regular season or if they make it to the postseason.