FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- When the fourth quarter starts, the New England Patriots stop.
From last season’s Super Bowl to last Sunday’s loss, they’ve been outscored 47-21 in the final period in six of their seven games. They’ve lost their touch for finishing strong.
"The end of the game is the most critical part of the game," offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said, "and we need to do better."
The Patriots led the New York Giants 17-15 going into the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl but lost 21-17. This season, two of their three losses came when they led after the third quarter. The only game in which they were clearly superior in the fourth was a 52-28 win over Buffalo when they outscored the Bills 31-7 in that period.
In that fourth quarter alone, they scored four touchdowns and one field goal.
In their other five games, they have just one touchdown and four field goals in the final 15 minutes.
They hope to change that Sunday against the New York Jets in a meeting of two of the four AFC East teams tied for first place at 3-3.
"There’s no magic formula or plays to call," quarterback Tom Brady said. "It’s just a matter of doing it and doing it well. Football requires 53 players to all be on the same page and that’s why we practice and talk about things and that’s why we meet all day. I think we’ve been presented with some situations where we haven’t
Like last Sunday in Seattle.
They led the Seahawks 20-10 after three quarters but lost 24-23 with the offense, defense and special teams all failing in critical fourth-quarter situations. Brady threw an interception in the end zone and later was penalized for intentional grounding, the secondary allowed two touchdown passes and Zoltan Mesko’s line-drive punt allowed Leon Washington’s 25-yard punt return that helped set up the deciding touchdown and extra point.
"When you get down to the end of the fourth quarter, then the whole game really now hinges on just a handful of plays or sometimes just one play," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "Then it really becomes an awareness thing and certainly an execution thing."
The Patriots have thrived in the fourth quarter during Brady’s career. Entering this season, he led them to wins 34 times after trailing or being tied in the fourth quarter.
He just hasn’t been the same this year.
In his last possession against the Seahawks, he got the ball at his 20-yard line with 1:14 left and a one-point deficit and couldn’t get a first down. On the two series before that, the Patriots punted after advancing only to their 46 and 43.
They weren’t much better in the fourth quarter of a 31-30 loss to Baltimore that they led 27-21 after the third. They had to punt on their last two possessions and the Ravens won on a 27-yard field goal by Justin Tucker on the final play.
"We’ve just got to keep working," running back Stevan Ridley said. "It’s a 60-minute football game. You can’t play 40 minutes. You can’t play 45. You can’t play 50. You’ve got to play it all the way out to the end."
In three of their last four games, the Patriots didn’t score a fourth-quarter touchdown despite reaching their opponent’s territory on eight of their 12 possessions. They did kick a field goal in two of those fourth quarters, but that left them short and they lost each game by one point.