The New England Patriots have been making a bad habit of starting out slowly. Atypical of a Bill Belichick-coached team, the Patriots have come out flat against their previous four opponents. They’ve been able to escape with wins against three of those four teams, but waiting until the second half to play well will eventually catch up with them.
The thing is, good teams don’t win games in the fourth quarter. Good teams win games in the first three quarters, then sit back and watch the clock tick down in the fourth. Lately, the Patriots have needed every tick of that clock in the second half to come back from the deficits their slow starts have earned them.
It must be hard for a Patriots team that has a playoff spot all but locked-up to get motivated to play this time of the year. They had two big-time national TV games against the Carolina Panthers and the Denver Broncos, but have had lesser opponents since. Those games are tough to get motivated for, especially when you’re a New England team that knows regular-season wins don’t matter, only playoff ones do.
And it’s those playoff wins that concern me. You can get away with waiting until the second half against teams that won’t be playing in January. But that won’t work against the better teams in the NFL. Well, not again anyway. If the Patriots want to have any postseason success, especially with the loss of tight end Rob Gronkowski, they will need to avoid an emotional letdown the rest of the way, and they will need to avoid any more slow starts.