HOUSTON -- Bill Belichick knew when asked Wednesday about the Patriots’ struggles to score in the first quarter of Super Bowls that it has been a problem. Apparently he’s been talking about it for days.
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“I’d like to score a lot more points than zero,” Tom Brady said the same day, “which we’ve done the last six times, as Coach Belichick has reminded me about 10 times in the last 10 days.”
That’s right: In the Patriots’ six trips to the Super Bowl under Belichick and Brady, the Patriots have scored a grand total of zero points in the first quarter.
Well, that’s not completely true. The Patriots’ offense has actually scored negative two points in the first quarter of Super Bowls with Brady, as he was flagged for intentional grounding in the end zone in Super Bowl XLVI, resulting in a safety.
Heading into what could be a shootout on Sunday, a Patriots offense that finished second to only the Falcons in first-quarter points during the regular season should certainly hope for better results than its had in Super Bowls past. The Pats have scored points in the first quarter of 16 of their 18 games this season and have scored first-quarter touchdowns in 14. Yet what hasn’t challenged them this season has historically challenged them in the biggest game of the year.
“It’s obviously something we’d like to change,” Josh McDaniels said. “Each team’s different, each opponent we’ve played has been different, each year’s different, each preparation’s different.”
So what has been the issue? Is it as simple as the difficulty of the game? Or is it the combination of variables that make Super Bowl Sunday -- the extra time on the field for the lengthy pregame ceremonies, rust from the extra week off, the pure magnitude of the spectacle -- that have made it difficult for Brady & Co. to quickly get into an offensive rhythm?
The funny thing about answering that is that Brady really hasn’t been terrible outside of that safety against the Giants. He’s certainly not been himself given the lack of touchdowns, but his completion rate -- 27-for-43, or 62.8 percent in the first quarter of Super Bowls -- isn’t far behind his career regular-season mark of 63.8. He’s thrown one pick, which came in the red zone against the Seahawks to break up six straight completions.
That pick joins the safety vs. the Giants and Adam Vinatieri’s missed 31-yarder against the Panthers as the uglier moments.
As McDaniels pointed out, first-quarter drives actually have bled into the second quarter and resulted in points. Laurence Maroney rushed for a one-yard touchdown on the first play of the second quarter in Super Bowl XLVI, while Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 29-yard field goal in Super Bowl XLII. Interestingly enough, the Pats lost both of those games.
In three of the six games, the Pats have shut out their opponent in the first quarter as well, rendering their own offensive silence less harmful. In this regime’s Super Bowls in which they’ve been outscored in the first quarter, they’ve gone 1-2. The Giants put up nine and three points and won both games; the Rams had a 3-0 lead after the first quarter of Super Bowl XXXVI and lost.
Of course, the Patriots had to go on to win four of those games somehow, and their offensive struggles didn't last the entire first half. Though Belichick’s Pats have been outscored by a 15-0 mark in the first quarter of Super Bowls, they have outscored their Super Bowl in the second quarter, 66-31.
Turning their attention to Sunday, if the Falcons’ defense doesn’t intimidate the Patriots, the idea of it holding down the fort while Atlanta’s offense does the rest should.
And, apparently, it does.
“They’ve done a great job like they did [in the NFC Championship] against the Packers, shutting them out, getting a couple turnovers and they’re up 24-0 at the half,” Belichick said. “For us to move the ball and score points, we’re going to have to execute well and perform well offensively.”
Added Belichick: “The reason we didn’t score points in those games that you referenced was because we didn’t deserve to, we weren’t good enough to. We have to find a way to do better than that. Certainly we don’t want to play this game from 24-0 or 24-3 or something like that like where Green Bay ended up [in the NFC Championship]. We’ve got to avoid that. It will be a long night if we don’t.”
Because Brady and McDaniels have been there for all six games, it should be taken as perplexing that they’ve gone without a point in the first quarter of each. Brady says he and the offense “have to play better,” while McDaniels provided a reminder that Sunday’s offensive goals span the entire game.
“I think it’s important to try to score whenever you have the ball,” McDaniels said. “We only have one goal. We don’t go out there to do anything other than score touchdowns.
“We also don’t have any ego. If the game needs to be played a certain way, [and] we need to win to win the game, 13-10, because our defense is doing well, whenever that is — if it’s September, November, January, whatever it is, we’re going to do whatever we think is the best to try to win the game the way that we have to win it. We just hope we have one more point than they do at the end of Sunday night.”