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Curran: Patriots' penchant for penalties is eye-popping to behold

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Can the Patriots knock off the Vikings? Absolutely. And if they knock off their staggering insistence on committing lamebrained penalties at the most inopportune moments, the chances of an upset increase.

It has been … problematic. The Patriots are 16th in the league with 60 penalties in 10 games. That doesn’t seem so awful, right? But there’s more to it than volume.

The Patriots are worst in the league when it comes to net penalties. While they’ve been flagged 60 times, opponents have been flagged 40. They’ve been flagged 132 more yards than opponents, second-worst in the league.

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They are eighth in the league in presnap penalties with 24. Presnap! That’s 13 false starts, four delay of games, three neutral zone infractions, two encroachments, two too-many-men defensively and one too-many-men offensively.

They’ve been flagged 20 times for holding, most in the league. Seven of those have been declined (also the most declined holding penalties in the league). What’s that mean? It means that even when they hold, opposing defenses are frequently still satisfied with the outcome of the play.

The eminently preventable pre-snap penalties and the persistent holding penalties are agitating. Equally maddening? The timing of so many of the 60 flags (71 total – 11 were declined).

Even last week’s stirring, game-winning punt return at the buzzer against the Jets was in doubt for a few moments as folks from Caribou to Cheshire scanned the field for a flag thanks to a not-necessary-block-from-the-side-but-maybe-almost-the-back by Mack Wilson Sr.

 

It’s amazing to behold when the most maddening ones are cataloged. At least they are to me. Skip on down if you don’t find it fascinating too.

It started Week 1. The first penalty of the year was a neutral-zone infraction on Carl Davis when the Dolphins lined up to go for it on fourth-and-1 at the 50. The drive was extended. Miami kicked a field goal. The next was a false start by Hunter Henry on a third-and-6 (the Patriots converted the third-and-11).

Week 2 in the first quarter against Pittsburgh, they were lined up for a third-and-8 at the Steelers' 15 and they took a delay of game and settled for a field goal. They had a 14-yard gain on a third-and-16 wiped out by an Isaiah Wynn hold. A second-and-7 false start by Wynn at the Steelers' 33 short-circuited a drive that ended with a missed field goal by Nick Folk. In the third, a false start by Michael Onwenu came on a first down immediately after a 25-yard completion to Nelson Agholor. That led to a punt.

In Week 3, Wynn lined up wrong on the third offensive play of the game. He then got called for a hold on second-and-6 at the Ravens 16 and the Patriots settled for a field goal.

Against the Packers in Week 4, Wynn had a mind-blowing false start on Bailey Zappe’s first NFL start with the Patriots first-and-10 at their own 8. He followed that up with a hold on the next play. On a first-and-10 at the Green Bay 20, the Patriots took a delay of game. Zappe followed that with a 25-yard touchdown pass so no harm but, ya know. Myles Bryant later had a third-and-6 defensive holding.

Week 5 against the Lions? False start by Kendrick Bourne at the Detroit 29 on second-and-8. Bourne later had an illegal formation call in the second quarter. On a drive just before the half, Wynn had a hold with first-and-10 at the Detroit 24 and 36 seconds remaining.

Week 6? Trent Brown had a false start on third-and-2 at the Browns 6 on the Patriots' first drive. They settled for a field goal. Carl Davis had an encroachment on a second-and-4. Hunter Henry tacked on a false start in the third on a first-and-10 at the Cleveland 39.  

Against the Bears, Trent Brown drew three flags on the first two drives including a false start on third-and-5. He got called for a trip later.

In the first meeting against the Jets, the Patriots had an illegal formation in the first quarter. They later had too many men on the field after a 22-yard completion gave them first-and-10 at the Jets' 30 just before the half. Cole Strange got called for a hold on first-and-10 at the Jets 12 with 23 seconds left in the half.

 

In Week 9, Daniel Ekuale had a third-and-11 roughing the passer that extended Indy’s first drive. Wynn had a first-and-10 hold at the Colts 32. The Patriots settled for a field goal.

Finally, against the Jets last Sunday, long snapper Joe Cardona had a false start for the second week in a row. On first-and-10 at the Jets' 15, a 5-yard run by Rhamondre Stevenson was wiped out by an illegal formation. The Patriots settled for a field goal. On third-and-2 from the Jets 7 a 3-yard run was wiped out by Yodny Cajuste’s hold. The Patriots missed a field goal. Finally, on second-and-17 from the Jets 29, James Ferentz had a hold that led to another missed field goal.

In all, 21 of their 60 penalties have come on third down.

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Sprinkle in the fact they’ve had 35 (?!?!?!?!) negative offensive plays in their past three games (that does not include penalties) ALL WINS BY THE WAY and it’s not a mystery why they’ve scored two or fewer offensive touchdowns in eight of their 10 games. In four games they had one offensive touchdown. Last week was the first time they didn’t get in the end zone at all.

“I’ve never called a game before but it’s hard to call a game when it’s second-and-5 and the next thing you know it’s third-and-12. Or second-and-5 to second-and-11. We gotta stop hurting ourselves. When we do the right thing and put together a complete game, stay on track, cut down on penalties, that’s a recipe for football," said David Andrews last week.

How does this compare to previous years? In 2021 (including the playoff game), the Patriots had 110 total flags including 39 presnap. They were plus-3 against their opponents (as opposed to the aforementioned -20).

In 2020, they had just 62 accepted penalties (72 overall) and just 18 presnap penalties (compared to 24 so far this year). They were plus-20 in penalties against their opponents.

They were tied for the third-fewest flags in 2019 (111) and had 25 presnap penalties. They had 21 presnap penalties in 19 games in 2019, 111 accepted penalties.

You get the point? Of course you do. The penalty rate would be unacceptable even if they were a potent offense. Which they aren’t. They have enough issues scoring points working against the defense, they have to stop helping out.

Prime time is the right time to clean it up.

Prediction: Patriots 17, Vikings 16