The New England Patriots are not a bad team. They have a lot of talent, an elite head coach and a top 10 defense. So, why are they 0-2 to begin the 2023 NFL season?
Well, one reason is they've played two very good opponents in the Philadelphia Eagles and Miami Dolphins. But perhaps the primary reason why the Patriots are winless is their inability to make enough winning plays late in close games.
The Patriots are 0-2 in one-score games to begin the campaign. They did well to erase 16-0 first quarter deficit in Week 1 but couldn't score on two possessions late in the fourth quarter. Both of them resulted in a turnover on downs in a 25-20 loss to the Eagles. The Patriots had a chance to tie the score in Week 2 but a late fourth quarter drive again ended with a turnover on downs. The Dolphins escaped with a 24-17 victory.
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There were plenty of positive signs from the Patriots in both games. But there's little time for moral victories when you have the league's toughest schedule and play in one of the most competitive divisions in the sport.
How concerned should fans be about the team's inability to win close games?
It's definitely a worrying trend.
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Since the Patriots selected starting quarterback Mac Jones in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft, they are 7-9 in one-score games.
Three of those wins are against the New York Jets (twice) and Houston Texans. The Patriots have actually lost five of their last six one-score games. The only win during that span came against a Dolphins offense that didn't have star quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and instead started backup Teddy Bridgewater late last season.
Here's the full list of one-score games in the Jones era.
There isn't one consistent theme in these losses, just a combination of different mistakes. Fumbles in the red zone cost the Patriots in a Week 1 loss to the Dolphins in 2021 and a Week 16 defeat to the Bengals in 2022.
The Patriots got the ball first in overtime against the Cowboys in 2021 and Packers in 2022 and punted both times. The ensuing possession saw the opponent kick a game-winning field goal.
The Patriots could have beaten Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers early in the 2021 campaign but settled for a late field goal and missed another on their last two possessions. A Thanksgiving loss to the Minnesota Vikings saw the Patriots get outscored 10-0 in the fourth quarter despite having four drives.
And then, of course, there was the horrendous lateral play in Las Vegas last season that resulted in a loss to the Raiders.
One of the major differences between the Brady-led Patriots and Jones-led Patriots is winning one-score games. In the final 10 seasons of Brady's career in New England, the Patriots had a 52-29 record in one-score games, including the playoffs. They never had a losing record in those games during a single season and had just two .500 seasons.
With Jones, the Patriots are on track to have a losing record in one-score games over his first three seasons.
The Patriots offense hasn't played poorly in the fourth quarter with Jones as the QB. They ranked No. 3 in fourth-quarter scoring at 9.6 points per game in 2021. They ranked 20th in 2022 at 5.6 fourth-quarter points per game, and they are tied for fourth in 2023 with 10 fourth-quarter points per game.
The problem has been the last couple drives. If you look at the 16 games that have been decided by one score since Jones was drafted, the Patriots have scored just four offensive touchdowns on their final two possessions of the fourth quarter. That's four TDs in 32 possessions. They also have four turnovers and four field goals during those 32 drives.
It's this lack of finish that's costing the Patriots wins, and in an AFC that promises to be ultra competitive for playoff spots, even one blown game could be the difference between postseason football and spending most of January on the couch.