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Time machine: The how and why of Patriots’ offensive struggles 09.24.14 at 12:15 pm ET
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Tom Brady and the Patriots offense has struggled this season, being ranked 27th in the NFL in terms of overall passing. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Tom Brady and the Patriots offense has struggled this season, being ranked 27th in the NFL in terms of overall passing. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — Through the first three games of the season, the Patriots offense has been nothing like anyone expected.

The offense is ranked 26th in the NFL and 27th when it comes to passing. Why?

Much has been made of Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski receiving the majority of the targets this season, as of Tom Brady‘€™s 115 targets, Edelman and Gronkowski have 51 of them (44 percent).

With the poor play of the offensive line, Brady hasn’€™t had much time to scan the field and look to his second, third and fourth options on most plays, so in turn he’€™s had to get rid of the ball quickly, going to his first read — usually Edelman or Gronkowski.

Over the last two games — according to our count — Brady has had 27 pass attempts where he’€™s taken less than two seconds from the time the ball is snapped until the ball is released from his hand. That’s compared to only 15 passes where he’€™s taken longer than 2.6 seconds. In Week 2 against the Vikings, he averaged 2.06 seconds over his 21 pass attempts, compared to 2.35 seconds in 37 attempts in Week 3 against Oakland.

“€œIt’€™s a chess match that goes back and forth,” Brady said of getting the ball out of his hands quickly against opposing defenses. “€œI’€™m sure it will be this week. [Kansas City has] a lot of good pass rushers. It’€™s not one of those games you want to sit back there and see how long you want to hold onto the ball because they are eventually going to get there.”

Brady is known for getting the ball out of his hands quickly — according to Pro Football Focus, in 2012 he led the NFL with the fastest average release time of 2.47 seconds. Last season, prior to the Denver game in Week 12, Brady was tied for sixth at 2.54.

It should be noted because of some of the plays the Patriots run, like the quick wide receiver screens — which they call a lot of — can throw off some of the release time numbers and bring the average down.

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Read More: Julian Edelman, Patriots offense, Rob Gronkowski, Tom Brady
Tom Brady on Patriots offense: ‘I don’t think anything is perfect out there’ 09.21.14 at 7:41 pm ET
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It hasn't been the start Tom Brady and the offense had hoped for, but it's only Week 3 with plenty of time to make improvements. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

It hasn’t been the start Tom Brady and the offense had hoped for, but it’s only Week 3 with plenty of time to make improvements. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — Finishing with 16 points and only one touchdown against a Raiders defense who allowed a combined 49 points in their first two games of the season, Tom Brady and the offense had a reason to be frustrated with their performance. But, even with its offensive struggles, the Patriots were able to sneak away with a 16-9 win over the Raiders in its home opener Sunday afternoon.

“We had some opportunities there to score more points and we didn’€™t come away with it,”€ Brady said. “We left some chances on the field and certainly scoring opportunities. That’€™s something we’€™re going to have to obviously get a lot better at, so we’€™ll keep working at it.”

The major issue for the Patriots was its red zone efficiency as they ran six plays inside the Oakland’€™s 3-yard line and scored zero touchdowns on those plays. Their lone touchdown of the game was a 6-yard pass to tight end Rob Gronkowski in the second quarter.

New England couldn’€™t find the end zone at the end of the first half when Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen were stopped on consecutive running plays and then on third down the shotgun snap was botched. Then, opening the fourth quarter, Vereen was stopped and Brady threw back-to-back incompletions, intended for Gronkowski and Danny Amendola. Stephen Gostkowski kicked field goals on both occasions and finished with three total in the game.

“€œWe’€™re going to try to keep making improvements,” Brady said. “€œI don’€™t think anything is perfect out there. There are some teams that are playing really well already. We’€™re not really doing that offensively yet. Defensively we played great but it’€™s a team sport. We’€™ve got to handle our business and do our job, whether it’€™s situationally, whether it’€™s scoring when we need to score. Not turning the ball over has been good — I think we’€™ve done a good job of that. We’€™ve just got to score more points. Especially getting down to the red area and having opportunities to score and not being able to do it.”

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Read More: Julian Edelman, Patriots, Tom Brady,
Vince Wilfork’s third career interception secures Patriots win 09.21.14 at 6:49 pm ET
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Vince Wilfork gets congradulated for his third career interception, which sealed the win for the Patriots. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Vince Wilfork gets congratulated for his third career interception, which sealed Sunday’s win for the Patriots. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — With Oakland having first and goal, trailing by seven points with less than a minute to play in the Patriots’ home opener, the defense needed to come up with a big play.

It got that play, but coming from one of the most unlikely of players in that situation — defensive tackle Vince Wilfork.

Oakland quarterback Derek Carr’€™s pass intended for Denarius Moore was deflected by cornerback Logan Ryan back towards the line of scrimmage and Wilfork was there to snag the ball for his third career interception, sealing the Patriots 16-9 victory in its home opener.

“I think it was a team play,” said Wilfork. “Like I said, knowing the situation we were in, it was a three-man rush and the main thing I didn’€™t want to do was get tied up at the line of scrimmage because they had more guys to block. We only had three and they have five and sometimes they keep an extra guy in for them to make sure they have protection, so I just wanted to make sure that I wouldn’€™t get tied up and just read the quarterback. If everybody is going their job, which they were, he’€™d have to either scramble with the ball or come to a check down. And once he came to the check down, I was lucky to have some defenders already there that batted the ball around a little bit and I just happened to catch it.

“€œThe credit doesn’€™t go all to me — the credit goes to the defense. Because without the coverage in the end zone, without the man-to-man coverage we were in, without the bobbled ball, without the two other guys on the line of scrimmage rushing with me, that play probably wouldn’€™t have happened, so that’€™s a great defensive play.”

Wilfork is now the Patriots franchise leader in interceptions by a defensive linemen with three — passing Anthony Pleasant, Richard Seymour and Henry Thomas — who all have two. His last interception also came against the Raiders, back in 2011 in Oakland — a 31-19 Patriots victory.

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Read More: Bill Belichick, Patriots, Vince Wilfork,
Julian Edelman: ‘We have to be more consistent’ 09.21.14 at 5:47 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Julian Edelman is off to a terrific start to the 2014 season, but like the rest of the Patriots offense, he is anything but satisfied.

“We have to be more consistent,”€ Edelman said following Sunday’€™s 16-9 win over the Raiders. “One play I don’€™t run a good route we don’€™t connect, one play something else goes wrong. We have to tighten up the bolts, adjust and be more consistent. I’€™m sure we’€™ll be working on that a lot this week.”

Edelman led the Patriots receiving corps once again with 10 catches for 84 yards on 12 targets. Through three games Edelman has caught 22 of the 28 passes thrown in his direction and has totaled 260 yards in the three games, by far the most among Patriots receivers.

Although he’€™s been productive, he’€™s taken a lot of big hits after plays, forcing him to be limited in practice this week and listed as probable on the injury report with a back injury. Edelman knows it’€™s a long season and he needs to be more cautious when he can.

“I have to play a little smarter, protecting myself a little better with the ball in my hands,”€ he said. “Ball security is No. 1 and you can’€™t get caught up in making a play sometimes. You have to be there for 16 games. Of course it’€™s a rough game, but I definitely have to play a little smarter.”

The sixth-year receiver has now had at least six receptions in his last nine regular season games. It is the longest current streak in the NFL and the longest streak for a Patriots player since Wes Welker had a streak of 10 such games in 2012. Sunday was the fourth regular season game Edelman has finished with 10 or more catches in his career and he’€™s on pace to finish the season with 117 receptions.

Even with the impressive personal accolades, Edelman knows he, as well as the rest of the offense can be better.

“My job is to get open and catch the ball,”€ said Edelman. “Work hard in the run game, make blocks in the run game. There were a few times I didn’€™t do my job. I have to go out this week and try and do my job better. If everyone does their job better, the collective unit will do better. That is what I have to do.”

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Read More: Julian Edelman, Patriots, Patriots offense, Tom Brady
Patriots looking forward to Sunday’s home opener vs. Raiders 09.20.14 at 8:00 am ET
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The Patriots enter Sunday 11-1 in home openers at Gillette Stadium. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

The Patriots enter Sunday 11-1 in home openers at Gillette Stadium. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

FOXBORO — It’€™s no secret the Patriots are one of the most dominant teams in the NFL at home.

Since 2002 New England is 81-15 in the regular season at Gillette Stadium — the best winning percentage (.844) by almost 100 points to the second best team in the NFL — the Ravens at .755. Home openers have also gone in the Patriots favor as since the stadium opened in 2002, they are 11-1 in home openers, winning by an average of 9.2 points.

To no one’€™s surprise, the team is looking forward to Sunday’€™s first game of the season at Gillette Stadium when it hosts the Raiders.

“Honestly, personally I can’€™t wait,” defensive end Chandler Jones said. “I really can’€™t wait to run out of the helmet here at Gillette Stadium — just the feeling that we have playing here at Gillette Stadium is a feeling you can’€™t explain and I can’€™t wait for it.”

Sunday’€™s game will be a special one for running back Stevan Ridley whose dad’€™s favorite team was the Raiders and he has 14 family members coming to town for the game.

“€œMy mom’€™s very excited about it — the family is going to be here so it’€™s going to be an exciting atmosphere coming back to Foxboro and getting in the home stadium,” said Ridley. “€œWe’€™re looking forward to it not being on the road — coming back to New England and playing Patriots football.”

Ridley had a strong game the last time the Patriots faced the Raiders in 2011 when he ran for 97 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries in a 31-19 Patriots victory. The game was played at the O.co Coliseum.

After playing the first two games on the road this season, the team is ready to open its home portion of the schedule.

“€œIt’€™s good when you’€™re at home playing in front of your own fans,”€ Ridley said. “We go to away stadiums and our fans are way up top in the nosebleeds somewhere and you don’€™t really hear them. There is nothing like being here. We know they love the Patriots here. We love playing at home. It’€™s going to be exciting and we just have to start a streak here this year. It doesn’€™t matter what we’€™ve done in the past, let’s get off to 1-0 right here at home.”

Oakland comes into Sunday’€™s game 0-2 — traveling back to the East Coast for a second time in three weeks before going to London after the game for their Week 4 matchup with Miami. Even with the struggles Oakland has had, being outscored 49-28 in the two games, the Patriots are focused on opening the year with a win at home.

“That will be a great statement to get in a win in front of our home crowd and that is our goal, just to get a win,” Jones said.

Read More: chandler jones, Gillette Stadium, Patriots, Stevan Ridley
Chandler Jones: ‘Whenever you can get the ball into [Tom Brady's] hands good things will happen’ 09.17.14 at 5:57 pm ET
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Chandler Jones

Chandler Jones

FOXBORO — Winning the turnover battle is one of the biggest keys to winning each week in the NFL, regardless of the opponent.

Since 2000, the Patriots are 116-12 when winning the turnover battle, compared to 27-37 when they don’€™t. Even further, New England is 97-5 since 2003 when having a plus turnover margin.

The Patriots have won the turnover battle in each of the first two games this season and are tied for the lead the AFC with a plus five turnover differential. They are also tied for second in the entire NFL, with only the Panthers having a better differential at plus six.

“We try and emphasize on just getting the ball,” defensive end Chandler Jones said. “Turnover differential, turnover margin, we just have to win always. We try and get the ball back into our offenses hands and whenever you can get the ball into Tom’€™s hands good things will happen.”

Although Jones didn’€™t have any of the four Patriots turnovers against the Vikings, he did have a monster game. Jones blocked a 48-yard field goal attempt and returned it 58 yards for a touchdown to give New England a 24-7 halftime lead. He also finished the game with eight total tackles and his fifth career two-sack game. For his performance he was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Week.

“Our defense played very well, but there is always room for improvement,” said Jones. “As far as the Player of the Week thing, that’€™s our defense. It’€™s a defensive effort, it’€™s all 11 men on the field. We play hard out there and the biggest thing is moving forward to Oakland.”

The defense enters Sunday’€™s home opener against the Raiders ranked fourth in the NFL in total defense. They will have a chance to build even more confidence as the Raiders come into the game with the second-worst ranked offense in the entire league.

After allowing 33 points in Week 1, the defense rebounded nicely only allowing seven last week against the Vikings, partly because of the team’€™s preparation leading up to the game –€“ something they are already hard at work on getting ready for Week 3 and the Raiders.

“€œI feel like we went out there and we saw the results of buying into what the coaches said and doing our job — executing, paying attention to detail, the little things that coach said trying to dot the I’€™s and cross the T’€™s,” Jones said. “It definitely showed out there when we go out and execute.”

Read More: chandler jones, Patriots defense, Tom Brady,
Stevan Ridley sees ‘drastic’ improvement in Patriots rushing attack 09.17.14 at 4:54 pm ET
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Stevan Ridley

Stevan Ridley

FOXBORO — Sometimes one week can make all the difference in the world.

In Week 1 against the Dolphins the Patriots ran for just 89 yards, only 28 of them coming in the second half as they ran just seven running plays the final 30 minutes of the game. Week 2 against the Vikings was a different story as the team ran for 150 total yards, 96 of them coming in the second half.

Stevan Ridley led the way, rushing for 101 yards on 21 carries.

“We’€™ve improved each week. I think Miami to Minnesota, I think [the offense and offensive line] made a drastic improvement,” Ridley said. “€œWe all keep leaning on each other and relying on each other. I think we’€™re going to be OK towards the end of the year.”

On a personal level, the key for Ridley was staying patient as he only rushed for 29 yards in the first half, but was able to pick it up in the second half against a tired and demoralized Minnesota defense.

“Every back goes out there and wants to take it the distance, but there are going to be times that it’€™s going to be just two yards, three yards and you just have to keep plugging,”€ said Ridley. “You have stay disciplined as a runner and keep your legs moving and falling forward. That’€™s what you have to do to get the tough yardage, eventually they are going to break and you’€™ll get some big runs.”€

Overall, the Patriots rank 16th in the NFL in rushing, this after being ranked 21st following Week 1. Like Ridley said, the Patriots are focused on getting better each week, wanting to reach its peak once December and the end of the season hits.

Ridley isn’€™t the only back who has seen time as Shane Vereen has been a force both in the running game and catching passes out of the backfield. Vereen has 76 yards on 13 carries and has caught six passes for 35 yards. Running the ball effectively and with consistency goes a long way in the Patriots offense as the team is 38-1 when a player runs for 100 yards or more under Bill Belichick.

“It’€™s only Week 3. The first week we struggled and the second week we got it going. There’€™s a lot of football left to be played, so I don’€™t want to jump in front of myself. From week-to-week I see improvement and that’€™s all we can ask for, especially with the group of guys that we have up there. There are some new faces –€“ I think we all know that –€“ but, like I said we’€™re just going in week in and week out showing what we can do,”€ Ridley said. “Eventually, these upcoming weeks, hopefully we will have a balanced attack going into every game and that’€™s what makes us hard [to stop]. The key word is hard work around here and that’€™s what we do.”

Read More: Brandon Bolden, Patriots, Patriots offense, Shane Vereen
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