FOXBOROUGH — A week after lamenting his team’s inability to score touchdowns when it gets into the red zone, and pointing to it as a reason the Patriots had lost their previous two games, Tom Brady was clearly pleased Wednesday with the offense’s performance inside the 20 in Buffalo on Sunday.
The Patriots scored five touchdowns in their six red-zone chances against the Bills, helping key a second-half comeback, an impressive output for an offense that had been 6 for 12 in its first three games.
It wasn’t just that the Patriots were effective inside the 20, it was the manner in which they were that Brady liked.
“We ran the ball in, which is always the best way to score touchdowns,” he said. “I think a lot of times defensively they don’t want you to run it in. They say, ‘Make them throw it in,’ because when you’re throwing the ball there are really tight spaces. If you’re on the 5-yard line you’ve got 22 guys on the field within 20 yards of each other, so the spaces are tight. It requires really tight throws and great catches.”
Four of those five touchdowns in Buffalo were rushing scores: Stevan Ridley on a 6-yard carry in the first quarter; Brady’s 4-yard keeper in the third; Ridley from the 2 in the fourth quarter; and Brandon Bolden from the 7, also in the fourth.
The touchdowns were part of a 247-yard rushing day for New England, with Bolden and Ridley each going over 100 yards.
Seven of the Patriots’ 11 red-zone touchdowns have come on the ground. Against the Titans in Week 1, all of the offense inside the 20 came from Ridley, who had gains of 5 and 14 yards before scoring from a yard.
“A lot of times handing it off is the best way, and we had a few rushing touchdowns last week, which were huge,” Brady said. “We ran the ball well in the red area, too, so when you can do that and stay on track and not get behind on down and distance, you’re going to be a pretty good red-area team.
“It’s just that I don’t think we were that way the first three weeks of the year.”
The Patriots went 2 for 4 in the red zone against Tennessee, getting into the end zone in their first two opportunities, and getting Stephen Gostkowski field goals in the third and fourth.
Their poorest showing was against Arizona in Week 2. New England had just three trips inside the Cardinals’ 20 in the home opener, taking another short field goal from Gostkowski, a passing touchdown to Rob Gronkowski, and then Gostkowski’s game-ending miss. The Patriots had been pushed back behind the 20 on a Gronkowski false start, and the first-and-15 play that followed lost a yard.
While the Patriots did put points on the board in each of their five trips against Baltimore in Week 3, only three were touchdowns. In a game lost by a point, scoring a touchdown on even one of the possessions that ended in field goals would have made the difference.
There were few issues against the Bills as the Patriots came back from a 21-7 third-quarter deficit.
Brady knows that has to continue, particularly on Sunday against the Broncos. Denver is middle-of-the-pack when it comes to total offense, but Peyton Manning & Co. are slightly better at finding the end zone from the red area (9 for 14, fifth in the NFL).
The last five times Brady has faced Manning, the games were decided by 5 points or fewer. Which means every red-zone opportunity must be taken advantage of.
“We’ve shown flashes of pretty good football,” Brady said. “I think it was a pretty big part of it last weekend, and scoring. We really capitalized on the opportunities that we got there in the second half from the defense turning the ball over for us that we didn’t get in the first half.”
The defense got two turnovers in the opening 30 minutes, which gave the offense the ball inside Buffalo territory, and the unit failed to reach the red zone on either.
That was not the case for three second-half turnovers: two were turned into touchdowns and the third a field goal, New England’s only red-zone opportunity of the game that did not result in 7 points.
Brady wants to see more consistency in all areas of the offense.
“It’s really our inconsistency that’s leading to us not scoring points, whether in the first half of that [Bills] game or the first half of the Arizona game. If we play well, we can move the ball, we can get the ball in the end zone,” he said. “If we don’t play well, if we don’t do our job the way that people expect us and our coaches expect us to, we’re not going to score points. If you don’t score points you’re not going to win the game.
“I think that’s a big point of emphasis: our consistency, our consistency in practice. If you can make the play once, you should be able to make it twice and three times and four times, or else it’s a concentration issue. We’re trying to get better at that in practice and see if it can carry over into a 60-minute game, because I think that’s what we’re really going to need this week.”