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Patriots must play a complete game

Tom Brady and the Patriots have given Bill Belichick good first halves, but not much thereafter. Tom Brady and the Patriots have given Bill Belichick good first halves, but not much thereafter. (Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff)
By Shalise Manza Young
Globe Staff / September 25, 2010

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FOXBOROUGH — It was one of the first things Bill Belichick said Monday morning as he recapped his Patriots’ Meadowlands meltdown a day before.

“We’re going to play a full 60-minute game this week.’’

It isn’t a new defensive scheme or a trick play on offense; it’s about as basic a request a coach can make. Play every minute of the game.

Only the Patriots didn’t do it in northern New Jersey last Sunday, and the argument can be made they didn’t do it in their season-opening win over Cincinnati, either.

In the opening half of their first two games, New England outscored its opponents, 38-13. In the final two quarters of those contests, the Patriots were outscored, 39-14.

The trend of opponents taking a second-half advantage began last year when the Patriots couldn’t hold leads against the Jets, Broncos, Colts, and Dolphins — all on the road.

“We have to know how to finish games,’’ nose tackle Vince Wilfork said. “We haven’t been doing a good job of that. That’s one thing we want to get turned around — quick. The faster we get it turned around, the better we’ll be as a team.

“That’s a goal of ours: put 60 minutes together, finish a football game, and play good football.’’

The Bills have had trouble scoring in general, while allowing the Packers to score 13 first-quarter points in a 34-7 loss last weekend. So even though the Patriots may be able to get out to a fast start once again, they need to keep their foot on the accelerator all four quarters.

“It’s a focus because we’re being outscored in the second half in our first two games, so it’s definitely now a point of emphasis that we’re not coming out and playing our best in the second half,’’ linebacker Tully Banta-Cain said. “Definitely the antennas are up this week on coming out — obviously we have to still start strong — but we definitely have to have stronger second halves.’’

The reason for the problems has not been pinpointed, at least not publicly. But Wilfork knows one thing for certain: If the Patriots don’t do the one thing they’re taught from the moment they walk in the door, things will never get better.

“Everything always reverts back to one thing: people doing their jobs,’’ he said. “Sometimes you’re out of position and you’re trying to do too much. Sometimes it can be a couple of things, just small things. But small things turn into big things.

“If we get those things fixed, we’ll be OK.’’

The fixing began in practice this week. While it is impossible to duplicate the urgency of a game situation in practice, that is where things must start.

“You’ve got to prepare in practice, you know, and create a mentality and say whatever part of practice it is, we got to go full tilt, and we get in those situations in practice, toward the end of practice we start working on end-of-game situations, end-of-half situations,’’ Banta-Cain said. “At the end of practice guys are a little bit more tired, so those are the times in practice when you can really work on your focus of being more intense and finishing plays at practice and hopefully that shows up in the game.’’

Because getting a halftime cushion and then hanging on for dear life is a risky way to play the season.

Shalise Manza Young can be reached at syoung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.

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