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Patriots still looking to get off to better starts

By Monique Walker
Globe Staff / November 23, 2011
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The answer to the stretch of slow starts plaguing the Patriots doesn’t seem to rest in any one area.

But everyone believes it is a problem that needs to be solved.

The Patriots have not a scored a touchdown in the first quarter since Oct. 9 against the New York Jets. And in three of their last four games, they have been shut out in the first 15 minutes.

Against the Chiefs Monday night, the Patriots were held scoreless in the first quarter and punted on three of their first four possessions. The other possession ended with a fumble.

“We have to do a better job of starting the game with better plays, with better execution,’’ said offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien. “Before we go any further, you really have to give Romeo [Crennel] and Kansas City, the defense there, a lot of credit. They came in and played a really good game. They came in and did some things that were really good against what we were doing.

“We have to continue to go out and execute and have good plays and have good practices and start the game faster. I believe we adjusted well during the game in the first half, in the first quarter going into the second quarter. And then, obviously, in the second half we played better. We just have to start faster.’’

This scenario is something different for the Patriots, who outscored each of their first six opponents in the first half. That stretch includes the Week 3 loss to Buffalo that was riddled with turnovers that led to a mighty comeback by the Bills.

But since facing the Cowboys Oct. 16, the Patriots have struggled to find much of an offensive rhythm. Even with a defense that has been ripped with injuries and shaken by changes, the slow starts have been manageable.

The defense is making up the difference. After shutting out the Giants and Jets in the first quarter in back-to-back weeks, the Patriots stumped the Chiefs in the red zone and held them to a field goal in the first quarter.

By the time the Patriots are able warm up, there isn’t a large deficit to erase.

But the slow-start trend can’t continue, quarterback Tom Brady said yesterday during his contractually obligated weekly appearance on WEEI.

“Our execution early on wasn’t very sharp,’’ said Brady. “We just weren’t on the same page collectively as a group. I thought once we settled into the game and got to the stuff we felt really good about, we did a much better job of executing, and that produces points.

“Early on it was just tough. They threw a lot of different stuff at us and we were just out of sorts. But I thought we responded well in the second half.’’

It is a problem the Patriots will want to improve before facing the Eagles Sunday.

Despite the slow starts, the Patriots have gone into halftime either tied or holding a lead in every game but one - when the Steelers led, 17-10, and went on to claim a 25-17 victory. The only tie was 0-0 with the Giants three weeks ago in a game that ended in a 24-20 loss for the Patriots.

“We got off to a slow start, not the start we wanted to get off to, but like every game, we find our way and we were able to get into a rhythm,’’ said guard Brian Waters. “Defense did a great job keeping them out of the end zone and causing turnovers, and special teams turned up big.

“This was a team effort; when we don’t start off well, the rest of the team helps out until we can get back in the game.’’

After Monday’s game, coach Bill Belichick said he will continue to emphasize ways to fix the problem.

“If I knew exactly what to do, we would have already fixed it,’’ Belichick said. “We have to work harder on it. We’ve just got to do a better job of coaching and getting off to a better start, play calling and execution.’’

Monique Walker can be reached at mwalker@globe.com.

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