If you've paid close attention to the Patriots offense this season, you may have noticed a trend.
When they go no-huddle, they tend to score – a lot; when they don't, they don't.
In the first four games, they went no-huddle early and often and put up more than 30 points each time. The following four games, the no-huddle frequency decreased along with their scoring output – 30 points or fewer in each of those contests.
Against the New York Jets, the Patriots used more no-huddle looks and, viola! – they scored 30 again (Rob Ninkovich's pick-six on defense doesn't count in this point total).
So, why the departure from an approach that's so seemingly effective?
"To me, it's more about the execution and the tempo of the game. I think if we execute well, whether we huddle or whether we don't huddle, we're going to be able to score points," quarterback Tom Brady rationalized.
"Sometimes when you go out there and you try no-huddle and it doesn't work, you go 'We're not doing that anymore, let's go back to huddling.' Then you guys [in the media] say, 'You guys didn't do much no-huddle this game.' And [we're] saying, 'Well there's a reason, because it wasn't working. If it works, you stay with it. If it doesn't work, you move on."
Brady added that the most challenging aspect of running the no-huddle is execution. Being precise at such a quick pace can lead to confusion and mistakes, which he says explains why the offense seemed to depart from the no-huddle for a stretch this season.
"The times that we've done it well, we've strung together a bunch of plays which has really allowed us to get the ball into the scoring area. It's hard to overcome penalties in those situations and we have opportunities to complete passes and we don't hit them. There are definitely things that are good about it and there are things that haven't been so good. We're trying to do the things that we've done well and try to do those more often."
When the Patriots have taken a deliberately slow approach pre-snap, it is to try to figure out exactly how opposing defenses are attempting to foil them.
But, as Brady pointed out, there's a difficulty in the take-your-time method as well.
"You're trying to get everybody on the same page. If I'm doing one thing and the offensive line is thinking another or the running back is thinking something different from the two of us, then that's where it gets challenging. I really think that at times we've done a pretty good job of that this year, especially on the road where the communication is much more difficult. At home it's relatively easy because even if I'm in the shotgun, they can hear pretty much everything I'm saying."
There's also the risk that you're giving the defense time to adjust to any countermoves the offense is trying to make.
"Yeah, it does. So they say, 'Let's disguise, let's disguise,' and I go up and say, 'Blue go,' and the ball is snapped and now they have a guy totally out of position," Brady continued. "There's a fine line between what you're doing and if we feel that it's going to be a big disguise game, then you have a lot of quick counts.
"Ultimately, if they're showing what you're doing, then you take your time. That's just the cat-and-mouse that goes on all day long especially with good defenses and good secondaries. You could have one guy that's trying to disguise but if nobody else is, that makes no sense."
How often, then, do the Patriots go into a game with the idea that they'll try to run more no-huddle drives?
"It all depends. It depends on what we think that we're going to get," said Brady. "It depends what we think of the other defense – how they'll be able to handle it. It depends on a lot of factors. I don't think we go in there and say 'We're not going to run no-huddle this week.' I think there's times we may say 'We may run it, we may not, we'll see how the game goes.' When you get into two-minute situations, you're definitely in no-huddle. It's just part of a carryover from that group for us. Really it's no-huddle, but you have a little bit more time when you're not really in a two-minute situation."
The Patriots activated rookie offensive lineman to the 53-man roster this week, completing his remarkable comeback from cancer treatments earlier this year.
When stopped in the locker room today, he talked briefly to reporters, but didn't give much different answers than when he spoke a few weeks ago after coming off the non-football injury list (NFI).
He again insisted that not playing football this year never entered his mind, and that he's been leaning on teammates for support as he works his way back into football shape.
"I talk to everybody on the team, everybody's helping me out. I'm taking what they tell me and doing the best I can with it," Cannon remarked.
Before the locker room opened to the media, Gillette Stadium's other tenant, Major League Soccer's New England Revolution, held a press conference to introduce their new head coach – former Revs star Jay Heaps.
To show his support for the team and its new boss, Patriots placekicker Stephen Gostkowski came into the locker room wearing a customized Revs jersey, with his last name and number three on the back. Gostkowski and Heaps are good friends.
How the Gronk saved Christmas
How'd you like to spend Christmas Eve with Rob Gronkowski?
The second-year tight end is raffling off an opportunity for you to do just that. Partnering with an organization called Celebrities for Charity, Gronk is giving fans a chance to attend the Patriots game against Miami that afternoon, then hang with him afterward. The winner will even receive some surprise gifts from Gronk.
Tickets can be purchased at NetRaffle.org.
"Just buy a couple of raffle tickets and you could win Christmas … yup, Christmas with me, baby!" Gronkowski explained excitedly to reporters today.
"Someone brought it up to me," he said of the idea, "and I've seen other NFL players do it, and I just thought it was a cool idea. It's just a little cool thing to give back to the fans … I love doing."
For details on today's Patriots practice, please visit the PFW blog.