If the Patriots could eliminate the third quarter, all would be just about perfect this season.
In three of New England's four losses, the team has either been tied or in the lead. The lone exception was the Miami game, when the Dolphins took a 17-10 lead on a touchdown pass to Jed Weaver with just seven seconds left before halftime.
In all four losses, New England has been trailing by the start of the fourth quarter. To call the third quarter an ugly period would be an understatement because the Patriots have been outscored 69-16 coming out of halftime. New England has only allowed 79 points in the first, second and fourth quarters combined, and it has outscored opponents in each of those periods.
Whatever the reason, the third quarter has been a huge problem area.
"We have talked a lot about the third quarter situation for about the last three or four weeks, and I think everybody on the team is aware of it," Head Coach Bill Belichick said. "We have done some things in practice to try to simulate first quarter, second quarter, third quarter, fourth quarter type things and I have looked into it. I have done a little look at that situation to try to put my finger on exactly what the reason for that is. I can't say that it is any one specific thing. I think it is a combination of things, but the bottom line is that it has not been a productive time for us."
Against Cincinnati in the opener, the Patriots were outscored 13-0. The following week against the Jets, the only touchdown of the game came on the heels of a third quarter fumble by fullback Marc Edwards at the New York 8-yard line. Despite outplaying New York virtually the entire game, the Patriots allowed a 12-play, 92-yard drive that was capped by an 8-yard Curtis Martin run.
In Miami, the Dolphins used the momentum of the Weaver touchdown to take control. They opened the second half with a 13-play drive that ate 7:02 off the clock and resulted in a field goal. Then, on the final play of the quarter a botched snap between Tom Brady and Damien Woody was recovered for a touchdown by Jason Taylor, putting New England in a 27-10 hole heading into the fourth quarter.
"This isn't something that came up last week," Belichick said. "We talked about it early in the year maybe after the Jet game or somewhere in that neighborhood. We did talk a little bit about some halftime things and we had a couple of minor changes there and I don't think that's the problem. The bottom line is that we haven't really fixed the problem. So until we do, it is obviously an area of concern."
Belichick doesn't think it is a case of the team coming out lethargic after the break. Against Denver, the defense got an interception on the Broncos first possession, and it resulted in a field goal for New England. Despite the quick start, the Patriots allowed third quarter touchdowns to Rod Smith and Dwayne Carswell as a 20-10 lead turned into a 24-20 deficit.
"We have had several instances in the third quarter where we have come out and got a defensive turnover and put the offense in good field position," Belichick said. "We haven't always been able to capitalize on that even though we have moved the ball well.
"If I could open a jar and say this is the remedy I would do it. We are aware of it; we are working on it and there isn't any reason why it shouldn't be better."