Patriots change practice schedule to spark offense to faster starts
Stretching ends, and the stations are set.
This is how most every midseason Patriots practice starts, following an opening walkthrough period and warmups. Defenders run through circuits designed to sharpen their fundamentals. Offensive players rotate in position-specific drills.
The purpose of this individualized opening is to build toward team periods, when the Pats will rehearse and refine their 11-on-11 game plans for game day. That is except for this week.
Nowadays, the Patriots are working backwards.
"Lately, we've been going against (each other) doing offense-versus-defense periods right off the bat," Pats wide receiver Damiere Byrd said Thursday. "As soon as we get through warmups. We've been just jumping into practice, jumping into team periods really fast."
The reason behind the Patriots' change goes without saying. Their offense has been slow out of bed on Sundays.
The Pats rank dead last in the NFL in first-quarter points, averaging 1.9 per game. They went the entire first half of the season without scoring an offensive touchdown in the first quarter. Lately, they've been better, but for a 5-6 team fighting for its playoff life, every second is precious on game day.
"We'll keep working on it and see if we can get better results there," Bill Belichick said Wednesday. "We've had a few (fast starts), but not consistently as a team. Not where we need to be or want to be. It'll be important this week. It's important every week."
Even in their latest win, the Patriots were inches away from trailing by 10 at halftime against Arizona. The week before, they fell behind by 11 heading into the locker room at Houston. The climb doesn't figure to be as steep Sunday against the Chargers, who rank 21st in first-half points scored.
But it will be if Cam Newton repeats his passing performance against the Cardinals; a game where a defensive goal-line stand kept the Pats within reach in the first half and then a stellar special teams showing in the second was enough to save their postseason hopes for one more week.
"It's always important to start fast and set the tone in the game. And that's what the coaches have kind of been focusing in on," Newton said. "Starting fast and staying in on the pace — or the standard — that we know we can keep."