It’s hard to run out of a deficit, but it’s just as hard to run without the football.
Both of those sentiments carried weight in the New England Patriots’ 26-21 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday. The first quarter at Lambeau saw Green Bay get out to a 13-0 lead, and by halftime it was a 23-14 one. And while the Patriots held the Packers out of the end zone on four trips into the red zone during the Week 13 game, the Patriots were unable to scratch beyond a two-point deficit at any one point in the second half.
Scratching for the ball was enough.
“Truthfully, we didn’t run many plays. I think that’s a big issue,” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said on WEEI’s Dennis & Callahan Tuesday morning. “We were talking about that yesterday – we’re always trying to find our balance offensively. And when you play from behind the whole game, it’s hard sometimes to find your balance, especially when your play count is in the mid-50s.”
New England’s offense accounted for 54 plays; Green Bay’s accounted for 70.
“We’ve had plenty of games, even against the Colts or against Detroit the last few weeks, where we were in the high-80s, Brady said. “So when you’re in the high-80s, you can run it, a lot. You can run it 35-40 times.”
The Packers may have not been in the 80s against the Patriots’ defense, yet Green Bay managed to run the ball 26 times for 126 yards.
Coming off a week in which the Patriots gained 90 rushing yards on 20 carries versus a Lions defense allowing 68 rushing yards per game, New England managed to run the ball 17 times for 85 yards and a touchdown versus a Packers defense allowing 136 yards per game.
Those numbers can be deceiving, however.
“There’s a misconception that there is this 30th-ranked rush defense that they have,” Brady said of the Packers. “Yeah, that’s where their ranking was. But they were up 50 points at home against Carolina, against Chicago, and those teams were running it in the third quarter and fourth quarter, and gaining like 12 or 15 yards a carry when the game didn’t matter.”
Sunday’s game still mattered when reserve halfback Brandon Bolden picked up a 12-yard run, and the 250-pound LeGarrette Blount picked up two powerful 13-yard runs. Yet while those glimpses left the impression that more could have been had, nine other glimpses resulted in three yards or less.
There wasn’t much ground for error between them.
“When your play count is in the mid-50s, you’re really losing the whole game. And the reason why that is, is because we didn’t convert on the first two third downs of the game. We were 3rd-and-1 and we didn’t get it, and then we were 3rd-and-5 and we gained four and a half.”
The Patriots were 4-of-10 on third down; the Packers were 10-of-17. And by the time it was over and both sides had reached 9-3, Green Bay had held possession for 36:36, while New England had done so for 23:25.
That disparity wasn’t conducive to the run game, nor was it conducive to winning the game.
“We were off the field,” Brady said. “Up until five minutes left in the second quarter, we had the ball for five minutes.”