FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — When the second half starts, the New England Patriots stumble.
It happened last season and it happened again in the first two games this season. They’ve had about as much success explaining it as they’ve had trying to fix it.
“We just didn’t do well enough,” coach Bill Belichick said. “If there were some switch, I would flip it.”
Nothing he tried solved the problem in Sunday’s 28-14 loss at the New York Jets. At halftime, the Patriots led 14-10 with a 211-140 advantage in yards gained. In the last two quarters, they were outscored 18-0, outgained 196-80 and committed all three of their turnovers.
A week earlier, they beat Cincinnati 38-24. But in the second half, the Bengals outscored them 21-14 and outgained them 272-128, although the Patriots played softer defense with a 24-3 halftime lead.
Still, after an offseason of organized team activities, minicamps and training camp, the second-half problems of last year are still around. But Tom Brady didn’t see a connection.
“It’s a different team. It’s a different game,” the quarterback said. “I wouldn’t say it had anything to do with last year. It’s an entirely different team. We just couldn’t sustain anything. Like I said, we couldn’t connect on anything. We had a hard time running the ball and it’s very uncharacteristic.”
Of the Patriots’ six losses last year, they led at halftime in four of them. Counting all 16 games, they enjoyed a 282-136 scoring advantage in the first half but trailed 146-145 in the second and 3-0 in overtime.
The Patriots now have played three consecutive regular-season games in which they were outscored in the second half. In last year’s finale, they lost to the Houston Texans 34-27 after being tied 13-13 at halftime and leading 20-13 after three quarters.
One similarity between the two seasons is the replacement of veteran defensive leaders with talented, but unproven youth.
Through the 2008 season, whenever the defense faltered the Patriots had vocal players such as safety Rodney Harrison and linebacker Tedy Bruschi to energize their teammates and make the proper adjustments. But they retired before last season, taking with them a combined 28 years of NFL experience.
Now fourth-year safety Brandon Meriweather and third-year linebacker Jared Mayo are two players who have emerged as potential playmakers.
But, like their teammates, they did little to stop the Jets once they got rolling behind Mark Sanchez. The second-year quarterback led his team to two touchdowns and a field goal on its first five possessions of the second half, then helped run out the clock when Brady fumbled with 4:06 left in the game.
“I think when it comes down to these second-half games and our level of toughness, we’ve got to go out there and play tougher,” Brady said. “I have to do a better job of leading this team and certainly execute better when it’s crunch time.”
Next up is the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium on Sunday. They’ve played poorly in losing their first two games but were the opponent in last year’s opener when the Patriots did play well at the end, scoring two touchdowns in the last 2:06 for a 25-24 win at home.
That was the 29th and, so far, last time Brady has led New England to victory after trailing or being tied in the fourth quarter.
“We will get back to the drawing board and, hopefully, take our frustration out on each other during the week and see how the ball rolls against Buffalo,” wide receiver Randy Moss said.
The Patriots suffered another setback in the second half Sunday when running back Kevin Faulk left with about 13 minutes to go after being knocked out of bounds following an 8-yard gain. Belichick said Faulk underwent tests Monday and gave no further information.
The Patriots did have a highlight-reel play on Sunday. That, of course, came in the first half when Moss made a one-handed catch for a 34-yard touchdown with 53 seconds left that allowed New England to take a 14-10 lead at intermission.
“It was a terrific catch,” Belichick said, “but I think we’ve seen that play in practice probably a dozen times.”
Darrelle Revis, covering Moss on the play, strained his hamstring and sat out the rest of the game. But Moss had no catches in the second half.
“The Jets handled adversity the right way and we handled it the wrong way,” Moss said.