The New England Patriots have gotten into the end zone on just 35 percent of their red zone drives this season, better than only the Jaguars in the NFL. The Patriots scored a touchdown on a league-best 70 percent of drives inside the 20 last season.
One possession on Sunday exemplifies the problem: The Patriots faced first and goal from the Bengals’ 1-yard line but failed to punch one in the end zone. Here’s the sequence of events:
• First down: LeGarrette Blount rush, no gain
• Second down: Pass to OL Nate Solder (incomplete)
• Third down: Jump ball to 5-foot-10 receiver Julian Edelman (incomplete)
Why the struggles? Here are four factors that explain how the Patriots have gone from first to worst in red zone efficiency:
• Tom Brady: He has completed just 42.9 percent of his red zone attempts this season, which would rank as a career low. Brady hasn’t finished under 50 percent inside the red zone since 2002 (47.5 percent).
• Rookie receivers: Brady is 4 of 15 (26.7 percent) targeting Kenbrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson, Josh Boyce and Zach Sudfeld in the red zone this season. Brady is 8 of 12 (66.7 percent) targeting all other Patriots.
• Rob Gronkowski: Gronk has been Brady’s most-targeted receiver in red zone since the start of 2010 (58), catching 69 percent of his targets. Gronkowski, who has missed the first five games of the season with forearm and back injuries, has an NFL-high 29 receiving touchdowns in the red zone during that time.