PA­TRI­OTS HAVE MUCH TO CLEAN UP WITH CHIEFS UP NEXT

The Saratogian (Saratoga, NY) - - SPORTS - By KYLE HIGHTOWER AP Sports Writer

De­spite their stel­lar record, the Pa­tri­ots’ is­sues on of­fense have been a re­cur­ring is­sue this sea­son.

The sav­ing grace has been a de­fense that put up his­toric stats in guid­ing New Eng­land to an 8-0 start.

But for the sec­ond time in four games an op­po­nent found a way to score against that once-im­pos­ing unit.

The lat­est set­back, a 28-22 loss to Hous­ton on Sun­day, cost New Eng­land its place atop the AFC. It’s left the Pa­tri­ots with much to clean up on both sides of the ball as they pre­pare to host Kansas City in a re­match of last sea­son’s AFC championsh­ip game.

New Eng­land’s de­fense en­tered Sun­day al­low­ing a league-low 10.6 points per game and lead­ing the NFL with 29 take­aways. It had also al­lowed only four pass­ing touch­downs through 11 games.

The Pa­tri­ots (10-2) didn’t force a turnover on Sun­day, while the Tex­ans ac­counted for four pass­ing scores. The pass­ing TDs were the most that New Eng­land has given up since it al­lowed three in a Week 14 loss at Mi­ami last sea­son.

Mean­while, the Pa­tri­ots are go­ing through their rough­est stretch this sea­son on of­fense.

The Jets, Dol­phins and Bron­cos rank in the bot­tom five in points per game in 2019 but are all av­er­ag­ing more points than New Eng­land (18

ppg) since the start of Novem­ber. Quar­ter­back Tom Brady’s 88.2 passer rat­ing is his low­est since 2013.

The Pa­tri­ots re­main in first place in the AFC East and are tied with Bal­ti­more for the con­fer­ence’s best record. But if both teams end the sea­son with the same record, the Ravens would get the top seed in the play­offs by virtue of their win over New Eng­land on Nov. 3.

Safety Devin McCourty liked the fight the team showed late against Hous­ton af­ter trail­ing 21-3 in the third quar­ter. But he said it means noth­ing with­out a vic­tory.

“Now, play­ing the good teams, you got to ex­e­cute,” he said. “It’s not about just fight­ing and play­ing hard. You got to ex­e­cute.”

Dur­ing his weekly ap­pear­ance on WEEI ra­dio on Mon­day, Brady ac­knowl­edged that there must be bet­ter con­sis­tency on of­fense but said ex­pec­ta­tions must also be re­al­is­tic for a group that’s al­ready faced a lot of ad­ver­sity.

“We not 2-10. We’re 102,” Brady said. “The ex­pec­ta­tions for our team of­ten are at a very high level and I un­der­stand that. But at the same time, I think there’s re­al­is­tic ex­pec­ta­tions with our cir­cum­stances, in­cor­po­rat­ing dif­fer­ent el­e­ments and play­ers and in­juries. And we’re just try­ing to do the best that we can do.”

WHAT’S WORK­ING

New Eng­land got some help from a pas­sive Tex­ans de­fense in the fourth quar­ter, but the Pa­tri­ots did look good in their fi­nal two of­fen­sive drives. Brady led New Eng­land to a pair of touch­downs to give the Pa­tri­ots a chance at a come­back.

WHAT NEEDS HELP

The Pa­tri­ots’ younger re­ceivers were guilty of poor route-run­ning on mul­ti­ple oc­ca­sions, caus­ing Brady to openly dis­play his frus­tra­tion on the side­line. With teams now us­ing dou­ble teams on re­ceiver Ju­lian Edel­man and run­ning back James White, bet­ter pre­ci­sion by younger play­ers such as Phillip Dorsett, Jakobi Mey­ers and N’Keal Harry will be im­per­a­tive for Brady to be able to spread the ball around.

STOCK UP

While White was well­cov­ered for most of the game, he man­aged to lead the team with eight catches for 98 yards and two touch­downs. He also ran for a team-high 79 yards on 14 car­ries. The 177 scrim­mage yards are a ca­reer high.

STOCK DOWN

Kai For­bath didn’t have the best de­but as New Eng­land’s kicker.

The vet­eran con­nected on a 23-yard field goal but went 1 for 2 on ex­tra points. For­bath was signed late last week to re­place Nick Folk, who had to un­dergo an emer­gency ap­pen­dec­tomy.

For­bath is the fourth kicker the Pa­tri­ots have used this sea­son, suc­ceed­ing Stephen Gostkowski (in­jured re­serve), Mike Nu­gent (re­leased af­ter four games) and Folk.

KEY NUM­BER

Brady has gone seven straight games with a passer rat­ing be­low 100. That’s the long­est streak of his ca­reer.

NEXT STEPS

The Pa­tri­ots won two shootouts with the Chiefs last sea­son, us­ing a last-sec­ond field goal to beat them 43-40 dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son and then needed over­time to post a 37-31 vic­tory in the AFC ti­tle game. Kansas City is just as po­tent this sea­son, av­er­ag­ing 29 points per game, which ranks third in the NFL.

DAVID J. PHILLIP - THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots quar­ter­back Tom Brady (12) kneels on the turn af­ter a play dur­ing the sec­ond half of an NFL foot­ball game against the Hous­ton Tex­ans Sun­day, Dec. 1, 2019, in Hous­ton.

DAVID J. PHILLIP - THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

New Eng­land Pa­tri­ots quar­ter­back Tom Brady (12) rolls on the turf af­ter he was sacked dur­ing the sec­ond half of an NFL foot­ball game against the Hous­ton Tex­ans Sun­day, Dec. 1, 2019, in Hous­ton.

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