FOXBOROUGH — One problem for the Patriots offense reared its ugly head again in Sunday’s 30-27 loss to the Jets: third-down failures.
For the second time this season, the Patriots converted just 1 of 12 opportunities. The first time the offense was 1 of 12 was in Cincinnati, where it failed to score a touchdown for the first time since 2009, and the Patriots lost.
Against the Jets, half of the Patriots’ third-down tries were 6 yards or more.
“We’re putting ourselves in too many third-and-longs, and obviously not doing anything on third down is forcing us to be off the field and not able to establish a balance in the run game and the pass game,” Tom Brady said during his weekly appearance on WEEI.
“We have got to be better on third down, we’ve got to be able to complete passes on third down . . . that’s the name of the game.”
Of the 12 chances, the Patriots called for a run on just two, both on third and 1; there were nine pass plays, with the one completion coming in the fourth quarter, and Brady was strip-sacked for a 4-yard loss on the remaining attempt, although the Patriots recovered the ball.
“We just didn’t do a good enough job,” coach Bill Belichick said. “The league average in those situations is a lot higher than what we were. They’re not impossible situations . . . they’re hard to get [but] you have to get some of them, too.
“The ones that we had better opportunities on, the short-yardage situations, including the third and 1, twice we couldn’t make those either. We came back and made the fourth and 1 [in the second quarter], but we just didn’t do things well enough to get the yardage.”
Though they beat the Jets in Week 2, the Patriots struggled in that game as well, and over the two games were a combined 5 for 30 on third downs.
On the season, New England is 35 for 105 (33.3 percent). The league average through the first seven weeks (minus the Monday night Giants-Vikings game) is 38.3 percent.
The struggles are “a combination of a lot of things. We have to coach better, we have to block better, we have to throw and catch better,” Belichick said. “We have to just execute the plays in the passing game and the running game.
“From a coaching standpoint, we have to do a better job there, too, I’d say all across the board.
“I couldn’t point to one [thing], it wasn’t the same problem on every play, but the results weren’t anywhere near good enough, what they need to be.”
Rob Gronkowski made his long-awaited return Sunday, and played roughly two-thirds of the snaps (49 of 76). The tight end ended the day with eight catches for 114 yards, though he was targeted 17 times by Brady.
“I think Rob did some good things; obviously he hasn’t played in a while,” Belichick said. “I’m sure with more playing time and practice time he’ll improve. I thought he competed well and definitely gave us some plays.”
Gronkowski had not played that much in 11 months, since initially breaking his troublesome left forearm against the Colts last November.
Belichick said the team managed Gronkowski’s snaps by keeping him in certain personnel groups and also by watching him on the sideline and field, and talking to him about when he needed a break.
“It was definitely good to have him back on the field,” Aaron Dobson said. “He brings a lot to the table. It was definitely a great feeling knowing that he’d be back and be able to help us on the offensive end.”
Dobson added that it was easy to see how Gronkowski’s presence opens things up for other receivers, since he is a big, attention-drawing target in the middle of the field.
Out of position
Patriots defensive players know that when playing a quarterback who can scramble as effectively as he passes, it’s key to keep him contained.
That didn’t happen in the third quarter Sunday when the Jets’ Geno Smith ran for an 8-yard touchdown to give his team a 24-21 lead, and in the locker room Monday, defensive lineman Rob Ninkovich took full responsibility for the error.
“On that play that he scrambled for the touchdown, there’s a big step-up lane there for him. That’s on me; that’s my fault,” Ninkovich said. “I shouldn’t have tried to take a shot there in the red zone, trying to run around the [blocker].
“You’ve got to realize that you have a quarterback that can scramble and run the ball, so you’ve got to slow down a little bit, unfortunately.”
Ninkovich tried to run around right tackle Austin Howard and get to Smith from the backside, but left a large gap for Smith, which he took advantage of for the touchdown.
“It’s tough — with a guy that can run, as a defensive lineman it’s our job to keep him in the pocket but it’s also our job to get pressure and not let him be comfortable back there,” Ninkovich said. “You’ve got to kind of play both sides of that; you have to rush hard to where you’re trying to get pressure on him but also you have to rush smart.”
Ninkovich went on to say that Smith’s third-and-14 conversion run two plays before the touchdown was because of miscommunication between himself and Chandler Jones.
Neblett gone again
The Patriots released DL Andre Neblett on Monday for the second time this month. Neblett was active against the Jets, playing six snaps on defense and a handful on special teams. New England now has one open spot on the 53-man roster . . . Being teammates with Brady has some tangible privileges: There were two UGG boxes at every players’ locker on Monday. Brady is a spokesman for the shoe and boot maker . . . The Patriots held the ball for just 23:40 against the Jets, their lowest time of possession in nearly two years. In their Week 8 loss in Pittsburgh in 2011, their time of possession was 20:38.Shalise Manza Young can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.