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Does the double-score strategy really work for Patriots?

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The Patriots set up a double-score vs. the Colts on Oct. 18 when they won the coin toss and elected to kick off, then scored immediately before and after halftime.
The Patriots set up a double-score vs. the Colts on Oct. 18 when they won the coin toss and elected to kick off, then scored immediately before and after halftime.John Minchillo

It's a staple of the Patriots lexicon: The double-score.

At times this season, it seemed as if New England owned a trademark on the formula of winning a coin flip, electing to defer, scoring in the final seconds of the first half, and then turning the opening kickoff of the second half into more points. The Patriots followed that script with notable frequency.

The Patriots had four instances this season where they scored in the final 30 seconds of the first half, then took the kickoff to open the third quarter and marched down the field for more points. Their record in those contests was 4-0.

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The game-changing ability to bookend halftime with a pair of scoring plays ranked among the top showings by a football team in recent years. Not since 2011, when the Patriots had five double-scores, had a team accumulated more in one season.

Most double-scores, 2011-2015
Team Double-scores Record
Patriots 12 12-0
Broncos 8 8-0
Packers 7 5-2
Saints 9 6-3
Chargers 8 7-1
SOURCE: Alex Speier

Of course, the Patriots were likewise in position to record more double scores than any other team in the NFL this season. Thanks to their longstanding preference to defer rather than receive the opening kickoff when winning the pregame coin flip, New England received the second-half kickoff 13 times in 2015, most in the NFL.

This year marked the second straight in which New England led the league in second-half kickoffs received — the Patriots opened the second half with the ball 13 times in the 2014 season, tied for the most in the NFL.

Still, the amount of separation isn't as gaping as one might anticipate. The Browns, for instance, have received the second-half kickoff 25 times over the last two years. In 2013, the Bills received the second-half kickoff in 15 of 16 games, most since at least 2008.

In other words, New England is far from alone in its desire to come out of halftime with the ball in pursuit of a double-score. That said, the Patriots' long-term commitment to opening the second half with the ball becomes apparent over a broader timespan. Over the last five years, the Patriots have received the ball to open the second half 60 times (out of a possible 80), an average of exactly 12 per season. No other team has opened the second half with the ball more than 53 times in that period.

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Of course, it's one thing to create opportunities to double-score. It's another thing to do it. The Buccaneers, after all, have opened the second half with the ball 53 times since 2011. They've followed a score in the final minute of the first half with a scoring drive to open the second just twice.

The contrast with the Patriots is noteworthy. New England has 12 double-scores since 2011. No other team has more than nine. Given their success in converting double-scoring opportunities into a pair of scoring drives, and their perfect 12-0 record when doing so, the Patriots' interest in opening the second half with the ball seems self-apparent.

Most double-scores in a season, 2011-2015
Year Team Double-Scores Record
2011 Patriots 5 5-0
2015 Patriots 4 4-0
2015 Giants 4 0-4
2013 Broncos 4 4-0
SOURCE:

Yet even when they fail to convert a double-score, New England's record when "single-scoring" (posting points either in the final minute of the first half or the opening drive of the second) is still better than its mark when kicking off to open the third quarter. Over the last five years, the Patriots are 22-5 (.815) in games where they a) have the first possession of the second half and b) score either just before the end of the first half or when marching down the field after halftime.

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They're 14-6 (.700) in all games where they receive the game-opening kickoff and then have to send their defense onto the field for the start the second half.

Patriots record when ...
Situation Record
Receiving second half kickoff 47-13 (.783)
Double-scoring 12-0 (1.000)
Single-scoring 22-5 (.815)
Start 3rd quarter by scoring 12-3 (.800)
End 2nd quarter by scoring 10-2 (.833)
Not scoring in double-score situation 13-8 (.619)
Not receiving second half kickoff 14-6 (.700)
SOURCE: Alex Speier

The reasons for the relationship between double-scoring and winning are likely obvious. If a team is moving the ball well enough to score in consecutive possessions in the middle of the game, even after halftime adjustments, it's a likely harbinger of game-long success. Receiving the ball to open the second half also has the potential additional benefit of a longer break for the defense coming out of halftime, thus providing some theoretical benefit to slowing opposing offenses in the second half.

The 2015 Patriots gave hints of both traits. In games where they double-scored, their offense dominated both halves, averaging 17.5 points in the first half and 18.0 points in the second half. The defense, meanwhile, allowed 30 percent fewer points in the second half (5.8) than the first (8.3) in double-score games.

In games where the Patriots did not double-score, somewhat surprisingly, their offensive performance remained relatively unaltered before and after halftime, averaging 13.8 points in the first half and 13.2 points in the second half.

But perhaps owing to a less substantial break surrounding halftime, the defense saw its second-half performances nosedive when the offense did not end the second quarter and start the third with scoring drives. The Patriots gave up just 7.8 points per game in the first half of contests where they did not double-score – but then yielded 13.8 points per game (a 78 percent increase) after halftime.

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It's hard to say exactly what related to double-scores is cause and what is effect. Nonetheless, there's a fairly obvious conclusion to be drawn that when the Patriots score on both sides of the halftime intermission, they're exceedingly difficult to beat.

This season's Patriots managed the trick just once in the final 11 weeks of the season, a marker of how the team's offensive infrastructure had crumbled. The sputtering conclusion of the first half of the Jets game on Dec. 27, for instance, when the Patriots seemed content to run out the clock on a drive that started with 1:53 left, pointed to an offense that was a shell of itself.

If looking for evidence of whether the Patriots offense is back at something approximating full strength against the Chiefs in the division playoff game on Saturday, the minutes immediately before and after halftime may tell a nearly complete story.


Follow Alex Speier on Twitter at @alexspeier.