You could say the Patriots red zone offense was a concern heading into Sunday's game against Baltimore.
New England scored just nine touchdowns on 22 opportunities before Rob Gronkowski returned from offseason surgeries. In the seven games he did play this season, the tight end caught five of eight targets in the red zone for 53 yards and three touchdowns. An ACL tear ended Gronkowski's already brief year Week 14. The Patriots went 1-for-4 in the red zone without him in the following week.
The math is not complicated.
Fortunately for New England, it bucked its own trend against the AFC's best red zone defense. The truly impressive part? Minimal energy was spent thanks to pointed efficiency.
"The one thing yesterday, I think we only had four plays down in the red zone, maybe five, and we had three trips and only four or five plays I think total," offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels noted Monday. "We were fortunate to run it in twice, once on the goal line, and guys did a good job. That’s always a tough situation against a good defense."
The Patriots employed their 250-pound back, LeGarrette Blount, to muscle his way in for the 1-yard touchdown. They then mixed it up, hitting Shane Vereen with a 4-yard scoring pass.
McDaniels seemed most pleased with the offense's final drive. Starting on Baltimore's 48-yard line, the team feasted on the clock by running it on nine straight plays. The offensive line and other essential personnel blocked brilliantly to give Stevan Ridley and Blount lanes to work in.
New England hasn't executed a series like that all season. Which is fine by McDaniels; all he cares about is that the offense can if it needs to.
"Each week in the red area, it’s its own game," he said. "Statistics from the past, they don’t really determine what’s going to happen from one week to the next, they just kind of tell you what happened in the past.
"This is a week to week thing, and we’ve got to do a good job of preparing now for a very good Buffalo defense, and the challenge will be a little different in terms of maybe the scheme or the players this week, but again, if we do a good job then we’ll give ourselves a great chance, and if we don’t and Buffalo executes better than we do, then you could find some struggles. The guys did a good of executing, and they deserve the credit."