Sports

Patriots must improve at finishing the job

FOXBOROUGH — If his words Wednesday are any indication, Tom Brady remains frustrated with the Patriots being 1-2, particularly how they finished in those two losses.

Late Sunday night, after the Ravens saw a 27-yard field goal slip barely inside the right upright to seal a come-from-behind win, Brady remarked, “We just don’t play well when we need to. Certainly we’ve got to play our best when it means the most, and we need to start winning close games.”

The Patriots lost to Baltimore by a point, and a week earlier their loss to Arizona came by 2 points. Last season, their four losses — in Super Bowl XLVI and three regular-season games — were by a combined 19 points. Only their 25-17 defeat in Pittsburgh Oct. 30 was by more than a touchdown.

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Against the Ravens, Brady got the ball with New England up by 2 points with four minutes to play. The offense needed to kill off the clock, or at least get into field goal range and go up by 5.

The Patriots did take two minutes off the clock, but got only to their 49-yard line, unable to take advantage of both an illegal contact penalty on third down and an unsportsmanlike conduct call that pushed them forward 15 yards.

Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco got the ball with two minutes to go and one timeout, and the Patriots defense didn’t make enough stops.

On Wednesday, Brady was asked about these Patriots lacking a killer instinct and what can be done to develop one.

“This is about winning,” he said. “When you win, you don’t get questions about the four-minute offense or stuff like that. It’s more, ‘What do we need to do to be better?’

“It’s not like we sit here and look in the locker room and say, ‘Wow, we’re terrible, we can’t make any plays, we’re not even in these games.’ We’re right in them, we just have to do a better job in certain areas.

“If we do that, we’ll start winning close games. If we don’t, we’ll have a miserable year. No one wants that around here.”

Bill Belichick frequently puts his players in pressure situations in practice, trying to simulate game situations to get them a sense of how to respond if certain things come up.

But awareness isn’t the issue, Brady said, execution is.

“I think it’s more whether you make the play or you don’t make the play on Sunday,” he said. “Certainly sometimes you just don’t make the play. To not be aware of the situation is another thing. I think he’s always trying to coach us to be aware of the situation.

“You can know exactly what to do and how to do it but you just don’t get it done. I don’t think it’s from us not knowing what’s going on out there. I just think we need to do a better job executing.”

The Patriots had fourth-quarter leads last season against the Bills, in both losses to the Giants, and this past Sunday against the Ravens.

For the most part, the defense upheld its end of the bargain in Week 2 against the Cardinals, holding Arizona to 3.2 yards per carry and essentially taking away star receiver Larry Fitzgerald. It was put in tough situations on two Arizona possessions, one that started at the New England 36 after a Brady interception, and the other just 2 yards from the end zone after a blocked punt.

And up until that final four-minute situation in Baltimore, the offense did what it needed to in that game. It put up 30 points against a Ravens defense that had given up a total of 36 in its first two games, and was the third-best scoring defense in the NFL last year.

Now, the two units have to work together.

“First of all, we need to continue to start the game off fast, but also finish them,” said receiver Deion Branch about Brady’s assertion that the team has to play better at critical times. “That’s our leader, and trust me, we hear him loud and clear. From this point on, that’s our job, to make sure we start the game off and finish the same way we started. I think we’ll be OK.”

Rob Ninkovich echoed Branch’s thoughts.

“I’d say really the whole killer instinct thing is the whole 60 minutes of the game, just never letting anything affect you, really, because sometimes there’s ups and downs in a game that you have to adjust to,” Ninkovich said.

“As a defense, you have to make sure that big play, whatever, you just move on and keep playing, and try to make a negative play.

“Last year, after the Giants game, we were in the same position and we had a lot of the same questions and we were able to rebound from that.”

This is the youngest Patriots team of Belichick’s tenure, and Branch said the veterans have to set the example of keeping a focus only on the game in front of them, and the younger players will follow.

Brady didn’t mince words about moving on from a frustrating game.

“In the NFL, the clock is ticking on next week’s game,” he said. “You can’t sit around for four days and mourn a loss and say, ‘God, this is the end of our year.’

“I mean, we’re 1-2, we’re not in a good position right now. We’re in the exact position we deserve to be in, and we’ve got to do something about it.

“So the energy and attention is focused on this opponent and how we can play better so that hopefully if we play well, we can get to 2-2. That’s the only place we can go from here.”

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