The New England Patriots are known to be very meticulous in their game planning. Coach Bill Belichick, quarterback Tom Brady and the rest of the roster and coaching staff strive for perfection.
On Sunday against the Buffalo Bills, the Patriots worked one of their favorite strategies perfectly in their 41-25 victory.
There isn’t a formula name for it, so for the sake of this article let’s just call it “double dipping.” More often than not, New England likes to defer the football to the second half if they win the coin toss. Although this strategy has grown more popular in the past few years, it was absolutely unheard of two decades ago. Every team wanted to start with the ball and drive down the field for points.
But over the last two seasons, Belichick has really shown what the benefits can be to starting with the defense on the field.
The most obvious advantage is beginning your first series with better field position. If the kickoff and coverage is adequate, and the defense forces a three-and-out, more than likely, the deferring team will begin its first drive closer to midfield than the 25.
Interestingly, that’s not the biggest advantage of deferring. Instead, it’s the chance to “double dip.”
If the deferring team is fortunate enough to have the final possession of the first half, there’s a real chance to swing the game’s momentum in their favor. Scoring even a field goal right before halftime means the deferring team has an opportunity to then add a quick 10 points on back-to-back possessions (the second possession being the first drive of the second half).
Very quickly, a 3-point margin becomes a 13-point hole for any Patriots opponent. Or a 7-point deficit then stretches out to 17.
Many of the Patriots’ opponents have fallen into this trap believing they are sticking with New England, but then with a quick field goal to end the first half and a touchdown at the start of the third quarter, all of a sudden the game is essentially over.
This philosophy was extremely effective for the Patriots last season. New England either deferred or its opponent elected to start with the ball in 12 of 18 games (including the playoffs) last year. The Patriots successfully “double dipped” four times and won all four of those games.
Sometimes the strategy simply didn’t work because the other team held the ball at the end of the first half. On other occasions, there wasn’t enough time for Brady to drive down the field for a field-goal try. However, deferring still had its advantages in that scenario, because in the other eight instances where the Patriots deferred and didn’t “double dip,” they still scored on their first second-half possession three times.
If not for a missed field goal to begin the third quarter versus Buffalo last year on Monday Night Football, the Patriots would have successfully “double dipped” five times and scored to begin the second half an incredible eight out of 12 times that they deferred.
On Sunday against Buffalo, New England finally pulled off its first “double dip” of 2016 with a field goal to end the second quarter and then a touchdown to kick off the third. That crushed the Bills’ chances of winning the game.
Buffalo actually had a chance to move to within eight points of New England had kicker Dan Carpenter hit his field goal attempt with 32 seconds remaining in the first half. Instead, he missed the 49-yarder, the Patriots went down the field in the remaining time to kick their own field goal and then started the second half with another score.
That’s basically a 13-point swing.
Since the start of 2015, when New England defers and successfully runs their “double dip,” they are 5-0. When the Patriots start with the ball in the second half and score points, they are 11-1.
With that kind of record, one would think more teams would defer themselves and force the Patriots to begin with the ball. Only, that doesn’t usually work either. Over the last season and a half, New England has scored a touchdown on the first drive of the game five out of eight times. The Patriots went 5-0 in those five contests where they were up 7-0 before the other offense hit the field.
One of those three non-touchdown opening drives ended in a field goal, and the other two were punts. On the two occasions where they were forced to punt to begin the first series of the game, New England lost.
Even more interestingly, since 2015, the Patriots have been held without any points at the end of the first and begin of the second half when they defer just five times. They are just 2-3 in those games but 1-0 this year. The “double dip” resulted in no points last week versus Pittsburgh, but the Steelers failed to take advantage.
After Buffalo lost the coin toss in Week 8, they were hoping the Patriots would struggle to “double dip” again this Sunday, but after Carpenter’s miss essentially resulted in a 13-point swing, New England now has a three-game lead in the AFC East.