Patriots’ red-zone ineptitude rears its ugly head early in Las Vegas

BOSTON — The Patriots’ red zone offense is quite ineffective this season. It’s been an issue all year.

But last week in Arizona, facing a weak red zone defense, the Patriots were able to punch in a couple of touchdowns.

This week, going against an equally weak red zone defense in Las Vegas, the Patriots figured to be capable of doing the same.

But on their first trip inside the red zone, the New England offense failed in some rather ugly fashion.

It came at the end of a promising drive, which began all the way back at the New England 12-yard line. 

A deep completion to Tyquan Thornton and a 13-yard pass to Jonnu Smith helped move the ball deep into Raiders territory, and a pass interference penalty drawn by Jakobi Meyers set the Patriots up with a first-and-goal from the 2-yard line.

To that point in the season, the Raiders had allowed touchdowns on opponent’s goal-to-go situations 100 percent of the time this season — obviously the worst goal-to-go defense in the NFL. With the Patriots having four shots to gain 2 yards against the 32nd-ranked goal-to-go defense and 28th-ranked red zone defense, it was a layup.

Alas, the Patriots made a mess of it.

On first down, Rhamondre Stevenson ran for a yard.

On second down, Mac Jones overthrew Smith in the back right corner of the end zone.

On third down, Jones actually hit Meyers for a nice touchdown … but that came after the play was blown dead, after a timeout call came in from the New England sideline prior to the snap.

So on the real third down, Jones tried to hit a well-covered Nelson Agholor on a slant. It fell incomplete.

The Patriots wanted to go for it on fourth down … but had to burn their second timeout, as the sideline didn’t have a play ready to call.

The Patriots’ offense came out of that timeout and ran a successful QB sneak … but it didn’t count, because Smith jumped early. The false start penalty moved the ball back to the 6-yard line, and New England settled for a field goal to tie the game at 3-3.

The Raiders responded with an 86-yard touchdown drive to take a 10-3 lead.

Obviously, the Patriots have had their share of red zone issues this year. They entered the game ranked dead last in red-zone offense and tied for 25th in goal-to-go offense. That’s looked different throughout the year, but that sequence at the Las Vegas goal line might have been the ugliest picture of the whole year.

It didn’t end in a turnover, so it wasn’t a total worst-case scenario. But it didn’t do much in the way of generating any inspiration for a unit that’s been forced to settle for field goals far too often this season.

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