FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- If the Patriots were playing horseshoes instead of football, their record may be a bit better than the 2-4 mark they currently own heading out of Week 6. New England went toe to toe with the high-powered Dallas Cowboys on Sunday afternoon and matched their 29-point total through four quarters. It was that pesky overtime period, however, where the straw broke the camel's back. After a punt by the offense, the Cowboys would drive 80 yards down the field as CeeDee Lamb would catch a 35-yard touchdown to walk off with the 35-29 win.
While there are a number of things that can be pointed to that contributed to the Patriots' loss, an unflattering trend on the defensive side of the ball reared its head again late in this matchup. Through a month-plus of the season, New England's defense has struggled to get off the field during pivotal points in the game.
In Sunday's loss to Dallas, any hope of a victory seemed to be lost once Mac Jones threw a pick six to corner Trevor Diggs to give the Cowboys the 26-21 lead. However, the offense was quick to put themselves back in the game with a 75-yard touchdown pass from Jones to Kendrick Bourne. Suddenly, momentum was shifted back in the direction of New England, which owned a 29-26 lead with 2:11 remaining in the game.
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With victory nearly in sight, the Patriots' defense saw the Cowboys move 40 yards down the field to set up the game-tying field goal to force overtime. That drive was particularly frustrating as Dallas threw itself into field goal range with Dak Prescott completing a 24-yard pass to CeeDee Lamb on a third-and-25 try, making it a more manageable 49-yard attempt for kicker Greg Zuerlein.
Had New England simply held on during that particular play, the team could be looking at its first win at Gillette Stadium this season. Instead the Patriots are off to an 0-4 start at home for the first time since 1993.
"We have got to close it out," said linebacker Matt Judon. "Our offense went back out there and scored. They put us back up and gave us the lead and we've got to do our job. We've got to watch the film and we've got to execute and then practice those situations. We already practice those situations, so we just have to take practice into the game and get that big stop for our team."
That is just the latest in what has been a rough stretch for this Patriots defense in these do-or-die scenarios this season.
Back in Week 1, New England allowed Miami to go on a 10-0 run over two drives that were sandwiched in between halftime. The Dolphins traveled 120 yards on 17 total plays and took a lead that was good to walk away with the win. Against New Orleans in Week 3, the Patriots drew within eight after a touchdown drive by the offense in the fourth quarter. On the ensuing defensive possession, New England allowed the Saints to travel 75 yards down the field on 13 plays to erase any thought of a comeback.
Then, in Week 4 against Tampa Bay, the Patriots took a 14-13 lead over the Bucs heading into the fourth quarter. Immediately following that touchdown drive by the offense, New England's defense allowed Tampa Bay to convert three third-down attempts en-route to a field goal to retake the lead. Even when the offense was able to match that field goal on its next possession, Tampa responded with a seven-play drive that would ultimately result in the go-ahead field goal.
"We just had to make a few plays at the end. It's not like we're coming in here at home and have no shot to win," safety Devin McCourty said after the game. "All of these games, even the Saints game, it came down to a couple of plays that we're not finishing and we're falling short."
The silver lining is that the Patriots did show they are capable of getting off the field during pressure moments in this loss to Dallas. Just prior to halftime, the defense stopped the Cowboys from scoring from the 1-yard line three times. Then, linebacker Ja'Whaun Bentley was able to force a fumble on fourth down to take away any scoring opportunity entirely.
They have the clutch plays in them, but the focus needs to be about bringing those around with more regularity.