Patriots hope to 'flip the switch' in red zone and score more TDs

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones reflected this week on his college recruiting trip to the University of Kentucky, as he considered a big issue facing the Patriots.

It was at Kentucky, before he committed to Alabama, when he learned about the flip-the-switch approach. And it’s what he believes the Patriots -- ranked 31st out of 32 teams in touchdown percentage inside the red zone -- could benefit from heading into their Thanksgiving road game against the Minnesota Vikings (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC).

“They were kind of struggling in the red zone and their thing was ‘flip the switch.’ When you start getting into that fringe [area], the red area, flip the switch. It’s where you really need to pick it up,” Jones said in his weekly interview on sports radio WEEI.

“I kind of utilized that at Alabama a little bit too. Right now, that’s our biggest area we need to flip the switch and make something good happen.”

In Sunday’s 10-3 win over the New York Jets, the Patriots put on a clinic of how to flip the switch -- in the wrong direction.

On their first trip to the red zone, tight end Jonnu Smith had a potential touchdown on a well-timed end-around but fumbled the football while attempting to switch it to his outside hand. He was fortunate to recover the ball.

Two plays later, receiver Kendrick Bourne appeared to align incorrectly, costing the team five yards for an illegal formation.

They were examples of the Patriots not doing the fundamental things and, thus, making things harder on themselves than it needed it be. They ended up settling for a short field goal.

Then on their second and final trip inside the 20, things were looking promising on third-and-2 from the Jets’ 7 before the struggles reached arguably the lowest point yet.

Right tackle Yodny Cajuste was penalized for holding, making it third-and-12. Then left tackle Trent Brown was beaten, as Jones was dropped for a sack and loss of nine yards.

That turned what would have been a 25-yard field goal into a 44-yarder, which was costly on a windy day as kicker Nick Folk came up short.

“A lot of it comes back to execution by us -- not talking the sacks, getting points. Positive plays are what we’re trying to get,” Jones said. “We’re going backwards too much.”

That issue extends beyond the red zone, as the Patriots have had 34 plays (not including penalties) over the last three games that produced negative yardage. That’s high, and while defenses from the Jets and Colts deserve some credit for that, the Patriots believe they move the football at a high level when they stop hurting themselves.

Specific to the red zone, Jones said they’ve had a heightened awareness in recent weeks, adding: “We’ve put emphasis on it over and over. At this point, it’s time to just go out and do it.”

“We don’t have any trouble moving the ball,” added running back Rhamondre Stevenson, who leads the Patriots (6-4) with 644 yards on 144 carries (4.5 YPC) and four touchdowns. “Once we get into their territory, we don’t do well. That’s something we need to work on.”

Thursday could be the right time for a breakout, as the Vikings (8-2) rank last in the NFL, allowing opponents 20 touchdowns in 28 red zone trips.

Coach Bill Belichick has seen plenty of good offensive play in the red zone over his 48-year NFL coaching career and one word stands out to him when considering the characteristics of a good attack inside the 20.

“Balance,” he said. “Run it. Throw it.”

That’s something the Patriots aim to do on Thanksgiving -- with a flip of the switch.