The winless Patriots and Broncos are each other’s better halves this season

The winless Patriots and Broncos are each other’s better halves this season

Bill Belichick and Sean Payton both being winless through two games has never happened. In fact, this is Belichick’s nadir since 2001, when Tom Brady was just a twinkle in his eye. Both coaches are masters of their domain and intense perfectionists. Unfortunately, their respective teams would only be among the league’s best this season if the games were 30 minutes long.

Payton’s rep — an offensive guru who won a Super Bowl and manufactured top-10 offenses as efficiently as anyone not named Andy Reid — is still intact. Belichick is arguably the greatest defensive mind in history and the league’s preeminent coach after winning six Super Bowls with Brady executing the Pats’ offenses.

This year, between the two of them exists one combined elite team. For the Patriots, naptime is the first half. In Denver’s case, they nod off after halftime. In the first half, Denver is the league’s fifth-highest-scoring offense. In the second half, they’re 26th. Conversely, the Patriots are 27th in scoring defense in first halves, and a top-10 unit in points allowed when the second half rolls around.

Once again, the Broncos’ record in games decided by one possession is abysmal, but there are reasons for blind optimism. Russell Wilson’s Hail Mary wouldn’t have been necessary if the Broncos offense could remain alert for the second half. Once the shock value wears off, teams seem to acclimate quickly to Payton’s game plan.

Wilson used to be a crunch-time quarterback. Not only is he a more sluggish runner but he resembles DangerRuss in the first 30 minutes and a sundowning quarterback after the break. He’ll give you all he’s got, but after the sun begins setting, he turns into your gramps when he explains that “He don’t have the energy he used to.”

Here are Russ’ splits in the first half vs. the second half this season.

In first halves, DangerRuss has been grilling up defenses to the tune of 279 yards while completing 85 percent of his attempts, throwing four touchdowns, and zero interceptions. In the second half, he’s cooked. His completion percentage dips 30 points, his touchdown-to-interception ratio is one-to-one, and his second-half passer rating is 80 points lower. Wilson’s second-half rating is buoyed by a lucky tipped Hail Mary in the endzone on Sunday.

Meanwhile, the Patriots have been deadeye assassins with their halftime adjustments. Belichick’s Pats are 0-2 for the first time in 22 years, but for two consecutive weeks, they’ve cut off the power to a pair of the NFL’s most exhilarating, livewire offenses after halftime. The problem has been burying themselves in these holes to begin with.

In Week 1, the Patriots emerged from halftime trailing 16-0. In the second half, New England forced several turnovers, kept Philadelphia out of the endzone, and rallied to cut the score to four, but their final drive stalled at the Eagles 20.

In their Sunday Night Football clash with the Miami Dolphins, the Patriots did it again. Miami led 17-3 as Tua Tagovailoa was dotting up their secondary. Tagovailoa minced Belichick’s defense through the first half, but after the intermission, the Dark Lord of Football proved he’s still got it. Miami wasn’t in the clear until lineman Cole Strange was ruled down inches short of the first on fourth down with a minute remaining.

Last year, my colleague/Agree to Disagree traffic cone Eric Blum and I had this novel, but completely unrealistic idea that the NFL should experiment with teams hiring two head coaches, sequester them completely from one another, and have one randomly coach the first half and completely change the tenor, or the second half of games. If there were ever two coaches who’d be the ideal social experiment to execute this, it would be these two maniacs. Payton fancies himself a jump-scare coach who has a tendency to jump on opposing teams with onside kicks and wonky calls before they even know what hit ‘em. He also knows

They’re also both acolytes of Bill Parcells. When Belichick’s 2nd Half Pats and Payton’s First Half Broncos meet on Christmas Day, there’s no telling how that chemical reaction will mix, but if this trend continues, they should consider a joint coaching merger. In the meantime, Payton is onto something with the Broncos if he can configure Wilson’s pilot light to remain on for 60 minutes instead of the 30 minutes he’s currently assigned. Belichick’s teams have been playing possum for first halves and respawning in the second half with renewed vigor. These two teams aren’t completely inept, short of Voltroning these two coaching staffs, and teams, they need to assess what’s causing them to vanish for entire halves before this season gets out of hand.

Follow DJ Dunson on X: @cerebralsportex

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About the Author

Anthony Barnett
Anthony is the author of the Science & Technology section of ANH.