FOXBORO, Mass. – Tom Brady completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes (19 of 39) for the first time in nearly four calendar years on Thursday night, which isn’t necessarily a surprise.
The last time Brady achieved — er, was subject to — the anomaly (23 of 47) was on Sept. 20, 2009 in a 16-9 loss to — you guessed it — the New York Jets. That was 68 games ago. Well, Rex Ryan was the man behind the curtain once again on Thursday but this time he wasn’t the only one holding Brady back. Brady’s own players were equally to blame.
Brady was forced to work with a group of young, green and largely bewildered receivers on the night, and, aside from an inspiring performance from Julian Edelman, they did next to nothing to help the Patriots’ cause. Sure, Aaron Dobson‘s touchdown — on his first NFL play, in fact — was a nice story, but that was about all the production he provided.
The high-scoring, fast-paced, MC Hammer-esque (“Can’t touch this”) offense that’s taken the league by storm over the past six-plus seasons was nowhere to be found on Thursday. They produced just nine first downs — the fewest in the Bill Belichick era and a feat Danny Amendola accomplished on his own in Week 1 — and 232 yards of total offense. Brady has thrown for more yards than that total in every game since Week 8 of the 2011 season — 33 games, including the playoffs.
Clearly something isn’t right. The obvious explanation leads back to injuries. Brady is missing three of his most reliable targets right now, including the two players who made the greatest offensive impact against the Bills in Week 1. Rob Gronkowski is still working his way back from surgery, Amendola is battling a groin injury and Shane Vereen was placed on injured reserve this week, keeping him out until Week 11. Without those three, Brady is subjected to the likes of Edelman, who again played terrific, and three rookie receivers.
Dobson made the biggest impact (as already noted) of the rookie corps, catching three passes for 56 yards and the Patriots’ lone touchdown. Thompkins caught two passes for 47 yards and had a would-be touchdown called back after review, but his struggles from Week 1 — staying on his feet and hanging onto the ball — seemed to carry over. Josh Boyce, meanwhile, didn’t even get a glance from Brady, leaving him as inconsequential as Gronk or Amendola on the night. Four drops and one clear miscommunication from the rooks didn’t help things either.
The running game, behind a more sure-handed Stevan Ridley, didn’t do the offense any favors either, adding just 54 yards to the final tally, but the receivers still proved to be the biggest disappointment. Brady was so frustrated at points that he got more animated than usual, both on the field and on the sideline, shouting some choice words at his receivers with the general context being — and I’m paraphrasing — “Get your stuff together.”
Before the offense can start moving forward, they need to get healthy. Fortunately, time is on their side, as they’ll have a full 10 days to rest up and recover ahead of the Buccaneers’ visit to Foxboro. By that time, maybe Gronkowski, Amendola or even rookie tight end Zach Sudfeld will be healthy and back in the mix. At least Brady will hope so.
The Patriots have plenty of talent on offense, but, right now, most of it is unavailable. Dobson, Thompkins and even Boyce all have the ability to be productive players in the passing game, which was the case throughout the preseason. They seem to be dealing with some serious rookie growing pains, though, and there’s no sign of an end in sight.
Thursday was ugly . The type of game that you might expect from and offense run by Mark Sanchez or even a rookie like Geno Smith, but not Tom Brady. The Patriots are fortunate to be 2-0 entering a long rest period, but it’s obvious they need help and they need it fast.
Help is on the way, but it’s just uncertain when it will arrive. Gronk and Sudfeld could lead the cavalry back into action as soon as next Sunday, while Amendola might need a little longer to recover. In the meantime, Brady will have to make due with the resources at his disposal. Just don’t expect too much.