A quick look at the stat sheet won’t tell you all you need to know about the Patriots’ offense.
The Patriots ran 89 plays and gained 431 yards against the Bills on Sunday, which might give off the feel of past successes, but numbers can be deceiving. Sure. Tom Brady and Danny Amendola looked like they’ve been doing this for years, hooking up 10 times for 104 yards on the afternoon, and Julian Edelman began to resemble the player every Patriots fan has expected him to be, catching seven passes for 79 yards and two touchdowns, but there were more questions than answers that came from the season opener.
While Amendola and Edelman showed consistency and chemistry with Brady in the passing game, they and running back Shane Vereen seemed to be the only ones. Brady looked Kenbrell Thompkins‘ way 14 times on Sunday, tying him with Amendola for the team lead in targets, but the rookie came down with only four of those passes for 42 yards. After a stellar preseason, Thompkins looked out of place for most of the game and even enacted the Brandon Lloyd “hit the deck” method on occasion, not even attempting to gain yards after the catch. Maybe they were just debut jitters, but Thompkins was expected to be the Patriots’ No. 2 receiver and the Pats are in desperate need of another receiving option, at least until Rob Gronkowski returns.
Speaking of tight ends, that was another area of concern for the Patriots in Buffalo. Michael Hoomanawanui was the only tight end to even hit the stat sheet, hauling in just one catch for five yards on the day, while rookie hype machine Zach Sudfeld was left with a big goose egg next to his name. Granted Brady targeted the two tight ends just three times (Hoomanwanui twice, Sudfeld once) in the game, but that was as much a result of them not getting open as it was his deferring to other options.
The lack of production from the tight end position was a clear sign of Gronk’s importance to the offense, but so was the Patriots’ struggles down in the red zone. The offense converted just two of five red zone trips on Sunday, which included a head-scratching four-down sequence that resulted in an ugly turnover at the goal line. Yes. Brady found Edelman twice on scores inside the red zone, but the lack of an easy jump ball option in the back of the end zone was apparent on more than one occasion, which likely sounded the Gronk alert on Josh McDaniels‘ cell phone.
The passing game wasn’t the only problem, either. Stevan Ridley, the Patriots’ 1,200-yard back from a season ago, fumbled twice in the first half, bringing back memories of the epidemic that saw him benched for much of his rookie season. After coughing up the second carry, which Bills safety Da’Norris Searcy returned 74 yards for a touchdown, Ridley was given a comfy seat on the bench not to be seen back on the field for the remaining 38 minutes of the game. As referenced earlier, Vereen had a breakout performance, carrying the ball 14 times for 101 yards to go along with seven catches for 58 yards on the day. So, there is at least hope for the running game, even if from an unexpected source.
Coming off of a promising preseason, there was so much excitement about the new-look Patriots’ offense, but clearly things aren’t as spectacular as some may have had you believe. Brady is going to be Brady, even when he’s not, but he’s not a miracle worker. His connection with Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez and Danny Woodhead was built over time and with lots of hard work. Outstanding efforts from Amendola, Edelman and Vereen should instill a sense of encouragement for the offense as they head toward a short turnaround against the the Jets on Thursday, but it should by no means instill confidence.
There are still kinks to be worked out and concerns left to be raised. The Patriots got the desired result on Sunday, albeit chewing on their fingernails in the process, but it sure wasn’t pretty.
There are plenty of questions left lingering after Sunday’s 23-21 win, now it’s time to find some answers.