Imagine what this team will do with Rob Gronkowski, Danny Amendola and Shane Vereen.
As the Patriots’ defense was going up against their first top-tier unit of the year, the offense was facing its easiest competition. The Falcons have Matt Ryan, Julio Jones, Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez on offense, but they have no one of that caliber on defense. Asante Samuel and Sean Weatherspoon are hurt. William Moore remains dangerous on defense and while Osi Umenyiora‘s best years are behind him, he can still rush the edge. That’s about it, though.
So, while Tom Brady finally passed for 300 yards for the first time, completed 64.5 percent of his passes, avoided throwing an interception and chucked two touchdowns, it wasn’t exactly proof that New England’s offense is back and as dangerous as ever.
It did prove something, though. It proved that Brady is starting to trust his receivers more. It proved that the offensive line could keep Brady upright and open holes in the run game against lower competition. It proved Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins can make tough catches.
It proved that the offense is getting better without Gronkowski, Amendola and Vereen. And they have done so while still going 4-0.
When the Patriots have Amendola and Gronkowski back, they may not even know what to do with them. It will be an embarrassment of riches at that point.
Thompkins is finally starting to look as good as he did during training camp and the preseason. This may be a newsflash to some, but six-catch, 127-yard games aren’t exactly commonplace for undrafted rookie receivers. And even 15-catch, 257-yard seasons aren’t the norm from players of Thompkins’ ilk. But that’s what he’s accomplished thus far as he’s growing before the eyes of the NFL — it’s fans, media, evaluators, players and coaches alike.
Julian Edelman has come into his own, too. Edelman was serving the Wes Welker role, but he hadn’t shined yet. In Week 4 against the Falcons, Edelman stood out. He proved he could be a dangerous weapon, not just a consistent one.
The Super Bowl-winning Patriots could move the ball on offense because Brady spread the ball around. He could do that because he trusted his targets. Brady already had trust in Gronkowski, Edelman, Vereen and Amendola coming into the season. Now, he’s slowly (but surely) gaining confidence in Thompkins, Dobson and possibly, the forgotten rookie, Josh Boyce.
This is not a team the rest of the league will want to face late in the season. As long as Gronkowski and Amendola can maintain their health once they’re back (as well as the rest of the Patriots’ weapons), this team could be playing on the same level as the Broncos once they have all the pieces on place.
Having a top-tier defense helps matters too. Bill Belichick has been building this unit since he drafted Jerod Mayo in 2008. It’s finally reached its full potential. And even though the defense got gashed in the fourth quarter, it held when the game mattered. It would be unimaginable to think of a player making that final deflection as recently as last season.
The schedule doesn’t get a whole lot easier from here, so they’ll need Gronkowski and Amendola in the upcoming weeks, when they face the Bengals next week, the Saints in Week 6, the Dolphins in Week 8, the Broncos in Week 12, the Texans in Week 13, Miami again in Week 15 and the Ravens in Week 16.