It was a trying season for Tom Brady and the New England Patriots’ offense.
Without players like wide receiver Wes Welker and tight end Aaron Hernandez, Brady had to adapt quickly with targets he couldn’t trust. With so much turnover at the skill positions, Brady had his fewest passing yards since 2010, fewest touchdowns since 2006 and lowest completion percentage since 2003.
Despite Brady’s ordinary statistics, he was still the most valuable player on the Patriots and one of two reasons (along with coach Bill Belichick) that the team went 12-4 during the regular season and made it to the AFC Championship Game.
Let’s go through the offense and grade each unit.
Brady’s stats were pedestrian, but it will be important to remember years from now when the numbers 60.5 (completion percentage) and 87.3 (passer rating) stick out like a sore thumb among impressive career numbers what the quarterback was dealing with this season. It would be tough to say Brady was perfect despite his lack of trustworthy targets at the beginning or end of the season. He was missing his receivers more than usual, but he also couldn’t trust that his rookie receivers were reading the defense correctly.
Brady’s play really picked up when he had tight end Rob Gronkowski, running back Shane Vereen and wide receiver Julian Edelman all on the field at the same time. Unfortunately, that was only the case for a 3 1/2-game span.
When put together as a four-headed monster, the Patriots’ running back stable was one of the best in the NFL. The backs ran for 2,025 yards and 4.7 yards per carry with 18 touchdowns. Stevan Ridley led the way with 178 carries and 773 yards, but fumbles slowed the Patriots’ Week 1 starter, who couldn’t regain his form after Belichick put him in the doghouse.
LeGarrette Blount started the final four games of the season and looked like a different back from Week 13 to 17 than he did for the first 11 games. Third-down back Shane Vereen missed eight games with a wrist injury but still had 635 yards from scrimmage on 47 receptions and 44 carries.
Brandon Bolden filled in admirably for Vereen as the team’s pass-catching back, but he had a fair share of drops and wasn’t as explosive in the role. Fullback James Develin appeared to improve as the season went along.
It was a tough year in the receiver corps for everyone but Julian Edelman, who deserves an A for his 105-catch, 1,056-yard performance. The pressure of filling in for Welker did not appear to affect the fifth-year Patriot.
After Edelman, it drops off, however. Rookie Kenbrell Thompkins peaked in Week 4 and got flat-out benched in Week 9 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. His game started to pick up again by the end of the season, but then he suffered a hip injury that delayed his progress.
Aaron Dobson appeared to be getting better and more comfortable every week, but a foot injury kept him out and slowed him down at the end of the season, stopping his progress. Fellow rookie Josh Boyce also was halted by an injury. He got a chance to play heavily before an ankle injury ended his season.
Danny Amendola‘s season wasn’t a failure by any means, but he suffered a painful groin injury in Week 1 that slowed him for the next 18 weeks. After OTAs, minicamp, training camp, preseason and the regular season, it seemed that Amendola still hadn’t earned Brady’s full trust by the end of the season. Perhaps that will change with all of these receivers by 2014, but that’s a big gamble.
The Patriots seemed to have incredible depth at tight end before the season began. Then Hernandez got arrested, Gronkowski got hurt, Jake Ballard and Daniel Fells got cut and undrafted rookie Zach Sudfeld lost all confidence after being a training camp golden boy.
That left the Patriots with just Michael Hoomanawanui and Matthew Mulligan for most of the season. Gronkowski caught 39 passes for 592 yards and four touchdowns in seven games. Hoomanawanui and Mulligan combined for 14 catches, 152 yards and two touchdowns in 28 games.
Mulligan and Hoomanawanui were fine as blockers, but neither truly stood out. With a healthy Gronk, this could have been a A- or B+.
It wasn’t a typically dominant year by the Patriots’ offensive line. Center Ryan Wendell and guard Dan Connolly regressed from the 2012 season, right tackle Sebastian Vollmer got injured and left guard Logan Mankins, despite his accolades, gave up more sacks than usual.
Brady was sacked 40 times — up from 27 in 2012, 32 in 2011, 25 in 2010 and 18 in 2009. Left tackle Nate Solder was steady, but he was expected to emerge as an All-Pro, which did not happen thanks to a couple of shaky games.
Reserve Marcus Cannon played well in place of Vollmer, who had a strong start before getting hurt. Mankins also played admirably at left tackle when Solder went down with multiple concussions.
Grade: B- Follow @DougKyedNESN