FOXBORO, Mass. — Tom Brady was locked in on his big receivers, and the “pygmies,” as the New England Patriots quarterback likes to call them, got lost in the shuffle Sunday.
Brady was 26 of 26 for 317 yards and five touchdowns when throwing to tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Tim Wright and 6-foot-2 wide receiver Brandon LaFell in the Patriots’ 51-23 win over the Chicago Bears. Brady was 4 of 9 for 37 yards when throwing to his more “vertically challenged” targets — running back Shane Vereen and wide receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola.
If anything, those stats show how far the Patriots’ offense has come from the first weeks of the season, when fans and pundits alike wondered if Brady would ever look past Edelman as the QB went through his reads with pressure bearing down.
LaFell and Wright now are helping the Patriots’ offense flourish, as head coach Bill Belichick finally found two big targets who could quickly acclimate to the complex offense. LaFell, who caught 11 passes for 124 yards and one touchdown Sunday, is on pace for 70 receptions, 1,076 yards and nine touchdowns — all of which would be career highs — based on his last six games.
“I’m always feeling comfortable, man,” LaFell said after the game. “I felt comfortable from the moment we started this season off, but as the season’s been going along, I’ve been feeling more comfortable with more reps and just getting the ball a little more.”
LaFell’s best season with the Carolina Panthers came in 2013, when he caught 49 passes for 627 yards and five touchdowns. So, what’s been the difference?
“Just more opportunities. Just throwing me the ball more,” LaFell said. “When you got a guy like Tom, who’s going to find you every time you’re open, it’s easy to go out there and play fast.”
Brady agreed that all it took was for LaFell to receive more opportunities to turn the corner after going catchless in the Patriots’ first two games of the season.
“I think with new players, sometimes you really don’t know what someone’s able to do in your offense until you actually get out there and do it and you make the plays in game-type situations. Even his-run-after-the-catch ability, that doesn’t show up in training camp because we’re not tackling,” Brady said about LaFell.
“And it doesn’t show up in the preseason — if he gets two catches a game, it’s hard to tell. And then all of sudden you see it over eight games, where he’s doing it every week and it becomes a big strength for your team. He had great run after the catch tonight.”
The entire offense has turned the corner since the Patriots lost 41-14 to the Kansas City Chiefs at the end of September, and it’s thanks to Brady’s improved play, as he’s had more time to spread the ball around and find his big playmakers.
Photo via Elise Amendola/Associated Press
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