FOXBORO, Mass. — Game-planning against the New England Patriots is no picnic to begin with, but there could be sleepless nights for opponents when it comes to drawing up a plan to slow Tom Brady and Co. in the red zone.
The Patriots got back to playing actual football Thursday night with a 28-21 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers, a game that was nowhere near as close as the final score might indicate.
New England’s offensive dominance was evident. The Patriots, in addition to scoring 28 points, racked up 361 yards and 26 first downs. They were especially effective, however, in the red zone. New England made four trips inside the Pittsburgh 20-yard line and came away with touchdowns each time.
Get used to that.
Three of those scores went to tight end Rob Gronkowski and another to fellow tight end Scott Chandler. That duo alone represents the obvious issues the Patriots will present to its opposition. Gronkowski is the NFL’s single-most difficult offensive player to stop. His combination of size and skill is unmatched, and that becomes even more evident down near the goal line. If you throw the ball anywhere near him — as Brady did three times Thursday night — he’s almost always going to make the catch.
But let’s assume for a second that a team is able to slow Gronkowski in the red zone. The Patriots showed Thursday night that Chandler could end up being just as effective in that facet, too. He scored 17 touchdowns in four-plus seasons with the Bills, which is saying a lot, especially when you stop and try to think about who was throwing him the ball.
Now, with a competent quarterback calling the shots, the 6-foot-7 Chandler figures to literally be an even bigger weapon. Chandler only pulled in one catch Thursday night, but it was an important one, as he scored a 1-yard touchdown in the third quarter. So, again, you can take away Gronkowski, but what do you do about Chandler?
“I think it’s a tough matchup with Gronk no matter who you got,” Chandler said. “I think we can do some things to make it tough on teams trying to do some things to make it tough on us, and we were able to capitalize on those situations.”
Not only that, there still are the receivers on the outside, like Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola. If the Patriots want to, they can spread the field, potentially creating even more matchup issues in the red zone.
“Hopefully we can keep going,” Brady said. “4 for 4 in the red area is a good place to start.”
If the Patriots are just getting started, it could be another long season for the rest of the NFL.
Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/The Associated Press