There was no reason to panic after the New England Patriots went 2-4 in their final six regular-season games and appeared completely inept as injuries forced wide receivers Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola and tight end Rob Gronkowski to come and go. The Patriots’ offense wasn’t the same at the end of the regular season for many reasons. Quarterback Tom Brady was getting drilled, his receivers weren’t getting open, and head coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels were making head-scratching decisions.
In the end, it all came down to the loss of Edelman. Without his favorite receiver, Brady was forced to hold the ball longer, putting more pressure on a leaky offensive line. Patriots receivers saw unfavorable matchups with Edelman, Gronkowski and Amendola out for different and overlapping periods of time, and the offense went vanilla down the stretch.
Why show your hand when you have crappy cards?
So what happened with Edelman, Gronkowski, Amendola and left tackle Sebastian Vollmer all back at Brady’s disposal Saturday? They beat the Kansas City Chiefs, coming off an 11-game winning streak, 27-20 in the divisional round of the playoffs. The Patriots put up 340 total yards and 6.1 yards per play, and Brady was 28-of-42 passing for 302 yards with two touchdowns — and he wasn’t sacked.
All that hubbub about Edelman coming back rusty? Maybe for the first quarter, when he had three drops, but the receiver wound up with 10 catches for 100 yards. He helped move the chains, picking up eight first downs, and he freed up the field for Gronkowski, who wasn’t 100 percent.
“I know the offense. Tom knows me,” Edelman said. “The coaches kept me in mentally while I was hurt, going to meetings and learning the game plans, really trying to do that. It was one of those things where it almost felt like the first game of the year, so it’s whatever.”
Edelman acknowledged the offense struggled down the stretch of the regular season, but he didn’t simplify it so much to say the Patriots were able to pull a 180 Saturday.
“There’s no switch flipped,” Edelman said. “It was just about thinking about the individual play, going out and executing it. There’s plenty of times where we didn’t flip the switch. We definitely have to get better and take advantage of this next week.”
There were some drops. And there were times when the Patriots weren’t able to convert in the red zone, but even Belichick glowed about his team’s offensive performance.
“I think the offensive line did a great job,” Belichick said. “The receivers did an excellent job of getting open and getting separation. Tom got the ball out quickly, so all that worked together.”
The Patriots’ offensive line let up only one official quarterback hit despite facing a dangerous Chiefs pass rush that featured Tamba Hali, Justin Houston, Dee Ford, Dontari Poe, Allen Bailey and Jaye Howard.
“A big part of that also was the quarterback and receivers being able to get the ball out on time and make some yards after the catch, which Rob did, James White did, Danny, Julian,” Belichick said. “So it was a good team effort in the passing game. The offensive line had a big challenge.”
If there’s anything to complain about, it’s the Patriots’ running game, which likely will be ignored on this playoff run. The Patriots ran the ball 14 times for 38 yards, with a 1-yard touchdown by Brady.
If Brady is able to continue to move the ball as well as he did Saturday, however, it might not matter that the Patriots can’t run the ball.
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images
Thumbnail photo via Jan 16, 2016; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman (11) runs onto the field before the game against the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Divisional round playoff game at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports