DENVER — Julian Edelman summed up what all New England Patriots fans were thinking after seeing quarterback Tom Brady hit 20 times behind a leaky offensive line.
“Tommy’s a tough SOB,” the wide receiver said. “I wouldn’t want to have any other guy in the huddle.”
The Patriots’ offensive line has struggled all season, from the preseason all the way to Sunday’s AFC Championship Game loss to the Denver Broncos. The O-line was at its worst against the Broncos, however, letting up four sacks and making Brady uncomfortable in the pocket all game.
Brady chose to praise the Broncos’ pass rush rather than criticize his offensive line after the 20-18 loss.
“They held in there all game,” Brady said. “That’s the strength of (the Broncos). Our strength was trying to get the ball to our skill guys and try to let them make some plays in space. It’s a tough front. They’re good players. They’re teeing off on the cadence. We’re trying to keep changing it up. On defense, sometimes you just have to get one play.”
Edelman, spotted limping on his previously broken foot after the game; tight end Rob Gronkowski, nursing back and knee injuries, and Danny Amendola, with a knee injury of his own, couldn’t get open frequently enough before New England’s offensive line collapsed.
Brady had mistakes of his own, throwing two interceptions in the first half and a final one on the Patriots’ last-gasp two-point conversion attempt to tie the game with 12 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
But most of the Patriots’ offensive issues can be blamed squarely on the blockers. The Patriots ran for just 2.6 yards per carry, and Brady began relying on deep heaves to running back James White to try to get the offense back on track.
Though already struggling, the Patriots offensive line’s issues were compounded in Week 4 when Nate Solder was lost for the season with a torn bicep. That forced Sebastian Vollmer to move from right tackle to left tackle and Marcus Cannon to come off the bench to start.
Vollmer, who never looked comfortable on the other side of the field, struggled to block DeMarcus Ware, who had a half-sack. Broncos pass rusher Von Miller, rushing from Cannon’s right-side position, had 2.5 sacks in a dominant performance.
The Patriots’ offensive weapons were supposed to get open so quick that the blocking wouldn’t even matter. Solid coverage by Broncos cornerbacks Aqib Talib, Chris Harris and Bradley Roby made that more difficult than anyone presumed, however.
“They have a good pass rush,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “Their coverage was tight. They did a good job. (Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips) is a great coach. He does a great job, and they have good players. Defensively, they’re a really good team. We knew that.”
Depending on Brady to get rid of the ball in less than two seconds probably isn’t a winning formula moving forward. The Patriots’ offensive line has to improve. Getting Solder back next season should help, and the Patriots have to hope rookie guards Tre’ Jackson and Shaq Mason will take a step forward in 2016.
Thumbnail photo via Kevin Jairaj/USA TODAY Sports Images