DETROIT — Tom Brady called for a change after the New England Patriots put forth one of their worst offensive efforts in recent memory Sunday night against the Detroit Lions.
He wants James White to have a more prominent role in the New England’s offense.
White, the Super Bowl LI hero and one of Brady’s most reliable pass-catchers in recent years, was one of the few offensive standouts in an otherwise ghastly 26-10 loss to the Lions on “Sunday Night Football.” The running back scored New England’s lone touchdown on a 10-yard pass from Brady and finished with 51 yards from scrimmage on seven touches.
“He had a great catch and some great runs there at the end for us,” Brady said during his postgame news conference when asked if White should be more involved. “He’s just a great player for us. He’s got to be involved. Guys who can make plays, those are the ones that should be involved, and James is certainly one of them.”
That statement was equal parts praise for White and veiled, indirect criticism of rookie Sony Michel, who has struggled as the Patriots’ lead back during their two-game losing streak. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels made Michel the focal point of the team’s running game against the Lions and Jacksonville Jaguars, and the first-round draft pick has not been up to the task.
Michel, who missed the entire preseason and Week 1 with a knee injury, managed just 50 rushing yards on 14 carries Sunday night and was stopped twice on third-and-1, losing yardage each time. He also dropped a pass and lost a yard on his lone reception, though he did show some improvement after halftime.
White, meanwhile, is averaging a team-best 5.1 yards per carry (13 attempts) through three games and leads the team with 14 receptions for 125 yards and two scores.
Michel’s ineffectiveness was far from New England’s only issue on offense, however. White, tight end Rob Gronkowski (four catches on five targets for 51 yards) and running back Rex Burkhead (two catches on three targets for 26 yards before leaving with a neck injury) were the only skill-position players who enjoyed even a modicum of success against Matt Patricia’s Detroit defense.
The Patriots’ receiving corps again was invisible, with Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett and Cordarrelle Patterson combining for just four catches, one of which came in garbage time. Dorsett, who starred against the Houston Texans in Week 1, endured an especially difficult night, finishing without a reception on five targets.
“We’ve got to go back to the drawing board,” Dorsett said. “We’ve got to practice harder. We’ve got to execute the game plan. I feel like Josh put a great game plan together that we didn’t execute well enough to win, obviously, because we didn’t win.”
Dorsett also was the targeted receiver on Brady’s fourth-quarter interception — a deep ball that dropped right into the arms of Lions cornerback Darius Slay. Brady’s explanations of that play and an intentional grounding penalty he committed one possession later, which appeared to result from Patterson running the wrong route, were telling.
On the interception: “I was just trying to throw it up early, and Slay got his eyes on the ball faster than Phillip, and Phillip couldn’t adjust. Kind of an easy interception.”
On the intentional grounding: “That was bad, just not being on the same page. We go from second-and-1 or whatever it was to third-and-long. Those things shouldn’t happen. This is pro football.”
New England’s defense also was a mess, but it did force the Lions to settle for field goals on four of their six red-zone trips. Usually, the Patriots can outscore teams with that type of bend-but-don’t-break D. Not so this time.
“We’re not scoring enough points,” said Brady, who completed 14 of 26 passes for 133 yards and one touchdown with one interception. “We’re not executing well enough on a down-by-down basis, certainly (not) at the high level we should have our expectations set at. The process has been the same. There’s been a lot of talk about it in practice, and we’re going through it and watching film and correcting stuff. It’s just not getting done on the field, and we’ve got to get it corrected soon.”
Reinforcements are on the way: Josh Gordon, who spent the game on the sideline in sweats, likely will debut next Sunday against the Miami Dolphins and Julian Edelman is set to return from suspension the following week. But given those players’ recent histories — Gordon’s off-the-field issues; Edelman’s lost 2017 season — neither is a sure thing at this point.