Patriots Are Becoming an Offensive Force
By David Pevear
Special to the Sentinel & Enterprise
FOXBORO -- The Miami Dolphins were a dubious 3-0 when they tiptoed into Foxboro this past Sunday. The banged-up Indianapolis Colts were 1-3 and flailing for an identity when they arrived here Thursday night.
Even so, the resurgent Patriots strikingly handled both visitors in double-digit Homecoming celebrations following New England’s back-to-back double-digit losses on the road.
Do not nitpick over the mental and physical meekness of the two most recent outclassed visitors to Gillette Stadium -- or worry too much about whether the 3-2 Patriots can outscore the Kansas City Chiefs’ high-scoring offense here a week from Sunday before taking their fireworks show to Chicago. Feel confident in what the 2018 Patriots are becoming -- which is an offensive juggernaut in the best Brady-Belichick tradition.
The Patriots have scored 38 points in each of their last two games. “I think we have more in us,” said quarterback Tom Brady, “and I think that’s what we’re looking at.”
And who saw this coming this quickly after New England’s 1-2 start and the accompanying public outcry over the 41-year-old Brady’s lack of weapons? Now we are starting to wonder if there will be enough footballs to go around.
The place to start is with rookie running back Sony Michel, who, after missing the entire preseason with a knee injury, is coming on as advertised when drafted in the first round this spring out of Georgia -- physical, explosive, one cut and wham! The 5-foot-11, 215-pound Michel has rushed for 210 yards over the past two games, with TD runs of 10 and 34 yards. He is keeping opposing pass-rushers and linebackers honest, opening up Brady’s play-action game.
“He’s always run hard, and we liked his vision when he came out (of college),” said Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels. “And look, he’s only played four games of pro football. ... He’s certainly helped us and hopefully will continue to improve as we go forward.”
Michel joins versatile James White to give New England a backfield combo that may soon rank among the NFL’s best. Over the past two games White has 18 receptions and has scored three touchdowns, including a 22-yard run versus the Dolphins.
Into a receiver corps universally described as “thin” only a week ago have come Josh Gordon, a total game-changer when keeping his demons at bay, and Julian Edelman, the slot receiver so trusted by Brady.
The Colts on Thursday night had just cut New England’s lead to 24-17 when Gordon, whom the fed-up Cleveland Browns dealt to New England on Sept. 17, outmaneuvered two Indianapolis defenders to grab a 34-yard touchdown pass from Brady. The Patriots went on to win 38-24.
The 6-foot-3, 225-pound Gordon is an elite go-up-and-make-a-play wideout. Which is something the Patriots have never really had. (Randy Moss was more of a run-and-go-get-it receiver.) Gordon doesn’t even need to learn the Patriots’ complicated playbook. He described his fourth-quarter touchdown catch on Thursday as “sandlot football.”
A well-protected Brady couldn’t locate an open receiver. “I kind of wanted to head toward the end zone, and we made eye contact, and he threw it up there,” said Gordon. “It was a perfect ball. So I had to try to make a play on it.”
In 2013, Gordon at age 22 led the NFL with 1,646 receiving yards in only 14 games. And that was with Jason Campbell, Brandon Weeden and Brian Hoyer throwing the ball to him. Imagine the numbers a cleaned-up Gordon might put up with Brady. (Gordon’s first TD catch as a Patriot was Brady’s 500th career TD pass.)
But Gordon’s track record for undependability still has you holding your breath and wondering if he can last in New England. He was often suspended and battling his addictions while a Cleveland Brown, which included missing the entire 2015 and 2016 seasons.
If you are looking for dependability and happiness, that is a healthy Edelman, who on Thursday night had seven catches for 57 yards in his first real game since the victory over the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI 20 months ago. He missed all last season with a knee injury suffered in preseason, then was suspended for the first four games this season for violating the league’s PED policy.
Even at age 32, Edelman on Thursday looked to be his old quick-cutting self. “There’s some things that obviously we have to work on,” said Edelman. “But it was good to get out there and catch some rocks.”
“He’s played in our offense, in this system, with our quarterback for a long time,” said McDaniels. “The strengths that he possesses and things that he does well certainly allow us to do some things offensively.”
″(Edelman is) a great player,” said Brady, “and obviously the more great players you have out there, the better we’re going to move the ball and score points.”
And then of course there is Rob Gronkowski, the greatest tight end ever. Despite an ankle injury that had him listed as “questionable” these last two games, Gronkowski has plugged away. He had six catches for 75 yards on Thursday night. He still attracts much defensive attention.
We just don’t notice it now that this New England offense all of a sudden has so many helping hands.