FOXBORO (CBS) — When the 2014 season kicked off for the Patriots, expectations were exactly where they always are in September: Super Bowl or bust. Surely, another 12-win season was in store, with at minimum a trip to the AFC Championship Game and a realistic chance at making the Super Bowl in Glendale serving as the team’s likely fate. That was certainly the perspective locally, and it was a popular belief among many national voices as well.
Yet through three games, the Patriots have blown a lead in Miami, won an uninspiring contest against a Vikings team that was missing its only star player, and on Sunday were forced to fight tooth and nail against a Raiders team that may win fewer than four games this season.READ MORE: Beverly High School Hockey Coach Greg Fonzi Resigns After Postgame Confrontation With Danvers Assistant
Perhaps it’s time to put those Super Bowl dreams on hold.
While it’s true that “a win is a win,” the fact is that the Patriots were one bailout holding penalty away from potentially losing at home to the Raiders. And when you’re relying on help from the officials and when you need your 325-pound defensive tackle to come up with the game-clinching interception, you clearly have some issues as a football team.
The Patriots were willing to admit as much after the 16-9 victory, but they weren’t willing to explain exactly what those problems might be.
“We left some scoring chances on the field and certainly scoring opportunities,” said Tom Brady, who was more positive following this win than he was last week in Minnesota but was still far from jovial. “That’s something we’re going to have to obviously get a lot better at, so we’ll keep working at it.”
The head coach was likewise vague when assessing the team’s problems in this one.
“We’ll look at the film and try to figure out how we can make it better,” Bill Belichick said.
While it goes against the Patriots’ philosophy to ever publicly assess blame on any one player or group of players, it’s become increasingly clear that the offensive line has been a tremendous problem. Brady was hit six times on Sunday, twice for sacks, and he’s now been hit 14 times through two games. The Patriots have rushed for just 105 yards per game, and Brady has had to deal with a consistently collapsing pocket, leading to him and the offense struggling to get into a rhythm in the passing game.
On Sunday against Oakland, the team swapped out Jordan Devey for Bryan Stork in the fourth quarter, but it’s clear that there’s no one move that can solve the Patriots’ issues on the line. The quarterback wasn’t willing to go into detail about the O line, other than saying the players are putting in effort.
“They played hard,” Brady said. “I think we tried to go a little faster and wear [the defense] down a little bit and I thought we did a decent job of that. Those guys are playing hard. They’re working hard to do the right thing and make improvements.”
Left tackle Nate Solder said the blame can be distributed evenly throughout the entire line.
“It’s a matter of improving because it’s not one guy, it’s not one play,” Solder said. “It’s a number of plays that we’re breaking down and a number of different schemes and a number of different guys, and so it comes back down to our technique and things we know and need to improve on.”READ MORE: Supreme Court Justices Suggest Boston Should Have Flown 'Christian Flag'
Thus far, the improvements aren’t showing up in games, and the end result is an out-of-sync offense that has just five touchdowns in three games.
But the issues extend outside the line, as complaints of Brady failing to “spread the ball around” will most certainly continue into next week. Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski together accounted for targets on more than 50 percent of Brady’s pass attempts, as Kenbrell Thompkins and Danny Amendola finished the game with one target apiece. And if you remove running backs from the equation, Brady targeted Edelman or Gronk on 63 percent of passes.
There was clearly a concerted effort to get Brandon LaFell involved in the passing game early on, as two of the first three plays were designed to go to him quickly. They resulted in an incompletion and a 4-yard screen pass, and the Patriots went three-and-out on their opening possession. It took until midway through the third quarter for LaFell to come up with another reception.
Amendola once again had a long catch-and-run negated by an offensive pass interference penalty, this one on LaFell after Aaron Dobson was penalized for it last week. Dobson was inactive this week, with Thompkins taking his place but failing to impact the game (one catch for 16 yards).
And when you look at the passing game overall, it’s clear that the reason Brady continues to rely on Edelman and Gronkowski is because they’re simply his only two reliable receivers.
Nobody on the team is willing to say that, but in some cases, the stats speak a lot louder than any words can.
Gronkowski and Edelman have caught 33 passes for 376 yards and three touchdowns.
Thompkins, Amendola, LaFell, Dobson and Michael Hoomanawanui have combined to catch 15 passes for 134 yards and zero touchdowns.
That is yet another serious problem that has no easy fix.
“I think we can do just really pretty much everything better offensively,” Belichick said. “We need to work harder to be more consistent in the running game and the passing game, all the way around, everything — blocking, throwing, catching, running, run reads, routes, distribution, you name it.”
Against weak offenses, the defense will be able to carry the team to victory. But through three weeks, it’s clear the Super Bowl is a mere football fantasy for the Patriots until they prove to have a viable NFL offense.Adrian Phillips Admits Patriots Weren't In Right Mental Space Vs. Bills: 'We Just Dropped The Ball'
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