By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — Perhaps the most discussed element of the Patriots’ roster this summer has focused squarely on the team’s receiving depth. Namely, the conversation has led to conclusions that the Patriots don’t have any.

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And, to be sure, looking at the depth chart — especially now with the abrupt retirement of Eric Decker, who was assumed a month ago to be a capable NFL receiver — it does not appear that the Patriots will be home to many (or any) All-Pro receivers in 2018. Certainly, even Brady could only offer a lukewarm message about the group when asked about his receiver in his weekly radio interview on Monday morning.

“We’re at where we’re at. I mean, I don’t think anyone feels sorry for the New England Patriots. I’ve said that before. So we’ll just try to do the best we can do, and hopefully it’s good enough,” Brady said prior to his hang-up on Kirk & Callahan.

Answering a different question about the idea of adding Dez Bryant to the roster, Brady said, “I don’t make those situations for our team. I don’t go in there and tell them who I want. That’s not the position I’ve ever played here. You just respect our team for what they’re looking for, and our personnel people, and, you know, my job is to play quarterback. And whoever’s here, that’s who I have to make it work with.”

It’s a tepid endorsement of the receivers, for sure. But in this instance, Brady may be taking a page out of Bill Belichick’s book, which is to basically offer little praise of players in an effort to encourage more hard work and focus or whatever the goal might be. And coming off a night like last Friday, where the first-team offense struggled mightily to put points on the board, it would make sense for Brady to not hype up the receiving corps or any other part of the offense, for that matter.

That being said, the situation may not be as doom and gloom as it’s generally presented. And there was a sequence of three consecutive plays in Friday night’s game in Carolina that may sooth some concerns about the current crop of Patriots receivers.

The first play came on a third-and-9, early in the second quarter. The Patriots lined up in a trips right formation with Chris Hogan, Rob Gronkowski, and Julian Edelman. At the snap, Gronkowski (on the line of scrimmage, in the middle of the trips bunch) ran out to block the nearest cornerback. Hogan (the inside receiver) sprinted to take on the next defensive back. Brady faked an inside handoff and threw quickly to Edelman.

The receiver hauled in the pass. Gronkowski actually missed his block, forcing Edelman to shake a tackle immediately. He did, then he had to navigate this traffic jam in order to try to move the chains and keep the drive alive:

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With a little bit of help from a powerful block by Shaq Mason on Luke Kuechly …

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… Edelman managed to move the sticks.

After picking up the first down, the Patriots lined up for a first-and-10 at the Carolina 43-yard line. Brady noticed that the corner was playing 10 yards off Phillip Dorsett:

(Screen shot from

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Brady took the snap from under center and immediately fired to his left, getting the ball into Dorsett’s hands and letting him create yardage in space. Dorsett put a little move and a minor stiff-arm on cornerback Donte Jackson and ran right around him to get a free lane up the sideline:

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Dorsett turned it into a 16-yard gain.

Feeling a rhythm for the first time all night, Brady stood in the shotgun for a first-and-10 from the Carolina 27-yard line. Dorsett motioned left to right, leaving Cordarelle Patterson as the lone receiver on the left side of the formation. At the snap, Gronkowski (on the right side of the formation) ran a vertical route up the seam, creating some space over the middle. Patterson ran a simple crossing route, and Brady wasted no time getting the ball into the hands of the dynamic threat.

Patterson caught the pass in stride three yards from the line of scrimmage. Running left to right, he looked up to find Captain Munnerlyn blocking his path upfield. So Patterson made the somewhat-risky choice to break back toward the line of scrimmage in order to get around Munnerlyn.

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It worked, but Patterson still had two defenders in his way:

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As it turned out, cornerback James Bradberry wanted absolutely nothing to do with getting in the way of Patterson, who was running at full steam. Bradberry dropped to the turf in a feeble attempt to tackle Patterson. It didn’t work, allowing Patterson continue up the field. Linebacker Shaq Thompson hit Patterson from the side, and the receiver extended the ball to the sticks as he flew out of bounds. He was able to turn the simple reception into a 10-yard gain.

It was a quick sequence of three plays, with Brady finding three different receivers, to pick up 35 yards in a hurry to get into the red zone.

The drive did continue from there. Three snaps later, on a third-and-7, Brady hit Chris Hogan over the middle for what looked to be an easy gain of 10 yards to set up a first-and-goal at the 4-yard line. But on the next snap, LaAdrian Waddle shoved safety Mike Adams to the ground after a whistle, pushing the Patriots into a second-and-goal from the 19-yard line. The Patriots would have to settle for a field goal.

But that undisciplined penalty shouldn’t take away from the real progress and potential that the New England offense showed on that drive. Yes, Edelman won’t be a part of it for the first four weeks of the season, but the fact that he can still find those slivers of light to stick his nose past the sticks on a quick receiver screen on a third-and-8 is a very encouraging sign for a 32-year-old coming off ACL reconstruction.

Plus, Edelman only accounted for one target on that drive. Overall, Brady went 5-for-6 for 51 yards, completing passes to five different receivers and showing that despite a different cast of characters around him, he can still run the offense with efficiency.

It was just one drive, yes, but in a summer filled with near-constant worry about the receiving corps, that drive in particular offered some signs that the Patriots’ offense just might be all right once the real games begin.

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You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.