By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — If the Patriots offense wants to get back on track, the team is going to have to get a lot more out of its top two receivers going forward.
Cam Newton continues to say that the answers for the Patriots offense are in the New England locker room. Judging by their output in Sunday’s loss to the Broncos, that’s where Julian Edelman and N’Keal Harry spent most of the day, because they certainly didn’t spend it catching passes.
Edelman and Harry combined for just two catches for eight yards in Sunday’s 18-12 loss to the Denver Broncos, with Edelman making both receptions. Newton targeted the duo just eight times on his 25 passes, with six of those targets going Edelman’s way.
Edelman had just as many completions as he did receptions on Sunday, connecting on a pair of passes when Josh McDaniels dialed up some desperation trick plays in the fourth quarter. He contributed more as a passer than he did as a receiver against the Broncos.
Neither Edelman or Harry were able to get open Sunday, which forced Newton to hang on to the ball for too long or dump it off to a running back, as he did eight times with James White. White was New England’s leading receiver on Sunday with 65 yards.
Patriots receivers had just six catches off 13 targets, with Damiere Byrd the leader in the clubhouse with three receptions. Newton caught more passes than Harry on the afternoon.
That’s not going to lead to points on the scoreboard for any offense.
Newton echoed his faith in New England’s receiving corps again on Monday, and there are some built-in excuses for Sunday’s poor performance. Newton’s timing was off after not playing — and barely practicing — over the last two weeks. The lack of practice reps affected everyone on the roster.
And while Edelman being on the earth for 34 years and taking some truly brutish hits over the last 11 years has caught up to him, he showed in Week 2 that he can still have record-setting days in the receiving game. He tallied eight catches and a career-high 179 yards against the Seahawks, an impressive performance in just his second game with Newton at QB. It’d be ridiculous to expect that kind of stat line every weekend, but it’s reasonable to believe he can catch six-plus passes and move the chains a handful of times each game.
Edelman’s decline was expected, but Harry’s lack of production is the real worry. He has just 18 receptions on 30 targets for the season, and the second-year receiver still looks lost on the field. That fact was lowlighted on New England’s final offensive play on Sunday, with the team facing a do-or-die 4th-and-10 at the Denver 24. Newton rushed a toss to Harry as he felt pressure from the Broncos pass rush. He anticipated Harry would break to the outside with a defender draped all over him on the inside, but Harry instead did … nothing. He stood straight up instead of cutting, and his only move was to make a desperate lunge as Newton’s pass flew well out of his reach.
Comeback bid over. Game over. Patriots lose.
No one on offense looked particularly good on Sunday. Newton was out of sync. The sewn-together offensive line ripped at the seams and that threw everything off. Running backs had very few holes to plow through, Newton had very little time to make decisions, and his receivers failed to get open. It was a bad day all around for the Patriots offense.
They should be better going forward, and maybe the Patriots will add another pass-catcher before the trade deadline. But most of their success is going to depend on Newton’s top two receivers looking like actual receivers, and not just filler on offense.