The good news for the New England Patriots is that they won their second straight game to start the 2013 campaign, defeating the New York Jets 13-10 on Thursday night. The bad news is that for the second straight game, the offense looked incompetent, inefficient, and a host of other negative adjectives that could be used to describe how much the Patriots struggled on offense. Pretty soon, the New England Patriots will stop playing opponents led by rookie quarterbacks, and they will have to put together a full game's worth of productive offensive plays together. But that time was not last night.
Instead, quarterback Tom Brady had to deal with an inexperienced receiving corps that was missing three of his favorite targets. Danny Amendola, Shane Vereen, and Rob Gronkowski are all out with various injuries, leaving Brady to spread the majority of his targets around to rookies Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins and the more experienced, but ultimately limited, Julian Edelman.
The results were about as disastrous as could be predicted as both Dobson and Thompkins had multiple drops in addition to running the wrong routes on occasion, not demonstrating a strong relationship with their future Hall of Fame quarterback. For the game, the two receivers combined to catch just 5 of the 17 passes thrown in their direction for a total of 103 yards. While the yards per catch average (20.6) was impressive, two of their five receptions accounted for 77 yards; the rest gained only 26 yards. Simply put, the two were not nearly as consistent as Brady needed to be, and the offense struggled because of it.
Only Julian Edelman proved to be a trustworthy receiving target on Thursday, but let's not make his performance out to be some particularly noteworthy achievement. Edelman was able to catch 13 of the 18 passes that Brady threw in his direction, but he only gained a total of 78 yards, making for anemic yards per catch (6.0) and yards per target (4.3) averages. His pass targeting also only netted the Patriots 45.3 percent of the 172 yards needed to get first downs on the pass plays, meaning pass plays involving Edelman were not really helping to keep the chains moving throughout the contest.
With his three favorite targets on Thursday giving him so little to work with, Brady's mediocre final statistics (19 of 39, 185 yards, 1 touchdown) make a lot of sense. It is going to be hard to have any success in the passing game without better efforts from wide receivers.
The Patriots offense was also not helped by a disappointing run performance. Patriots runners combined to gain a mediocre 54 yards on 24 carries.
Fortunately for the Patriots offense, the Patriots defense was able to capitalize on the mistakes that Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith made time after time after time in the fourth quarter. With the Patriots leading 13-10 in the fourth quarter, the Jets had every opportunity to at least tie the game, if not to forge ahead with a touchdown; the win probability chart bears out how much chance the Jets had to win early in the fourth quarter.
Then Smith went on an interception-throwing spree, throwing three interceptions in the fourth quarter, with each of the interceptions coming when the Jets were in Patriots' territory and threatening to mount a scoring drive. Smith's late game mistakes, more than almost anything else, preserved the Patriots victory on Thursday.
It was another ugly and uninspiring victory for the Patriots this season, and unless Brady can get some more valuable receiving targets, the Patriots will have to slog through even more games this season.