Dave D'Onofrio's Patriots Notebook: A win that was gory, and with little glory for Brady and Pats' young receivers
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – As the clock drained down to zeroes Thursday night, as the muskets fired in triumph, and as those who stuck it out scurried to escape a downpour, Bruce Springsteen began blaring through the speakers at Gillette Stadium.
The Boss was signing about "Glory Days" – though anyone who'd just witnessed the Patriots struggle with the Jets knows all too well that these are anything but for New England's football team.
And that included the star quarterback who is among those responsible for the three championship banners that hang in a corner of his home stadium, but now must nurture three rookie receivers and somehow finding a way until they get up to speed.
Ultimately, Tom Brady's Pats emerged victorious over the Jets by a count of 13-10, and with that they picked up their second divisional win in a span of five days. However, the difference in his demeanor afterward spoke to how much more discouraging Thursday was in comparison to the victory over the Bills the previous Sunday.
At his post-game media session in Buffalo, Brady stepped to the podium with a smile and an I'll-take-it approach, happy to come away from the opener with a mark on the left side of the ledger, regardless of how it got there.
But Thursday night, the smile was nowhere to be seen. It'd been replaced by a look that lived somewhere between desperate and disappointed, and reflected the sense that while Brady was responding to questions, he didn't really have any answers as far as how to fix an offense that has scored just 36 points through two games – after averaging 35 per contest a season ago.
"We have a long way to go," Brady said, speaking as much about the length of the season as the progress his team will need to make in order to maintain its place among the AFC's elite. "I'm glad we won – but there's a lot of room for improvement."
Brady became just the second quarterback in NFL history to throw a touchdown pass in 50 consecutive games, joining the Saints' Drew Brees when the Jets blew a coverage and left Aaron Dobson completely unchecked on a third-down play from the New York 39-yard line on the game's opening series.
But that was about it as far as offensive highlights for the Patriots. Of their 232 yards from scrimmage, 81 came on that initial drive. They had trouble extending opportunities, going 4-for-18 on third down (22 percent). They began three possessions in Jets territory and produced a total of three points from those chances. They averaged only 2.3 yards per rush attempt, and Brady averaged only 4.5 yards per pass attempt, in part because he completed just 19 of 39 throws.
Of those tosses, 18 were targeted for Julian Edelman, the offense's only active holdover, and he caught 13 of them for 78 yards – but Brady again looked wildly out of synch with his rookie wideouts. Despite the touchdown, he connected on just three of 10 throws to Dobson. He hit two of seven to Kenbrell Thompkins. And he didn't bother throwing to Josh Boyce.
So after two games, Brady has attempted 33 passes to that trio of first-year receivers – and he has nine completions to show for it. That's not good enough, particularly with Danny Amendola expected to miss anywhere from one to five more games with a groin injury and with the schedule about to get tougher.
Perhaps the Patriots will take the 10-day break before facing the Buccaneers to entertain the idea of bringing in a veteran, maybe one who's played here before. Regardless, Brady knows he'll need the rookies at some point, so they have to get better.
"No one's coming to the rescue and saving the day, so we've got to fight through it," Brady said. "It's unrealistic for (the rookies) to do it like 10-year veterans because that's not what they are. But they're trying."
Brady called them "good kids" and said they've worked hard, and acknowledged that he needs to be a bit more cognizant of the way he reacts when things go wrong after laying into his teammates a bit at different times Thursday night.
"I have to do a much better job with my body language," Brady said. "I can definitely improve that. It's not a strong point of mine right now."
Far more important to the fortunes of the Pats, though, is that the play on the field gets better. It starts with the receivers and the passing game, which historically has helped open things up for everybody else, but the blame for the ineptitude on display in their first two games isn't limited to just the rookies or just the quarterback.
"Penalties, dropped balls, bad running plays – all of the above," acknowledged offensive guard Logan Mankins. "It was just a bad night for us. (We need to) start executing. Last week, turnovers; this week, penalties and mistakes."
Fortunately for the Patriots, the Jets made more penalties and mistakes, and they also committed four turnovers, including three fourth-quarter interceptions of passes by rookie Geno Smith. Two of them went to Aqib Talib, while the other was caught by Alfonzo Dennard, and ultimately that's why the Patriots, for the first time since the season finale in 2008, won a game in which they failed to score more than 14 points. (They'd scored 14 points or fewer five times in the previous four seasons and lost on each occasion.)
So there is the silver lining. With the offense not there to save it, "the defense stepped up, did what we had to do to win the game," as defensive end Rob Ninkovich put it. And, though it might not feel like it, record-wise the Patas are actually ahead of where they were a year ago.
"Last year we were 1-2, and we ended up having a great season," Brady said, "so I'm happy that we started 2-0, with two wins in the division. I just want us to do a better job on offense."
And until they do, "Glory Days" will remain just a song. And a memory.
Dave D'Onofrio covers the Patriots for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.