Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is hopeful he’ll have a healthy Rob Gronkowski, Danny Amendola, Shane Vereen and Stevan Ridley back on the field at some point, but he doesn’t know when that will be. Until then, he explained, the undermanned offense will have to be better than it was in Sunday’s 13-6 loss to the Bengals.
“Hopefully when some guys get healthy that will give us a little margin of error because we’ll have some real physical mismatches out there,” Brady said Monday morning in his weekly interview on Boston sports radio station WEEI. “But until that happens we’re going to have to continue to do what we can to grind it out.”
The Patriots currently rank 23rd in the NFL in points per game (19 points, just two points better than the Jets), but Brady doesn’t need to look at the stat sheet to explain his team’s offensive woes. Injuries have whittled his group of targets and forced the team to count on a group of rookies as primary receiving options.
“We’ve missed Danny for most of the season, we’ve missed Gronk for most of the season, we’ve missed Shane for most of the season. Those are some pretty good players that we depended on to play a pretty big role,” Brady said. “Those other guys are forced to do more and they’ve done a great job with it.”
No player has been missed more than Gronkowski, who has been out the first five games while recovering from multiple offseason surgeries on his back and forearm. There was speculation the past couple of weeks that the burly tight end was close to returning, yet he has remained inactive. Brady would not speculate on Gronk’s timetable to return.
“I have no idea,” Brady said. “I kind of wait and see like everyone else. It’s not my decision. The guys I am out there with I have plenty of confidence in, so whatever role anyone plays is really up to them and the way they feel. We haven’t had him all year, we haven’t had him all spring, so we’ve had plenty of practices without him. Our overall execution needs to be a lot better regardless of who’s out there.”
The execution Brady is referring to was severely lacking in Cincinnati, where the Patriots were held without a touchdown for the first time since 2009. The Patriots were held to a field goal in one situation Sunday after failing to punch the ball into the end zone from the 1-yard line. And they converted just one of their 12 third downs.
That, Brady explained, let the Bengals defense control the tempo of the game and kept the Patriots out of rhythm from the start.
While the Bengals generated pressure with the standard four rushers, the blitz also was effective, as they sent extra rushers on 12 of Brady’s 41 drop-backs, according to ESPN Stats & Information tracking, and totaled three of their four sacks with the added pressure.
“When you play as an offense and they are able to dictate the tempo of the game on defense by getting off the field on third down, by really spinning their calls and mixing in their coverages and mixing in their blitzes, we never did enough to get them out of their comfort zone,” Brady said. “Then they are able to tee off on the quarterback. I thought our offensive line hung in there.
“We as a quarterback, as a skill group, we didn’t do enough to help out of the offensive line to stop them from being able to dictate their pass rush and dictate their blitzes whenever they wanted to.”
The Bengals defense deserves a pat on the back, for sure, but the Patriots also made some crucial mistakes on offense and had some bad luck on their final drive of the game, trying to march down the field during a torrential rain storm that Brady called the worst he’s seen on a football field.
“We can’t afford the luxury of not making those [scoring plays] because we’re not as good enough as an offense to not take advantage of those plays,” Brady said. “We’re not putting up 50 points per game. When we do get that chance to put 7 on the board we have to be able to do it.”
“It’s a myriad of factors that are leading to our overall poor performance. We just have to all look at ourselves and try to make individual improvements so that collectively our improvement is better as a team.”
Still, the Patriots are sitting on the familiar perch atop the AFC East, a fact that’s not lost on No. 12.
“The positive is we’re 4-1 after all the crap that we’ve been through this year. We’re still in a pretty good position within our division and within our conference.”
It doesn’t get easier next week, when the 5-0 Saints visit Gillette Stadium.
“We have to start making the plays that NFL players make,” Brady said. “If we don’t, we’re going to continue to struggle and not score points and put too much pressure on our defense.”