Brady stays off the roller coaster

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- With wide receiver Danny Amendola returning to the practice field on Wednesday, Week 8 could mark the first time that Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has his full complement of designated pass-catchers at his disposal this season.

Rob Gronkowski debuted in Week 7, showing minimal signs of rust in an eight-catch, 114-yard outing against the Jets, a performance that resembled the type of Sunday that Patriots fans have grown accustomed to from the charismatic tight end.

Envision this: a Patriots offense featuring Gronkowski, Amendola, Julian Edelman and either Kenbrell Thompkins or Aaron Dobson as its four primary targets. It could happen. As soon as this Sunday.

That's how the offense was expected to look as the rookies and Amendola generated a buzz during the preseason, giving onlookers reason to pause on concerns that the personnel turnover during the offseason would be too much for this offense to adjust to.

There have been ups and downs among the aforementioned pass-catchers through seven weeks, as Amendola has dealt with injuries and the rookies have had, well, rookie moments, dropping passes they should have secured.

But the group is coming along, at least it seems, both in terms of recovery from injuries and performance on the field.

And while the group may not be able to stand toe-to-toe with the pass-catchers in town last season, one thing has not changed: Brady remains under center.

He's provided the ultimate security blanket in 13 seasons as a starter, helping the Patriots navigate changes not only at receiver and tight end but also along the offensive line and in the backfield.

As various events unfolded this offseason -- Wes Welker's departure, Gronkowski's surgeries and Aaron Hernandez's arrest and subsequent release from the Patriots -- Brady, who signed a three-year extension in February, remained the foundation of the offense.

With No. 12 on their side, the Patriots always have a chance.

Seven games into the season, the Patriots find themselves in familiar territory atop the AFC East, but Brady, from a statistical metric, does not. He's 17th in the NFL among quarterbacks in passing yards per game and completing just 55.4 percent of his passes, well short of his career mark of 63.4.

The offense has tailed off as a whole, as well, averaging 21.7 points per game, nearly two touchdowns behind its 2012 pace.

That's not all on Brady's shoulders -- or specifically his right shoulder -- but he's more than aware of the room for improvement.

"We haven't done great on offense this year period," he said Wednesday.

Though he used a plural pronoun to describe the offense's woes, Brady, who also highlighted the constantly undergoing process of self-evaluation, is aware that he himself needs to be better.

From 2006 to 2012, a span that included 97 starts, Brady recorded just six games with a total QBR under 30. This season -- just seven games young -- he's posted three.

After throwing a touchdown pass in 52 straight games, the second-longest streak in NFL history, Brady has gone touchdown-less in two of his past three games.

As his team has dropped two out of three contests, Brady has been simply un-Brady like.

A player of his stature and with his dedication to the craft understands as much, but -- and this is part of what has made him a transcendent player at the position, despite recent struggles -- he remains undeterred by the challenges ahead.

"You have a lot of confidence every week that as a player you are going to be able to get the job done and do what the team asks you to do," he said. "I think it's important not to ride the ups and downs of the season and the emotion of, we won, we lost, everyone tells you you're great, you suck. If you do, you're going to have a hard time.

"You just try to believe in your process and believe that what you're doing is the right way to prepare," he continued. "There's the law of large numbers where you're not going to win them all, but you have to believe in what you're doing. I think the process is, you have to believe in what you're doing. If you do that, then you're going to have good outcomes and you're going to have bad outcomes. If you have a really bad process, then you will probably have a lot more bad outcomes than good outcomes.

"So, I think our team always focuses on the process and what we need to do to get better and understands that there are some days where you'll probably get a little less than you deserve and some days you'll get a little more than you deserve," he added. "That's just the way it goes in sports."

Brady's words ring a familiar tune, as it was around this time in 2012 that he echoed similar sentiments. With his team sitting at 3-3, coming off of a disappointing closing-minutes defeat in Seattle, Brady stressed the importance of focusing on the moment.

"I think it's important for us players not to ride the roller coaster of emotions that your family may have, your friends may have," he said. "I think the important thing is that we try and improve and focus on the opponent and not what's being said or what you hear, or if everyone tells you you're great or tells you [that] you suck."

On a personal level, Brady was performing better through six games last season than he has through seven games this season. His team, however, was in a four-way tie in the AFC East.

His message then was simple. "I don't think six games defines a season, and I think that what will define our season is what we do over the next 10 weeks," he said.

Over those next 10 weeks, the Patriots would go on to win nine games, finishing a full five games ahead of Miami in the division race. The streak began with a scintillating effort from Brady, who went five full games without an interception, all of which were wins, and threw 14 touchdowns.

Brady's message on Wednesday mirrored his message from that mid-October day in 2012: believe in the process.

With nine games left this season, regardless of what has happened to this point, Brady has another chance to prove why that process has worked for so long.

History, notably the 2012 season, suggests not to bet against him.