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N.E. Patriots: Brady needs a bunch

By Voice Contributors
On October 10, 2013

 

Tom Brady wasn't part of originally part of The Brady Bunch and since we know Marcia's experience with footballs-"Oh, my nose!"-the TV family would probably be more hapless than most of the rookies the veteran quarterback has been working with this season.

The New England Patriots rarely have a problem advancing through the AFC east, having won nine of the last ten division titles, but this year could be different. Although the team is off to a good start record-wise, the division has all the markings of becoming more competitive than ever. Right out of the gate, the Miami Dolphins look like the team who could vie for the division's top spot alongside the Patriots.

Just a year ago, Brady was making connections with Brandon Lloyd and Wes Welker left and right, combining with the two of them for 192 receptions, 2,265 total yards and 10 touchdowns. With Peyton Manning passing the pigskin to Welker these days, and Lloyd still enjoying free agency, Brady is struggling to find a team of rookies to get the ball to after the snap.

With every struggle comes opportunity, which is where wide receiver and kickoff returner Julian Edelman has come into play. Edelman had a career night when the Patriots took on the Atlanta Falcons, finishing with seven catches and 118 yards in New England's 30-23 win. Following the Week 4 win, the Patriots' No. 1 receiver had already tallied 319 yards over 34 catches, which leads both the team and the NFL in number of receptions. Meanwhile, Brady is learning to work with rookies Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson, a transition that hasn't been easy for the Patriots main play-caller.

Still, Brady may have found a replacement for at least one of his losses-running back LeGarrette Blount-who came to New England after three seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Blount was practically unstoppable during the preseason and has brought that energy into the regular season already. Carrying just slightly less often than Stevan Ridley, Blount rushed for his first touchdown wearing the Flying Elvis, a 47-yard run, through the Falcons defense to score in the Patriots' match-up against the Falcons.

Blount, of course, is the replacement for former New England running back Danny Woodhead, who has been coursing the gridiron with the San Diego Chargers since signing there as a free agent in March. Woodhead had 86 total yards in the Chargers match-up against Dallas, tallying two touchdowns, but he wasn't alone in his success. The same day, Welker also scored twice against Philadelphia and now leads the league in touchdowns with six.

Losing Woodhead, Welker and Aaron Hernandez certainly hasn't been all peaches and cream for the Patriots O-line. Brady, who has worked as part of a no-huddle offense under head coach Bill Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels since 2000, cannot yet call audibles at the line to his new teammates, which is an adjustment for the eight-time Pro Bowler and two-time Super Bowl MVP. While both Thompkins and Dobson have been getting better, things are definitely still rocky for the rookie receivers.

Through the first two weeks of the season, Thompkins had failed to have much of an impact, pulling in only six receptions for 89 yards, but in weeks three and four, Thompkins showed major signs of improvement, hauling in nine catches for 168 yards as well as recording three touchdowns in two games. The rookie wide receiver also has demonstrated his ability to be a deep threat against opposition, snatching a 49-yard toss from Brady against Atlanta.

Dobson, a second-round pick by the Patriots in the 2013 NFL Draft, also started the season off slowly. A hamstring injury kept the former Marshall receiver known for his extremely athletic catches sidelined during week one against the Buffalo Bills and in Week 2, the three receptions and 56 yards he tallied were overshadowed by several dropped passes. During Week 3, Dobson was the team's leader, hauling in seven receptions for 52 yards in the win over the New York Jets. In Week 4, Dobson left the game in the third-quarter with a neck injury, which opened the door for Josh Boyce, who tallied one reception for 24 yards in the game. While those stats are nothing to write home about, Boyce displayed some serious athleticism, speed and agility, and if Dobson is expected to miss time, could be a new target for Brady going forward.

Injuries could play a key role in how the Patriots perform this season, since Dobson's injury is just one of many. During the offseason, New England signed wide receiver Danny Amendola, who appeared to be a promising replacement for Welker, but has been injury-plagued throughout his career. Sure enough, Amendola has missed the last three games with a groin injury, while one of Brady's other favorite targets, tight end Rob Gronkowski, is still sitting on the sidelines recovering from multiple surgeries on a broken forearm and his back.

Gronk's status has been elevated in recent weeks from "doubtful" to "questionable" and from "questionable" to "probable" but the Patriots opted to leave him home during their trip to Atlanta on Sept. 29 after he strained his back during practice leading up to the game. Amendola was initially expected to miss six weeks, but many reports indicate that he'll return much sooner, which would certainly solidify the Patriots' depth at wide receiver. Both players are currently considered day-to-day.

One player who won't be making an appearance again anytime soon is running back Shane Vereen.  Two days after racking up 159 total yards in the game against Buffalo, Vereen was placed on the team's short-term injured reserve list with a broken wrist, which required surgery. Vereen rushed for 101 yards against Buffalo on 14 carries, and caught seven passes for 58 yards. Vereen won't be eligible to return to the team's active roster until Week 11, a week after New England's scheduled bye. The blow was crushing for the Patriots since Vereen performed so well following a fumble by Ridley on a non-contact play that found him warming a seat on the bench.

Just as things seemed to be looking up for New England, the Week 4 also produced another key injury. Defensive tackle and defensive captain Vince Wilfork was injured on the 10th play of the Falcons' opening series, tearing his Achilles tendon, an injury that will likely leave him sidelined for the remainder of the season.

"It doesn't look too good for Vince," Belichick told Boston sports radio station WEEI before the results of Wilfork's MRI came back. "I think he's got a pretty serious injury, and it's probably unlikely that he'll be able to play again this year."

Wilfork's double-team demanding 325-pound frame won't be easy to replace with the team thin at defensive tackle since training camp opened. The team signedArmond Armstead but the 23-year-old defensive end is occupying a spot on the non-football injury list after undergoing surgery for an infection. The team is left with only a few choices, veteran Tommy Kelly and rookies Joe Vellano, who was undrafted, as well as Chris Jones, a sixth-round pick from the Houston Texans who the Patriots claimed on waivers.

If the Patriots can manage to escape the division unscathed, there are at least two more teams in the AFC that could threaten New England's chances at another trip to the Super Bowl-Kansas City and Denver. The Chiefs are perhaps the most surprising, having only won two games last season. The team managed to revamp during the offseason under new head coach Andy Reid and won its first four games. The Broncos, however, could be the team to watch with their explosive and unstoppable offense lead by Peyton Manning. Denver has managed to embarrass its first four opponents, outscoring them 179-91, despite having a depleted defense missing currently-suspended linebacker Von Miller and cornerback Champ Bailey. 


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