The Patriots offense hit rock bottom in their loss to the Detroit Lions on Sunday night.
Their 209 total yards of offense were the fewest the Patriots have managed in a game in which Tom Brady was under center for all four quarters since Week 7, 2010 (excludes meaningless Week 17 game in 2015 season).
Their 12 first downs were their fewest since 2013, and we saw Brady as frustrated as we’ve ever seen him as his offense failed to produce against a defense that allowed 39 points per game in its first two games of the 2018 season.
Now we can rehash all the personnel decisions that got us to this low point, such as the offseason departures of Dion Lewis, Brandin Cooks, and Danny Amendola.
And we can pick apart a defense that unquestionably has issues even though we knew going into the season that the Patriots would need an elite offense to compete at the highest level.
But none of that second-guessing is going to get the Patriots out of what’s one of the biggest crossroads of the Brady and Belichick era, as the team stares at its first 1-2 start since 2012, and just its third 1-2 start since 2001.
For better or worse, what’s going to dig the Patriots out of this hole is the return of Edelman from his four-game ban and the addition of wide receiver Josh Gordon.
That’s right: to get where they want to go, the Patriots need a 32-year-old receiver coming off a torn ACL and an oft-troubled wideout that can’t stay on the field due to a grueling battle with addiction and mental illness, to be big-time contributors in this offense.
Although it sounds gloomy when put in those words, there’s plenty of reasons to think it will work for these Patriots.
First of all, let’s not forget what Edelman brings to the table for Tom Brady and company.
Not only is Edelman one of Brady’s most reliable receivers, but he also gives the Patriots their all-important slot option in the middle of the field.
The Patriots offense over the last two decades has relied more on a consistent threat out of the slot than any offense in the NFL.
Everything they do funnels through that position, as you’d expect from an offense predicated on timing and option route concepts that change pre-snap or during the play to craft themselves around the defense.
Last season, Danny Amendola’s 570 yards out of the slot ranked ninth in the NFL among wideouts, and Edelman ranked third in 2016 as one of the most productive slot receivers in the league (724 yards).
That responsibility has fallen on the shoulders of wide receiver Chris Hogan in Edelman’s absence, and Hogan has only 73 yards out of the slot through three games despite spending more than 50 percent of his time inside, which comes out to roughly 389 yards when projected out to a full 16 games.
And then there’s Gordon, who will bring an outside presence that the Patriots sorely lack.
On Sunday night in Detroit, Tom Brady completed a measly two passes outside the numbers, a 12-yard completion along the sideline to Cordarrelle Patterson and his lone touchdown pass of the game to running back James White.
The gamble on Gordon is a risky one, but as I highlighted in my film review last week, his talent as a deep threat from outside the numbers is undeniable, and a necessary risk for the desperate Patriots.
In a vacuum, Edelman and Gordon would help any offense, but it’s not just their individual talent that will make it easier for Tom Brady to move the ball.
The two receivers will also have a massive effect on the rest of Tom Brady’s arsenal.
Their additions will open things up for All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski, who has been doubled and sometimes triple covered by opponents through the first three weeks of the season.
And it will also have a trickle-down effect on the rest of the receivers, as Chris Hogan and Phillip Dorsett become fourth and fifth options in the passing game rather than Brady’s primary targets behind Gronk.
In other words, they’ll make things easier on everyone, from Tom Brady to Rob Gronkowski and even to offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels who can’t seem to mask the inferior talent on offense with scheme and play calling.
Even if you aren’t a believer in Edelman and Gordon this season, if you’re a fan of the team or the team itself, the two wideouts will have to be the answers to a currently anemic offense.
And until we see them on the field, we won’t truly know the ceiling for this Patriots team.
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