FOXBORO — The smile that broke across Tom Brady’s face said it all.
In the wake of a 33-3 laugher over the Steelers Sunday night at Gillette, a game where the Patriots weren’t even at their peak performance offensively, I asked the Patriots quarterback if he enjoyed throwing the ball deep down the field. After all, “chicks dig the long ball”, reminding him of the 1990s expression from baseball when Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire were wrecking home run records.
“Yeah, that’s a good saying,” Brady laughed. “Yeah, we all dig the long ball.”
Brady certainly did Sunday as he connected on downfield missiles of 58 yards to Phillip Dorsett and 44 yards to Josh Gordon. Brady also found Dorsett for a 25-yard completion over the middle and Julian Edelman for 24 yards.
“It was good to get a few of those in there. Yeah, it was definitely good to get a few in there. It was a game we weren’t – it just didn’t feel like we were making consistent enough plays, and the big plays really helped us tonight.”
Brady and the Patriots offense was 7-for-14 on third down Sunday but 0-for-3 in the red zone and 0-for-1 in goal-to-go situations. That’s what Brady is talking about when he’s looking for areas to improve.
Brady was 24-of-36 Sunday for 341 yards and three touchdowns. Phillip Dorsett finished with 95 yards, two touchdowns and caught all four passes targeted for him. Josh Gordon had three catches for 73 yards and took a couple of huge hits, including one over the middle on his 44-yard reception in the third quarter.
There was a caveat that Brady mentioned that pumps the brakes on just how amazing this offense can be with Antonio Brown waiting to join in.
“They’ll help us every week if we keep making them, but I think it’s got to be different things every week. Sometimes it’s big plays; sometimes it’s more methodical drives. Whatever they’re going to defend, we’ve got to figure out how to execute against.”
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) September 9, 2019
In 2007, Brady kept making those big plays to Randy Moss, starting with the season-opener against the Jets and concluding with the regular season finale when he hit Moss on his NFL record-setting 50th touchdown pass and Moss’ record-setting 23rd touchdown reception.
But what Sunday night showed is that this offense might have the capability of doing even greater things – with more weapons.
That ’07 team had Moss, Wes Welker, Donte Stallworth and Jabar Gaffney. This receiving corps has Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon, Phillip Dorsett, Jakobi Meyers and – soon – Antonio Brown. And we’re not even counting Demaryius Thomas (inactive Sunday) and N’Keal Harry (on IR). The amount of depth of weapons is mind-boggling.
Again Brady providing the much-needed perspective while the rest of New England is fantasizing about Madden numbers every weekend. Brady was asked how he might help Brown fit in like Gordon did last year in Week 4.
“It doesn’t come together just because you say, ‘Oh, all you guys are going to come together.’ Antonio’s had a lot of production, Demaryius [Thomas] has had a lot of production, Julian’s had a lot of production, Josh has had a lot of production, Phillip had a great game tonight,” Brady added. “So, the point is we’ve got a lot of players that are talented and we’ve just got to figure out how to make it all work. We’re going to work hard. It’s a long year. It’s the beginning of a long marathon and the NFL’s very competitive and it’s going to be a great challenge, but I think we’re all looking forward to it.”
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) September 9, 2019
“We have spent a lot of time together,” Gordon said of his time with Brady. “I think over the course of time, talking together, working together after practice, in-between practice – yeah, I get the feel for what he likes and I try to find my way there as best I can. I think it’ll get better, it’s the first game so we’re building.
“I’m doing very well. I’m extremely filled with gratitude every day, just enjoying myself. Coming inside this building, being with this family-oriented type of environment, and just doing what I love to do. There’s nothing better than this, honestly. It’s great.”
Gordon’s peace of mind was evident Sunday on and off the field, something he knows Brown will have to work to find in a new culture in New England.
“For me, initially it was a culture shock,” Gordon added. “It was definitely different. I think as I grew in this environment and got to observe other young men move and organize and act professionally, expectations were high. It wasn’t anything more than what I think they knew that they could do was being asked of them. I was like, ‘Alright, this is the way it’s done here.’ I could either get with it, or look for a transition somewhere else. It’s tough, but if this is what you want to do, I think this is the best place to be.
“Antonio is Antonio. He’s going to have to figure out his own way, just like everybody else has.”
It can’t be all about the long ball, of course, but it’s going to mean one thing for sure. The Patriots are going to be able to stretch defenses like never before.
“Phil has got a lot of speed,” Belichick said of Dorsett. “He can definitely stretch the field and we’ve seen him make those big plays before. We’ve seen it in practice. He had some big catches for us and, again, that opened up some other things offensively as well. Tom [Brady] did a great job, solid coverage, hit him.
“I mean, sometimes those are the toughest throws for a quarterback when a guy is wide open running down the middle of the field, but he put it right on him. Phil’s done a good job for us, been out there every day. He’s a tough kid that’s been very dependable. Smart, plays all the positions and has come through for us in a lot of big games. So, we’ll get back to work again. It’s the first game of the year, so there’s a lot to learn from, a lot of new players out there. We’re going to try to build on tonight and try to get to 2-0.”
The show has just begun.