FOXBOROUGH — You can’t worry about style points when regular ones are hard to come by.
To say the Patriots scored a 13-10 win over the New York Jets on Thursday night at Gillette Stadium would be a misrepresentation of the proceedings. The Patriots didn’t do much scoring, but at this junction with their offense a work in progress without much tangible progress, they’ll take a win any way they can.
To borrow an infamous slurring of words from former Jets quarterback Joe Namath, the Patriots were “strugg-ling” on offense for the second consecutive game. Three fourth-quarter interceptions by Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith offset an ineffective night from the retooled Patriots’ attack.
Neutered New England had more punts (11) than first downs (nine) in 16 possessions, and didn’t score in the second half.
This must be what it’s like in other, more inept NFL locales. But not here. Get used to it, though. This is the new reality for the New England Patriots. After years of playing offensive football so beautiful and cutting edge that it belonged in the Institute of Contemporary Art, the Patriots are now like the graffiti you find on the inside of a bathroom stall.
Yes, it will help to have Rob Gronkowski back and a healthy Danny Amendola (some would argue that’s an oxymoron), but everyone knew from the outset that the Patriots’ offense was going to be relying on callow pass catchers.
The kids are not all right, and not even one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, Brady, can mask that reality for the Patriots.
“We have a long way to go, so no one is going to rescue us and save the day,” said Brady, who was 19 of 39 for 185 yards with a touchdown. “We’ve just got to fight through it, and got to work harder and get better and try to be more consistent. Hopefully, we can score more points.”
They once said that the only one that could keep Michael Jordan under 20 points per game was his own college coach, Dean Smith. The only one that can make Brady look like an ordinary passer is Patriots coach Bill Belichick by giving TB12 weapons of mass frustration in rookie wide receivers Kenbrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson, and Josh Boyce.
The Patriots were 2 for their first 13 on third-down conversions. They finished 4 of 18. Brady was 13 of 30 for 150 yards and a touchdown with 11:13 left in the fourth quarter. His only reliable receiver was Julian Edelman, who was a quarterback in college and moonlighted at defensive back for the Patriots two years ago.
We’ve been spoiled by the Patriots since 2007. From 2007-12, the Patriots averaged 31.4 points per game in the regular season, the most in the NFL. The New Orleans Saints ranked second with 28.6 points per game. The prior three seasons the Patriots averaged more than 30 points per game — 34.8 in 2012 (tops in the league), 34.2 in 2011 (second), and 32.4 in 2010 (first).
Scoring 30 points looks as obtainable for the Patriots right now as scaling the Prudential Tower.
The issue for the Patriots is that the young receivers they’re relying on to catch on, haven’t yet. Brady targeted Dobson and Thompkins 17 times and the two had five receptions. Dobson, who was inactive for the Buffalo game, had three catches for 56 yards and a touchdown. Thompkins had two catches for 47 yards, including a 38-yarder that set up a Stephen Gostkowski field goal that gave the Patriots a 13-3 lead with 5:09 left in the first half.
Those were their last points of the game.
Dobson’s first career catch went for a 39-yard touchdown to give the Patriots a 7-0 lead on the first drive of the game. It should have been, considering there have been people stuck on deserted islands who were closer to human contact.
The Patriots lined up in a formation with Dobson as a wingback on the right side behind Nate Soldier, who was a tackle eligible. After the play-action fake, Dobson was so wide open that even Tim Tebow couldn’t have missed him.
It was downhill from there for the passing game, as both Dobson and Thompkins had crucial drops or couldn’t complete big plays.
Dobson had back-to-back drops in the second quarter. He couldn’t corral a pass on an out, and then dropped a beautifully thrown deep ball that would have been a 50-plus-yard completion.
Thompkins appeared to make a tremendous diving 25-yard touchdown catch with 19 seconds left in the half, but it was overturned when video replay showed he used the ground to control the ball. The Patriots ended up attempting a 43-yard field goal on the last play of the half that went wide left.
The drive after the Jets pulled within 13-10 on a Bilal Powell touchdown run with 5:05 left in the third quarter, Thompkins dropped a pass over the middle on third down. That’s the way it went for the Patriots.
“It just doesn’t magically come together. You’ve got to work hard at it, and concentrate,” said a sullen Brady. “All of us have to do a better job of that. The passing game is all about anticipation. They have to anticipate what I’m doing. I have to anticipate what they’re going to do. We can do a better job of that.
“I think it’s unrealistic for them to feel like they can do it like 10-year veterans. That’s not what they are, but they’re trying really hard. They work really hard. They have a lot of skill. They’re great kids. We’ve just got to keep grinding.”
Grind might be the operative word for the Patriots’ offense this season.