FOXBOROUGH — Through five games of the season, the New Orleans Saints offense has been averaging a league-high 34:37 in time of possession.
So, Tom Brady was asked Wednesday, can long drives for the Patriots offense — which would keep the ball out of Drew Brees’s hands — help New England?
“I think we’ll try to put together any drive at this point to score points,” Brady said. “Long, short, it doesn’t matter — we’ve got to score touchdowns.”
Brady is understandably frustrated with the state of his offense these days, as the Patriots scored just 6 points against the Bengals last Sunday, the first time in more than four years they’ve failed to score a touchdown.
After being at or near the top of the league in points per game for several years, the Patriots are 24th, with 95 points (19 per game), and they are 31st in red zone touchdown percentage (six touchdowns in 17 opportunities).
As he said, at this point, Brady will take points any way he can get them, especially against a New Orleans defense allowing 14 points per game.
“This defense really forces you into some long drives,” Brady said. “I don’t think they’ve given up many big plays this year. They have played from the lead a bunch, which is probably why they have a lot of sacks , interceptions [seven], and have been ahead in a lot of these games.
“We’ve got to try and score quickly, methodically, whatever it takes, because they have a good offense, they have a good team, they play well on special teams.”
During his weekly radio appearance Monday, Brady commented that the Patriots need to “start making NFL-caliber plays,” another sign of his frustration at the offense’s struggles.
He was asked what he meant by that comment.
“You know it when you see it,” said Brady. “It’s executing at a very high level on a consistent basis, especially in critical situations. When you play good teams and good defenses, the windows are small, the catches are tight. You’ve got to be at your best. We haven’t done a great job of that this year.
“We haven’t scored as many points as we’re capable of for a number of reasons. We are trying to correct those things, but the most often you can do the right thing, be dependable, consistent — and that’s all of us — the better we will be as an offense, the more consistent we will be as an offense. It can’t be 50-50 in the NFL. You can’t be up and down.
“You have to be good as an offense on a consistent basis. If the plays are there, you’ve got to make them.”
And now for your always-entertaining reporters’ exchange with Bill Belichick on Rob Gronkowski’s health and potential return.
Question: How much closer do you sense we are getting to seeing Gronkowski in a game?
Belichick: “Day to day.”
Q: Is it safe to say he’s making progress?
Belichick: “He’s day to day.”
Q: Do you feel like he’s closer to a return now than he was at this time last week?
Belichick: “He’s day to day.”
Q: Physically, how did he look in practice last week?
Belichick: “He practiced.”
There were reports Tuesday that Gronkowski may finally be cleared to play in this Sunday’s game against New Orleans.
Bring ’em back
After missing three games with torn groin muscles, receiver Danny Amendola was back on the field Sunday in Cincinnati, and he said Wednesday he’s doing well physically.
“I feel good,” he said. “I had a good day today, and I’m just preparing this week, getting ready to go for next Sunday. Just continue to do what the trainers and training staff ask, that’s all I can do.”
Amendola will likely be managing his injury throughout the season, but he is not the only offensive player who’s hurting right now; there’s Gronkowski, of course, and running back Stevan Ridley missed last week’s game with a knee injury. Running back Shane Vereen is out for at least another month, on injured reserve/designated to return with a broken wrist.
Amendola hopes everyone returning will lead to better results for the offense.
“That’s the goal, without a doubt,” he said. “We’re out there practicing and running around, trying to get on the same page, regardless of who it is, and we’ll be ready to go when our number is called, for sure.”
Defensive end Rob Ninkovich and center Ryan Wendell were added to the week’s first injury report. Both were limited at Wednesday’s practice, Ninkovich with a groin injury, Wendell listed with a concussion.
Ninkovich and Wendell were the only additions to the report from last week, although defensive lineman Michael Buchanan missed Wednesday’s practice because of a non-injury-related reason.
Three players were removed from the report: receiver Kenbrell Thompkins, who had been listed last week with a shoulder injury, and offensive linemen Sebastian Vollmer (foot) and Will Svitek (knee).
Defensive tackle Tommy Kelly (knee) and running back Leon Washington (ankle) also missed practice. Both were hurt in the loss at Cincinnati.
In addition to Ninkovich and Wendell, there were nine other Patriots who were limited in practice: receivers Amendola (groin), Aaron Dobson (neck), and Matthew Slater (wrist), Gronkowski (back/forearm), running backs Ridley (knee) and Brandon Bolden (knee), linebackers Jerod Mayo (ankle) and Dont’a Hightower (knee), and defensive back Tavon Wilson (hamstring).
Ridley, who had been the team’s leading rusher, missed practice all last week, and sat out Sunday’s game.
For the Saints, three starters were listed among four players who did not practice: safety Roman Harper (knee), wide receiver Lance Moore, and right tackle Zach Streif.
The Patriots added some depth at defensive line, signing tackle Andre Neblett to fill the open spot on the 53-man roster.
Signed by the Panthers as a rookie free agent out of Temple in 2010, Neblett spent three seasons with Carolina before signing with Tampa Bay as a free agent in May. The 6-foot, 310-pound 25-year-old was released by the Buccaneers on the eve of the season.
Neblett played in 30 games (seven starts) for the Panthers, recording 28 tackles, three sacks, and two fumble recoveries.
New England also re-signed safety Kanorris Davis and linebacker Ja’Gared Davis to the practice squad; both rookies had been promoted to the 53-man roster in advance of the game in Cincinnati, and played on special teams.