FOXBOROUGH — For many years, coach Bill Belichick and the folks in Foxborough have gotten away with using quarterback Tom Brady as human spackle to fill cracks in the team’s construction and plug holes in the roster. They’ve finally gone too far.
This offense has too many holes for even Brady to smooth over. Instead of covering up for dubious roster decisions like trading Logan Mankins and signing Danny Amendola, Brady should be just ducking and covering in self-preservation.
The Patriots’ 2014 home opener at Gillette Stadium against the Oakland Raiders should have been sponsored by Ambien.
That New England’s 16-9 victory came down to a holding penalty on the Raiders that negated the tying touchdown, immediately followed by a pinball interception that landed in the large mitts of Vince Wilfork with less than a minute remaining, was a testament to both the Patriots’ current offensive futility and the Raiders’ institutionalized ineptitude.
Not even Brady, whose measurements are already known by the folks at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, can make this offense dynamic. It is as prosaic as the Patriots have had in years.
When Belichick says the Patriots have to block it better, throw it better, run it better, coach it better, and hydrate before the game better, he’s not stonewalling. He’s being honest.
This offense struggles to produce the Patriots’ customary style points and points in general.
The wide receivers not named Julian Edelman can’t consistently get open and the group has no deep threat. The offensive line can’t give Brady time. On Sunday, it also couldn’t create running room against a Raiders defense that came in ranked dead last in the league in run defense (New England rushed 32 times for 76 yards).
It’s not a good sign when one of the best blocks was delivered by Brady, who cut down Carlos Rogers in the fourth quarter after Shane Vereen reversed field to pick up 5 yards.
It’s clear that the 37-year-old Brady can’t avoid the rush as well as he used to. There is . . . wait for it . . . decline in that area. But pinning all the blame for a scuffling offense on the franchise quarterback is like labeling your Bentley a lemon for failing to start when you didn’t put any gas in it.
Raiders defensive lineman Antonio Smith said you can’t blame Brady for all of the offense’s ills.
“If they could protect him, Brady is Brady,” said Smith. “I don’t think Brady has lost nothing. Brady is Brady, and the way he runs the game is still effective.”
Brady finished a respectable 24 of 37 for 234 yards, with a second-quarter touchdown toss to Rob Gronkowski. But he was sacked twice and hit six times, including getting plastered by old friend Justin Tuck in the fourth quarter after left tackle Nate Solder whiffed like Jackie Bradley Jr.
After the game Brady told Tuck he got him good. That summed up the day. Tuck connecting with Brady and Amendola, who endured another catchless day, failing to do so.
Poor Amendola had another grab wiped out by an offensive pass interference penalty. (The Patriots set so many picks they should run the Princeton offense.)
The Patriots better thank the schedule-maker that they’re getting to work out the kinks against bottom-feeders like the Vikings and the Raiders, who entered with the 31st-ranked offense in the league and a rookie QB.
For the second straight week, the Patriots were held below 300 total yards of offense (297). They were just 1 for 4 in the red zone and couldn’t score a touchdown on a combined six snaps from the Oakland 3-yard line or closer.
One play typified the Patriots’ sub-par and somnambulant offensive execution.
Facing third and goal from the 2 with eight seconds left in the first half, the shotgun snap from center Dan Connolly was low. Brady struggled to pick it up. When he finally got the ball, all he could do was alertly fling it out of bounds, so the Patriots could at least settle for a Stephen Gostkowski 21-yard field goal to take a 10-3 lead at the half.
“I think we can just really do pretty much everything better offensively,” said Belichick. “We need to work harder and be more consistent in the running game and the passing game, all the way around, everything: blocking, throwing, catching, running, run reads, routes, distribution. You name it.”
One thing Belichick could do better is make the best personnel active on game day.
It’s becoming difficult to justify Amendola being active over Aaron Dobson, who sat out for the second time in three games.
Amendola was officially targeted just once. He had a chance to catch a touchdown pass on third and goal from the Oakland 2 in the fourth quarter. He ran a little out route and had the ball go off his finger tips on a diving attempt.
The throw could have been better, but the play was a football trust fall that became a trust fail.
You could see how antsy Brady was at the podium postgame. He said all the right things, but he looked like a man who wanted to get out of there before his true feelings bubbled to the surface Howard Beale-style.
“It’s only three games in, so we have a long season ahead of us. There’s a lot of football to play,” said Brady. “We haven’t done a lot of good things offensively, period. If you want to settle on the red area, I’d settle on everything — certainly the pass game, run game, penalties.
“But we’re 2-1. I think we can make the improvements and understand that we’re trying to build something. But we have to improve everything. That’s the stage we’re at.”