Patriots' no-name offense comes up big when needed
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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Tom Brady didn't exactly have to go it alone against the Jets Thursday night at Gillette Stadium. But he might have wondered if he had walked into the wrong huddle, considering the crowd of strangers gathered around him.
The only familiar faces at the Pats' skill positions were wide receiver Julian Edelman and running back Stevan Ridley. With wide receiver Danny Amendola (groin) and tight end Rob Gronkowski (forearm, back) confined to the inactive list by injuries and all-purpose running back Shane Vereen (wrist) on injured reserve, Brady had to make do with rookie wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins and tight end Michael Hoomanawanui.
Hoomanawho? You get the idea.
After scoring on the opening drive with a brilliantly designed 39-yard touchdown pass to rookie Aaron Dobson, Brady and his band of no-names struggled to move the ball against what amounted to a ball-control Jets defense. That is to say the Jets limited the Patriots to nine first downs, four of 18 third-down conversions and 26:00 time of possession. Brady completed 19 of 39 passes for 178 yards and one TD.
But despite those numbers, the Pats had the edge that counted on the scoreboard, 13-10.
Brady's frustration with several dropped passes in the rain-soaked conditions was evident, and he later said, "I have to do a better job with my body language."
Brady targeted the veteran Edelman 18 times, completing 13 passes for 78 yards, but he was 6-for-21 with his other receivers. "It just doesn't magically come together," he said. "They have to anticipate what I'm going to do and I have to anticipate what they're going to do. I think it's unrealistic to feel like they can do it like 10-year veterans."
There was one big play, however, that worked exactly as it was scripted to target Jets rookie cornerback Dee Milliner.
On their opening drive, the Pats had a third-and-2 situation at the Jets' 39-yard line. Coach Bill Belichick sent tackle Nate Solder into the game as an eligible receiver at tight end in a heavy run formation.
Brady then faked a handoff as the offensive line pulled to block to the right. Emerging from that crowd of blockers was Dobson, whose first NFL catch was a wide-open 39-yard touchdown for a quick 7-0 lead.
Asked if the idea was to fool Milliner, who was benched in the second half, Dobson said, "We definitely had it planned in practice, and it worked to perfection. The play-action fake definitely made [Milliner] bite up, and it was wide-open."
Belichick said of the Jets, "It looked like they had everybody up pretty close to the line of scrimmage, which they did quite a bit tonight. It looked like they had no deep field player.
"They were kind of caught up in the action, and Aaron slipped behind them and Tom found him. We got behind them several times. We didn't convert as often as we would like to or need to. But that was a big one for us, no question."
The Jets held Brady and the Pats to two field goals the rest of the way, but Belichick liked how hard his team fought without its usual skill players on offense.
"We ran what we know how to run," Belichick said. "We have to do it better. They're [Jets] a pretty good defensive football team. It was what it was."