Tom Brady, Patriots offense has plenty of time to hit their stride

Maybe the Patriots were playing possum, but given the unsettled situation at receiver and tight end, and this was before Antonio Brown was signed Saturday, there were plenty of cautionary flags being waved around Foxboro during the week with respect to the offense.

Both Tom Brady and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels got the word out to the masses. And head coach Bill Belichick didn’t exactly dump cold water on the message.

The offense is a jumble right now. Maybe that’s one of the reasons Belichick felt the need to sign Brown, who isn’t eligible to play until Week 2. In the immediate, no one has any idea what it’s going to look like against the Steelers. Not the quarterback, the offensive coordinator, or the head coach. So they were pumping the brakes on expectations for the season opener.

Currently, Brady has had limited time with Demaryius Thomas, along with rookie receivers Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski, and little re-acquaintance time with Julian Edelman and Josh Gordon.

Half of his tight ends are serving suspensions.

Prior to signing the former Raider, Belichick said they can’t just “wave a wand” and gain what they’re lacking in terms of consistency and continuity. It just takes time.

So the offense might not have an identity in the early going, and might not have one for some time as McDaniels sorts out what the unit ultimately does best. He doesn’t have the answer right now. But eventually he’ll find one.

Watching “Do Your Job III” and remembering how last season’s troubling offense progressed, they’ll eventually hit their stride. Of course, last time around, that offense had Rob Gronkowski, or a Gronk that finally hit his stride later in the year.

This season, it remains to be seen just how McDaniels will tailor the offense without a weapon like Gronk, who was not only a force in the passing game, but also a huge asset in the run game given his ability to block. They now have Brown. If he can behave, he’ll certainly help.

The Patriots are also operating without starting center David Andrews, who is lost for the season with clots in his lungs. Ted Karras is expected to handle the job for the time being (they dumped backup Russ Bodine Friday), while rookie Isaiah Wynn begins his first season as the starting left tackle, taking over for mammoth Trent Brown, who left via free agency.

NFL Network analyst Brian Billick isn’t too worried about a slow start with the offense and any long-term ramifications.

“Based on history, you have to think they’ll figure it out,” said Billick, when reached Thursday. “They’ve made a lot of moves of late, particularly along the offensive line. But Tom seems to make it all work. With the exception of the tight end position, they’re probably as talented at the other skill positions as they have been in general. So I can’t imagine it’s not business as usual. We’ll see if it all translates into that level of productivity. But given the division they’re in, it masks a lot of things but they usually figure it out and make a run once they get to the playoffs.”

Basically, they’ll be figuring it out with the help of a dominant defense, and favorable schedule the half dozen games after the opener. Early on, defenses also aren’t going to be sure how to defend Brady & Co.

Will they be continuing on with the old school, smashmouth football that was so successful down the stretch and the postseason last year? Or will they think Brady is going to spread it out, and fire away? That’s how he’s beaten the Steelers countless times in the past.

“Their hallmark is, they change week-to-week anyway,” said Billick. “They’ll run it 40 times one week, throw it 50 times the next. I don’t know even in the best of times, if you can identify, ‘well, they do this.’ They do so many different things. They build to have that kind of flexibility. So, with the Patriots, I’m not sure you need to have a qualifier.”

They just keep reinventing themselves, whether it’s from week to week, or year to year. Maybe the backs will be more involved, maybe it won’t always be necessary if the receivers deliver up to their capabilities – and Brown tows the line.

As McDaniels said in the “Do Your Job III” special: “Tom, if he’s supposed to hand it off 37 times and win that way, then he’ll do it. If we need him to throw it 52 times, then he’ll do that, too.

“It’s the same way Bill is. Bill doesn’t care if we have to win 43-40 or 13-10. The willingness to be able to do that is really a special trait.”

Bottom line, if it doesn’t look good early, no need to panic. They didn’t look like an offense that could win a championship for much of last season, but got it together when it counted.

“All it has to do is rectify itself by the playoffs,” said Billick. “They don’t think of it that way, but when you look at their schedule after Pittsburgh, with Miami, the Jets, Buffalo, Washington, the Giants . . . every game is tough, but it’s not the most challenging schedule, so basically they have a half season to get it going. After Pittsburgh, they don’t play a potential playoff team until they get to Cleveland and Baltimore. And that’s in October. So they’ll go a month and a half, two months. So they have some time to figure it out.”

Adding Brown should help the process.

AFC sleeper team

In terms of contending teams in the AFC after the Patriots, Billick likes most of the usual suspects (Chiefs, Steelers, Ravens, Chargers) although he considers the field “wide open.”

Asked for a sleeper team, Billick listed the Jaguars, although he wouldn’t quite call them a sleeper.

“If there’s a team that’s floated under the radar because of where they finished last year, it’s Jacksonville,” said Billick, referring to the last-place Jaguars. “If they can revert to that run-offense, great defense, now Nick Foles can add that extra dimension.”

Christmas in September

Opening night couldn’t come fast enough for Michael Bennett. The Patriots defensive lineman was looking forward to experiencing the banner raising ceremony, and getting his first trip out of the tunnel as a Patriot in a regular season game.

“I’ll get the same chills. I’ll have a hard time sleeping the night before,” he said. “With the opportunity to play for an organization that’s done so well, with so many great players, you feel like a child at Christmas. It’s an opportunity to play in front of a great fan base for a great city. It feels good.”

Backing Jimmy G

Jerry Rice is just one of many who will be tuned in to see how Jimmy Garoppolo fares this season. The former 49er legend and greatest wide receiver of all time offered his thoughts on the Jimmy G, who is coming back from ACL surgery.

“When he had that bad (preseason) game (at Denver), I said, ‘Well, you know, Jimmy is going to come back,” Rice said, via the San Jose Mercury News. “He’s going to come back better than that. You’re going to see some of that rust.

“But,” Rice continued, “there’s some pressure on Jimmy also, because you got Nick Mullens right behind him.”

Mullens played pretty well last season in relief of Garoppolo, winning three of his eight starts. He also performed pretty well this preseason. Garoppolo signed a $137.5 million contract, with $74.1 million guaranteed.

“Jimmy knows that he has to play well,” Rice said. “And so you might see a little bit (of rust) but you know, I’m expecting this guy to come out and play exceptional football.”



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