Slowly but surely, the New England Patriots are working their way back to where they want to be.
The early-season struggles that plagued New England haven’t vanished, but after they claimed another double-digit victory with their 38-24 defeat of the Indianapolis Colts on Thursday, those issues are appearing further and further in the rear-view mirror.
It’s no coincidence the Patriots looked like themselves again on the day they got Julian Edelman back on the field. The wide receiver played his first regular season game since 2016 after an ACL tear kept him shelved all of last year and a four-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs took him out of the lineup the past four weeks.
Aside from a critical drop on a play that would resulted in significant yardage, the connection between Tom Brady and Edelman looked like it hadn’t missed a beat as the trusty wideout hauled in seven passes for 57 yards.
Brady and Edelman repeatedly burned the Colts in the middle of the field as the latter methodically found the soft spots in the zone defence.
With Edelman garnering attention, Rob Gronkowski did damage up the seams on six receptions for 75 yards, while James White served as an effective safety valve out of the backfield, snagging 10 catches for 77 yards a score.
As a standalone talent, Edelman doesn’t fit the bill as a weapon who opens up the rest of the attack, but in this Patriots’ offence, he’s an instrumental puzzle piece that affords Brady comfort and allows everyone else to do what they do well.
GORDON CHANNELS MOSS
You didn’t even have to squint to see the resemblance in what Josh Gordon did on his touchdown grab and what Randy Moss used to do when he and Brady were scorching opponents years ago.
In the fourth quarter, Brady showed extreme trust in his new receiver when he lofted a ball into double coverage, only for Gordon to repay his faith by splitting two defenders and coming down with the grab for the 34-yard score.
After targeting him just three times up to that point – resulting in one 16-yard hookup – Brady finally took the leap and let Gordon make a play in traffic. That’s the type of stuff Brady and Moss did so well back in the day, when the Patriots quarterback would heave passes into double and triple coverage and allow his star receiver to go get it.
Gordon is still a ways off from reaching those heights – he saw just 20 snaps on Thursday after playing 18 in his debut last week – but it’s not farfetched to imagine more home run plays coming if Brady gives him the opportunity.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
It says something, both in the Patriots’ favour and to the Colts’ detriment, that New England left plays on the field and still almost put up 50 points.
The aforementioned drop by Edelman, along with deflections off the hands of Gronkowski and Chris Hogan which resulted in Brady’s two interceptions, kept the Patriots from what could have been a flawless offensive showing. After seeing his receivers let him down at times through the first four weeks, Brady didn’t fully escape the frustration on Thursday.
Brady did see his receivers create more separation to get open, but part of that was due to Indianapolis’ leaky zone coverage. Against an elite defence, New England will still have to prove they can shake tight man coverage. Not only will the Patriots have to play better teams in the weeks ahead, they’ll also face healthier sides as Indianapolis were without several key players, including T.Y. Hilton.
Still, New England are very much trending in the right direction, and with the playoffs still a long way off, they have more than enough time to hit their peak.
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