When examining the New England Patriots’ 7-2 record, most would assume they have been the same old offensive juggernauts they have always been.
However, before this week’s 55-31 trouncing of the Pittsburgh Steelers, New England’s offense, and Tom Brady specifically, struggled to put points on the board. Since 2010, the Patriots have averaged over 30 points per game every season, a mark they’ve reached just twice this season (and never topped), averaging fewer than 23 points through the first eight games.
However, there seemed to be a clear shift in New England’s performance on Sunday, with the Patriots looking as dangerous as ever behind Brady’s 432-yard, four-touchdown performance. With Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola appearing to be fully healthy, Sunday’s offensive dominance was a sign of things to come for New England.
New England was missing its two best receiving options without Gronkowski and Amendola for the beginning of the season, and Brady’s numbers reflected the lack of offensive weapons. Brady topped 300 yards once in the first eight games and never threw more than two touchdown passes in any one game.
With Gronk and Amendola fully healthy, Brady no longer had to rely on the likes of Julian Edelman, undrafted rookie Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson to be the primary pass catchers. Dobson has proven to be a valuable rookie receiver and will blossom now that defenders’ focus will shift to Amendola and Gronkowski.
Amendola is one of the top slot receivers in the game and his shiftiness and ability to create space gives Brady plenty of options in the middle of the field. Gronkowski is as deadly of a weapon deep and in the middle as anyone in the game and Dobson has showed signs as a dangerous deep threat with breakaway speed.
Add in a versatile Edelman and a balanced running attack with weapons such as Stevan Ridley and the injured, but expected to return soon, Shane Vereen, and the Patriots maintain a balanced and dangerous offensive attack. Defenses will certainly have trouble slowing down the many options Brady has at his disposal.
Some may question how much merit can be put into New England’s offensive performance against a lowly Steelers squad that has struggled mightily this season. Sure, New England’s 610-yard performance (the third-most in franchise history) may have been aided by Pittsburgh’s defensive ineptitude. But give credit where it is due: The Patriots were absolutely dominant on Sunday, and any offense that features Tom Brady throwing to such formidable targets as Gronkowski and Amendola can’t be as bad as what the Patriots put on the field early this season.
Despite their offensive struggles, New England has still found a way to win, entering the halfway point of the season atop the AFC East standings and holding the fourth-best record in the NFL.
Barring further injury to offensive personnel, the Patriots are once again positioned for a run at Super Bowl title. Other teams such as Kansas City and Denver may have performed better up to this point in the season, but New England presents as dangerous an option as any to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. The Patriots are on a short list of teams that can realistically challenge the Broncos as the expected AFC Super Bowl representative.
A version of this article appeared on page 6 of November 5th’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.