The New England Patriots 2017 season started off with a thud on Thursday night.
The highlights occurred before kickoff, when the team unveiled its fifth Super Bowl banner and brought out all five Lombardi Trophies.
Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman brought out the fifth one… but unfortunately for the Patriots that’s all he could do on the field. And that’s not going to change at any point this season, as Edelman is out for the year with a torn ACL suffered in the preseason.
And boy oh boy, it did not take long for everybody on and off the field to feel his absence.
Just ask Tom Brady, who finished 16-for-36 for 267 yards and a 35.1 quarterback rating.
It’s no secret that Edelman is Brady’s favorite target and a massive part of the Patriots offense. In his only two 16-game regular seasons, Edelman has amassed 150 targets, including 158 last season. He’s essentially averaged 10 targets a game for the past four regular seasons. That average goes up in the playoffs (12.6).
Edelman is also the guy Brady looks for to move the chains, as he led all Pats receivers with 55 receptions for first downs last season.
They could have used a few against the Chiefs, as Brady threw for just 11 first downs and the Patriots were 5-for-15 on third down (and 0-for-2 on fourth down).
So what went wrong? A lot. It’s apparent that replacing Edelman isn’t going to happen overnight and there isn’t one player who is going to slide into his place.
So Brady attempted to go the deeper route more often than usual – and the results weren’t good. According to Pro Football Focus, Brady attempted 10 deep passes (attempts travelling 20+ yards in the air) Thursday night and completed just two of them (20.0 percent). As a comparison, Brady attempted 49 such attempts in all of last year’s regular season and was accurate on 51.0 percent of them (23 completions and 2 drops).
He connected with Brandin Cooks but missed by a wide margin on balls thrown to Chris Hogan and Rob Gronkowski, who could do nothing but beg for pass interference calls.
Danny Amendola looked to take on some of Edelman’s role though, and finished with 100 yards on six receptions. But he left the game with a concussion.
Brady also had to hold onto the ball longer, a testament to Kansas City’s coverage. So often over the years we’ve seen the Patriots hurry-up offense do work on opposing defenses, as Brady hits his guys under coverage and the team marches down the field.
Not in Week 1.
In fact, according to Pro Football Focus, Brady averaged 2.94 seconds per attempt compared to 2.39 seconds last regular season. When Brady held onto the ball longer than 2.5 seconds, his passer rating was 54.9.
So, what’s the fix? Well, time heals all and it’s going to take time, reps, and some long nights in the film room.
Yes, Edelman is important – but there is more than enough talent on offense to overcome. Expect three players that didn’t see much action at all in Week 1 – RB Dion Lewis, RB Rex Burkhead, and WR Phillip Dorsett – to see expanded roles moving forward. It will especially be interesting to see how Bill Belichick works Dorsett in, as he was acquired just five days before the season began and hasn’t had time to learn the whole playbook or earn Brady’s trust.
It’s all hands on deck now.