FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The New England Patriots haven’t scored any style points in their first two games this season. Actually, they haven’t scored many points at all.
After averaging 34.8 points per game in 2012, the Patriots have scored but 36 points in wins over the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets.
Much has been written and debated about the relationship between quarterback Tom Brady and his rookie wide receivers, Kenbrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce.
But as Brady said Wednesday — just as he said last Thursday after a miserable offensive performance against the Jets — offensive production relies on more than just one group.
“Hopefully the burden of our offense doesn’t fall on one position, and it can’t fall on just the receiver position or just the tight end position or just the quarterback position,” he said.
Lost amidst the consternation of the lack of a passing game has been this: New England’s offensive line, considered to be a strength entering the season, has yet to play well either.
All five starters — from left to right, tackle Nate Solder, guard Logan Mankins, center Ryan Wendell, guard Dan Connolly and tackle Sebastian Vollmer — return from last year, from a team that had the top-rated offense in the NFL. The Patriots, who gained 2,184 yards rushing in 2012 (averaging 4.2 yards per carry), were expected to be even better on the ground.
Stevan Ridley and Co., were expected to take the pressure off Brady and his kids until they developed the consistency needed to keep long drives going. So far, it hasn’t happened.
The Patriots have rushed for 212 yards in their first two games, averaging just 3.6 yards per carry. And they lost a big chunk of that when Shane Vereen (101 yards rushing, 7.2 average) was lost with a broken left wrist suffered in the season-opening Buffalo victory.
Against the Jets, without Vereen, they ran for just 54 yards, a 2.3-yards-per-rush average.
Beyond that, they’ve allowed Brady to be sacked three times and hit eight others, as well as eight tackles for losses. Those plays have often put the Patriots in long-yardage situations that are difficult to convert, with even veteran receivers.,
Much like Brady and the receivers, this group of five — plus top reserve Marcus Cannon, who has played at left tackle this year when the Patriots have moved Solder to an extra tight end position — are working to get better.
“Well, I feel we’re still going to improve,” said Vollmer, in his fifth year with the Patriots. “Like any team, it’s not where we want it to be in September. That’s where all the focus lies here, to get better. We try to improve on every game and we should get better. Every practice, we should get better.”
This is a group with some talent: Mankins (2005) and Solder (2011) were first-round picks by the Patriots. Mankins is a five-time Pro Bowl selection. Wendell led the NFL in plays from scrimmage last year with 1,379 (including special teams) while Solder led the Patriots in offensive plays (1,234).
Solder said constant attention to detail in practice under line coach Dante Scarnecchia will pay off.
“We’re building week to week,” he said. “We’re always working to do the best we can.”
Even though the five starters are back, they spent little time together in the preseason because of injuries to Connolly and Cannon. Neither played in the first two preseason games, Connolly played sparingly in the third. Both played a lot in the final preseason game, but the other four starters sat out that game.
Vollmer didn’t feel the timing was that far off, but that practicing together would help.
“You do want to practice next to each other but having played next to a guy for a while, you get used to it,” he said. “You kind of know what to expect. But practicing together is definitely good.”
Brady believes the time practicing together now will benefit everyone.
“The more those guys can work together, the better they’re going to be,” he said. “That’s all anticipation, that’s a lot of trust and trusting that the guy next to you is going to be able to do his job. That’s one of the real strengths of our team, one of the real strengths of our offense. We’ve got a really good group of guys up there, so hopefully we can start doing some things at quarterback, running back, tight end, receiver, to help those guys out.”
The Patriots had only four days between their first two games and only held walk-throughs before the Jets game. This week, they have had a full week of practice to prepare for Sunday’s 1 p.m. game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
They’ll need every minute.
The Buccaneers are tied for first in the NFL with nine quarterback sacks in two games..
Practice, said Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, is where everything gets better.
“The one thing we always rely on is practice,” he said. “If we can execute things in practice and if we do things well when we work here on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, then we certainly have confidence we can do those things on Sunday. There is no other way to do it.”
Solder, who carefully considers each word he speaks when answering a question, knows the line has to start meeting preseason expectations.
“Our expectations are so high for our team,” he said. “We’re always looking to perfect our craft and do the best we can. That’s the way we’re built and we will continue to do that.”
So, how close to perfect is the Patriots’ line?
“We’ll see on Sunday,” said Vollmer. “It’s a long season and we’re not where we want to be yet. But we work hard, we’re trying to get better. And that’s what it comes down to.”
Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at: