FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Aaron Dobson broke down the left seam and saw an opening to his right, across the middle. Tom Brady looked to his left and saw an opening to Dobson’s left, on the outside.
Dobson broke clear and uncovered. Brady’s pass sailed incomplete to nobody.
That play in last Sunday’s 13-6 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals illustrated one of the biggest problems in the New England Patriots’ passing game this season: communication. The Hall of Fame-bound quarterback and his rookie receivers are still working to get on the same page six weeks into the season.
For the Patriots to be successful, they’re going to have to click soon. Over the next two weeks the Patriots face two of the best pass defenses in the NFL, starting Sunday with the New Orleans Saints.
“When you play the best teams you have to be at your best,” said Brady. “At times we have done some good things and at times we haven’t. We’ve been inconsistent and when you’re inconsistent, you don’t get the results you want. So we’ve got to be more consistent and we’ve got to do things better in every phase.
“The things that I focus on are the things that I can do to help our offense. The better I play, the more points we’re going to score.”
The Patriots are averaging 19 points per game, 24th in the 32-team NFL. At the same point a year ago, New England was averaging 33 points, tops in the league.
They were averaging a league-best 439.4 yards per game in total offense. This year they are averaging 343.4 per game.
Much of that, of course, can be attributed to the guys who aren’t here. Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd, the top two receivers, are gone, Welker to Denver and Lloyd to life after football. Tight end Rob Gronkowski hasn’t played yet — and his status for Sunday is still unclear because of a slow recovery from offseason surgeries to his right forearm and back. Tight end Aaron Hernandez is in jail, accused in a homicide.
After five games last year, Brady had a quarterback rating of 102.8 and had completed 67 percent of his passes for 1,450 yards. This year his rating is 80.5 and he’s completed 56.6 percent of his passes for 1,211 yards.
The rookie receivers, particularly Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins, know they have to get better, starting in practice.
“I just think we’ve got to execute in practice,” said Dobson, who has 13 catches for 167 yards and a touchdown. “We’ve got to do it in practice and take it onto the field on Sunday.”
Easier said than done?
“We’ve just got to get on the same page,” said Dobson. “It’s not that hard. But you’ve got to make sure you’re on the same page in practice so you can take it onto the field.”
Neither Dobson, a second-round pick out of Marshall, nor Thompkins, an undrafted free agent out of Cincinnati, said they feel any pressure.
“We don’t live in a perfect world,” said Thompkins, who has 18 catches for 273 yards and three touchdowns. “Mistakes will be made. It’s our job to correct the mistakes and try not to make the same mistakes twice.
“I don’t think there’s any pressure at all. We’ve just got to go out and execute the plays that are called and do our job.”
Julian Edelman has emerged as Brady’s primary threat with 36 catches in the first five games. Danny Amendola, a free agent signed to replace Welker, missed three games because of an injury and has 14 catches for 159 yards.
Everyone expects the passing game to improve when Gronkowski returns. His presence will open up the outside to everyone else.
But, said Thompkins, everyone is expected to make plays.
“We have high expectations here,” he said. “Whether you’ve been here 10 years or you’ve been here a month, we all expect for each other to be on the same page and all expect each other to be able to perform at a high level. From the day you step here, the bar is set high.”
The Saints will provide a glimpse at an offense that is operating efficiently. Asked if the Patriots needed to control the ball and the clock to keep Drew Brees off the field, as the Patriots often did against Peyton Manning and the Colts, Brady said they simply need to score.
“I think we’ll try to put together any drive at this point to score points,” he said. “Long, short, it doesn’t matter. We’ve got to score touchdowns.”
Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at: