September 22, 2013

Pats yet to put it all on the line

The Patriots' anemic offense can't be blamed on just the receivers and Tom Brady. The offensive line is shaky.

By Mike Lowe
Staff Writer

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.


WHO: Buccaneers (0-2) at Patriots (2-0)

WHEN: 1 p.m.


SERIES RECORD: Patriots lead 5-2

LAST MEETING: Patriots beat Buccaneers 35-7, Oct. 25, 2009

LAST WEEK: Saints beat Buccaneers 16-14; Patriots beat Jets 13-10

BUCS OFFENSE: Overall (29), rush (11), pass (31)

BUCS DEFENSE: Overall (13t), rush (12), pass (18)

PATRIOTS OFFENSE: Overall (22), rush (13), pass (21)

PATRIOTS DEFENSE: Overall (8), rush (28), pass (4)

STREAKS, STATS AND NOTES: Bucs lost their two games by combined three points. Patriots won two by combined five points. ... Tampa Bay's Doug Martin rushed for 144 yards last Sunday. New England has 212 yards rushing all season. ... Bucs FS Dashon Goldson can play after one-game suspension was reduced by appeals officer Matt Birk to $100,000 fine for helmet-to-helmet hit on New Orleans RB Darren Sproles. ... QB Josh Freeman ranked 30th in NFL in passer rating, Patriots' Tom Brady ranked 27th with rookie-filled receiving group. ... Bucs CB Darrelle Revis faces Patriots for 12th time in career, first 11 with Jets. ... Tampa Bay's big receivers, 6-foot-5 Vincent Jackson and 6-2 Mike Williams, combined for 18 receptions in first two games. ... LB Mason Foster had third-longest interception return for TD in Bucs history last Sunday, an 85-yarder against Saints. ... Brady's 50 straight games with at least one TD pass is second-longest streak in NFL history. Drew Brees' streak of 54 ended last season. ... Injury-plagued Patriots could be without TE Rob Gronkowski for third straight game, WR Danny Amendola for second. ... In win over Jets, Patriots had more punts (11) than first downs (9). ... WR Julian Edelman's 20 catches were tied for NFL lead after second week after having career-high 37 as rookie in 2009 and 21 last year. ... Pats are 31-3 in last 34 at home . ... Former Bucs CB Aqib Talib had two interceptions and one forced fumble against Jets. Patriots obtained him in trade last Nov. 1.

- The Associated Press

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.

(Continued on page 2)

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