FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — No Patriots stat is more stunning than this one.

Since the season’s midpoint, the New England offense under Tom Brady, the greatest quarterback of all time, is averaging a paltry 17.6 points per game – ranking 30th of the 32 NFL teams over the past five games.

Of course, the problem goes deeper than Brady. The Patriots offense is appreciably worse at every position than it was 12 months ago, a time when it felt similarly strained and still found an answer. These deficiencies mean it can no longer dictate terms to its opponents, who generally have adjusted well to the game plans.

Case in point: The Patriots have scored the second-most points in the NFL during the first quarter of games this season, yet rank in the bottom third of the league in second-quarter scoring. In the last two weeks, Kansas City and Houston shut the Pats out in the second quarter after surrendering an opening-drive touchdown and field goal, respectively.

In November, the offense made a slow descent to average. The slide has continued, painfully, closer to the bottom of the league. This ship, for now, is sinking.

Here are the holes.


Center David Andrews was a linchpin for the offensive line until blood clots ended his season in August and his contribiutions have been sorely missed. Charles Krupa/Associated Press

Boy, where to begin.

Center David Andrews was suddenly lost for the season in late August due to blood clots, an underrated loss given his consistency and the vital nature of the position, which requires making pre-snap calls and stopping interior pressure from reaching Brady. Andrews’ replacement, Ted Karras, has played a step above replacement level. Karras ranks as the NFL’s 24th-best center, per Pro Football Focus player grades among players who have taken at least 300 snaps.

Left tackle Isaiah Wynn missed eight games due to turf toe, during which time Marshall Newhouse was a vending machine for pressure. Top-flight pass rushers have since taken advantage of Wynn since his return. Right guard Shaq Mason also missed time and is amid his worst season since he was a rookie. Right tackle Marcus Cannon has been dogged by illness after overcoming a shoulder injury in September.

And then there’s fullback. The Pats chose to shelve James Develin and his neck injury for good, so they could later return Wynn and rookie wideout N’Keal Harry. Develin’s backup, Jakob Johnson, was then lost to a bad shoulder. But this isn’t the position in the most pain.

That would be tight end. A retired Rob Gronkowski has made clear it was his physical and emotional pain that sapped the joy of the game for him. The Patriots have missed him more than any player considered to be a possible contributor in 2019.


This isn’t about arm strength or leadership. The 42-year-old Brady is simply not the same down-to-down quarterback anymore. Pick almost any measure.

At 60.5, his completion percentage is the second-lowest of his career. So is his yardage per pass attempt (6.6). Brady’s Total Quarterback Rating (QBR), an all-encompassing stat developed by ESPN, is the worst it’s ever been. He ranks 18th in the league in QBR this season. Over the previous decade, he ranked among the top six quarterbacks each year but 2013 (11th).

His most forgiving rating comes courtesy of Pro Football Focus, which grades Brady’s 2019 season as his worst of the decade and fourth-worst dating back to 2006, the first year it kept complete play-by-play data. Still, his present grade is good enough to rank in the league’s top 10.

Brady’s best asset at times has been his ability to simply get out of the way of the Pats’ elite defense. But transcendent quarterbacks don’t win awards for playing supporting roles. They lead and carry the offense themselves.

Brady is plainly no longer transcendent.


Imagine what the Pats offense might look like if either of its most recent first-round picks were replaced by one of the following players: running backs Nick Chubb, David Montgomery and Devin Singletary or wide receivers DK Metcalf, Deebo Samuel, Terry McLaurin, A.J. Brown or Mecole Hardman.

All of these first- and second-year players were available to them in at least the first round of one of the past two drafts. It’s impossible to project exactly how any of them would have fit in New England, even if they initially appeared to be smooth fits as prospects. It’s an unfair exercise on several levels.

But unfair is the position the offense finds itself partly because of poor drafting. Sony Michel, the 31st overall selection in 2018 (taken one spot ahead of Baltimore quarterback Lamar Jackson), can’t create yards on his own or break his hesitant running habits. A year later, Harry broke the mold when he became the first Pats receiver taken in the first round under Belichick, so he should’ve broken it again as the rare impact rookie receiver of this modern era.

Four games, five catches and 10 targets later, it hasn’t happened. Harry was allowed two offensive snaps last week in a game when the Patriots deployed four wideouts multiple times and kept him sidelined. Both Harry and Michel are trending slightly – albeit with years of career still left – toward bust territory.

But let’s forgive and forget Harry and Michel. Third-round rookie offensive tackle Yodny Cajuste is more rumor than man at this point, unseen since the summer due to injury. A fellow third-round rookie, running back Damien Harris, can’t see the field despite obvious backfield opportunities. Antonio Garcia, another offensive tackle the Pats traded up to acquire at 85th overall in 2017, has never played an NFL down.

Perhaps most damning, the Pats’ only draft investment at tight end over the past three springs – when Gronkowski’s career was either over or nearing its end – has been 2018 seventh-rounder Ryan Izzo. Out of the 113 tight ends graded by Pro Football Focus this season, Izzo ranks 105th. And the Patriots other tight ends, Ben Watson and Matt LaCosse? They rank 80th and 92nd, respectively.


No Patriot is blameless in their current predicament. The coaching staff would be the first to own up to its failures, though perhaps not the most explosive one.

Back in September, Bill Belichick opted to trust his passing offense with Antonio Brown – fresh off controversies in Oakland involving frostbitten feet, his helmet, recording his head coach over the phone, calling his GM a cracker and clashing with everyone in his path — and Josh Gordon, the NFL’s least reliable player of the past decade. To make room for them, he shipped out Demaryius Thomas, who’s since caught more passes than Brown and Gordon combined.

Everyone who makes decisions about personnel misses.

Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels has missed, too, most notably in the red zone. The Pats are 27th in the league, converting just 48 percent of their opportunities inside the 20-yard line into touchdowns. Over the previous decade, they never ranked lower than 12th.

Former wide receivers coach Chad O’Shea scripted the red zone portion of the game plan until he followed Brian Flores to Miami last February. Regardless of the assistant who’s since assumed O’Shea’s old duties, McDaniels faces several constraints inside the 20.

Most are listed above.

Between the 20s, the Patriots have tried several tactics, both in the name of attacking opponents’ weaknesses and trying to discover their own strengths. They’ve gone an entire game in 11 personnel (3 WR, 1 TE, 1 RB), run from spread sets and passed out of heavy ones. The search for strength continues.

Last week, McDaniels admitted he must find better ways to get Harry in space and wants to funnel the ball to his other playmakers. The question is how, and the clock is ticking.

Before, the Pats could annually look around and wonder where their next answer was. Now it’s a matter of whether one exists at all.

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