By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
I’m not telling you that your fears in regards to the offensive potency of the 2018 New England Patriots were unfounded.
After coming a touchdown (and two-pointer) short of a Super Bowl LII overtime chance, New England’s group undoubtedly took their share of offseason losses. From big moment superstar Danny Amendola to allegedly ill-fitting but still productive wideout Brandin Cooks to a running back that totaled over 1,100 yards of offense last season in Dion Lewis, the Pats took their lumps. And to make matters worse, Tom Brady’s voluntary absences seemed glaring. For the purpose of the 41-year-old developing some chemistry with a camp full of new faces (Cordarrelle Patterson, Jordan Matthews, and Jeremy Hill) and youngsters looking for their big break (Riley McCarron, Jacob Hollister), if nothing else.
But at the risk of looking like the fool taking a victory lap after a preseason tilt downright dominated by the Patriots to a 37-20 final, let me take this moment to assure you that if the Tom Brady you saw Thursday night at Gillette Stadium shows up for the New England Patriots in Week 1 and onward, the Patriots will be just fine.
Beyond it, even.
Playing all but the final few seconds of the first half, Brady’s night concluded with No. 12 completing 19 of his 26 pass attempts for 172 yards and two touchdowns. His first drive was perhaps his best, too, as he went 5-for-5 for 26 yards and a seven-yard strike to Chris Hogan for his first score of the preseason. It was on that drive that Brady seamlessly led an up-tempo attack down the field in an efficient seven-play, 62-yard drive in just 3:30.
Before you hit me with the already-overused “It’S tHe pReSeaSon” garbage as if we’re just not supposed to pay attention to anything that happens in August (while also pooping our pants over decisions to miss OTAs and voluntary workouts), Brady’s play in his 2018 preseason debut was worth noting for a number of reasons.
One: It truly didn’t look like Brady had lost a step mentally or physically. His pocket awareness was still where it needs to be — especially with an offensive line missing free agent departures Cam Fleming and Nate Solder (and one that got even thinner with the season-ending injury to 2018 first-round pick Isaiah Wynn) — and his footwork to get out of danger and make plays was still there. If and when that goes, Brady can truly find himself in trouble, especially if the line struggles.
But if he has time, Brady remains a dominant force that can pick you apart without breaking a sweat, as last night’s 16-of-17 for 149 yards and a 122.8 passer rating when not under pressure (this according to Pro Football Focus) showed.
Two: It was not as if his throws were of that duck variety that Peyton Manning’s 2015 preseason featured almost exclusively and served as the first sign that the end was indeed rapidly coming for Manning. Brady did have one ugly throw to Phillip Dorsett, but it was a rarity on a night of countless darts to receivers. Ball placement was tremendous for Brady, too, especially when throwing to Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan, his No. 1 and 2 wideouts. His numbers would have been even better had Hogan not dropped what was a sure grab (though Hogan made up for it when he had a great pass broken up on what should-have-been an Eagles interception on an attempted deep bomb along the sidelines).
Three: He also featured as many options as he could. He found some great chemistry with Patterson, hit backup tight end Jacob Hollister (one of his favorite targets throughout training camp) with a 22-yard strike, and even tried to work Eric Decker (one drop) into the mix. Patterson, who scored his touchdown with Brian Hoyer in at quarterback on Thursday, was especially impressive, as Brady’s ability to hit him with a quick screen mixed with Patterson’s downright incredible acceleration was enough to get you downright giddy about what these two could do if given more in-game reps. It goes without saying how the Patriot offense completely changes when they have capable two pass-catching tight ends, too.
“Whoever is out there – whether the last three weeks – you’re just trying to get on the same page,” Brady said after the game. “You know, we’re not doing a ton of game-planning for these games, and it’s just some trust and the preparation is mostly about us. But, whoever’s out there we’ve got to go with, and I’m sure it will be that way at different points in the season. New guys will come in and got to try to get them ready. Obviously, all the reps we put in with Julian [Edelman], [Chris Hogan], [Rob Gronkowski], guys who have been here in the past are very helpful.
“But, everyone’s just trying to get up to speed and we’re trying to all do the right thing.”
With on-field smarts that remain completely unmatched — Brady himself knows that there’s not a defense he has not seen over his nearly 20-year run — Brady remains the great equalizer for even the most inexperienced or unproven of receiving corps. Just like he was in 2006 when the Patriots struggled their way to an AFC Championship Game and in 2013 when he did the same with what is probably the sneaky-worst offensive group of Brady’s entire tenure with the Patriots.
And given what this offense can be built around — they look just as comfortable with short screens, especially to James White and the Edelman-Hogan threat as they do deeper routes to their tight ends — this still plays to Brady’s strengths. This is entirely different from how it all ended for both Manning and Brett Favre, really, as even losing a bit of zip on his throws would not force Brady to reinvent his game or even become noticeable given this offense’s clear preferences.
Of course, whether or not this remains the case over what would be a 22-week grind if the Patriots have it their way in pursuit of their sixth Super Bowl championship, remains to be seen. But in an offseason full of change, Brady’s first in-game showing came with the impression that he hasn’t. Staying true to this idea, it was no shock to Brady successfully slip in a plug for Under Armour when talking about the one thing that has changed about him: his helmet.
“I’d say like if the old [helmet] was like a Chuck Taylor, this is like one of those Under Armour HOVRs – so comfy,” Brady said with a grin. “So, trying to make the switch, man – get ahead.”
On his head, and on the field.
Ty Anderson is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Ty? Yell at him on Twitter @_TyAnderson.