With all this uncertainty on both sides of the ball, the Patriots at least had quarterback Tom Brady to hold the team together; however, his trademark pinpoint accuracy has not been on display this season. Too often throws downfield have been off-line, passes to wide receivers and tight ends sail high, bounce in, or are behind them (see the first pass of the game to Rob Gronkowski by Brady which was behind him and intercepted). After a decade of sustained excellence, it been downright shocking to watch Brady perform at a back-up level production after years of All-Pro level play.
The shocking numbers on offense seem hard to believe in the cold light of day: in 2012 New England’s offense averaged 34.8 points per game good for first in the NFL; in 2013 they are seventeenth at only 22.3 points per game. On third down on offense they were first in the NFL converting almost 50% of third downs; in 2013 the Patriots offense converts less than one-third of their third downs ranking them third from the bottom. In the Red Zone (inside the opponent’s twenty yard line) New England ranked first in conversions for the league with touchdowns on 49 of 70 drives; in 2013 the team only 14 of 28 for eighteenth in the league.
Tom Brady has been visibly injured the past few weeks, and the question is raised as to when this hand/wrist/finger (or officially a “right shoulder”) injury manifested itself. Certainly, being bereft of his top four targets will have an impact on his season, his play recently points to a bigger issue. If Brady can heal over the upcoming week ten bye week, after a matchup with an inconsistent Steelers squad next week, and Rob Gronkowski (clearly limited despite his return to the field), Tommy Kelly, Danny Amendola (also clearly limited despite his return to the field), and Shane Vereen return to full speed, there is still hope that the team can peak late in the season and make a run.
The New York Giants have twice capped a late surge with a Super Bowl win, and last year the Baltimore Ravens emerged in January playing their best football of the season. By gutting out some big wins early in the year to get in position to make a run late, the Patriots may be able to follow the model of their top rivals and catch the opposition in the playoffs at their weakest. It has been worked against them so many times, maybe this is the year that the Patriots do it someone else? At 6-2 at the midpoint of the 2013 season, it appears the Patriots have positioned themselves to remain a contender despite injuries and inefficiencies on both sides of the ball to date.