Any questions surrounding the New England Patriots’ offense were answered Friday night by the one man who matters most.
Tom Brady, without the services of longtime trusted targets Rob Gronkowski, Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez, Danny Woodhead and Deion Branch, completed 7 of 8 passes for 65 yards, and led New England to two touchdowns against the Eagles’ first-team defense on his only two offensive drives of the evening in the Patriots’ 31-22 preseason victory.
Brady and the New England offense looked exactly the same as they did this entire past week during the Eagles and Patriots joint practices sessions: flawless.
Though the names might not be all that familiar, New England’s wide receivers and tight ends stepped right in and picked up exactly where their predecessors left off.
Brady connected with undrafted rookie wideout Kenbrell Thompkins four times for 23 yards on the team’s second drive, while fellow rookie wideout Aaron Dobson hauled in a 23-yard pass that set up the team’s second touchdown of the night.
Danny Amendola, the player brought in to replace Welker in the slot, was elusive on a six-yard pass play to start the drive. Tight ends Jake Ballard, Zach Sudfeld and Daniel Fells all saw significant action.
Brady was Brady, and though the names might not be of the household variety yet — the offensive production was in line with what Patriots fans have come to expect the past 13 seasons.
“We were able to make some plays,” Brady said. “We threw the ball, spread the ball to different guys. KT [Thompkins) did a good job, Aaron [Dobson] did a good job. Josh [Boyce] had some opportunities. Danny [Amendola]. It was a really good week.”
With Gronkowski sidelined indefinitely and Aaron Hernandez no longer with the team, Brady was pleased with the performance of his tight-end group.
Ballard, playing in his first game since the 2011 campaign, blocked effectively on the team’s six-play opening drive. Sudfeld, an undrafted rookie free agent out of Nevada, caught a 22-yard pass from Ryan Mallett in the second quarter that helped set up the team’s 34-yard field goal.
“It’s hard to single out any of them, but every one of them [the tight ends] contributed,” said Brady. “We’ve got a long way to go. We’re four weeks from the start of the year.”
The Eagles’ starting defense — a unit that underwent quite the extreme makeover itself this past offseason — had no answers for the New England offensive attack. The Patriots put up 334 yards of offense in the first half, alone. The team ran the ball at will, gobbling up 248 yards on the ground.
Chip Kelly’s first game coaching the Eagles didn’t glean many positives on defense, but there was plenty to be excited about the offense. Michael Vick started the game and managed the team’s first two drives, connecting with DeSean Jackson on a 47-yard touchdown pass on the opener. Vick looked poised under pressure and altogether comfortable behind an offensive line that’s already battling a series of injuries.
The up-tempo, no-huddle offense that Kelly famously ran at Oregon, however, was first displayed by Nick Foles, not Vick. On the second-year quarterback’s second drive of the game, the Eagles didn’t substitute a single player or huddle once in the 10-play scoring series that lasted just 4:16 in real-time.
With Foles running an offense that showed some read-option looks and plenty of play-action fakes, we got a brief glimpse of what the Philadelphia offense could look like when Kelly decides to go into his bag of tricks.
Even Matt Barkley, the team’s third quarterback, played well in his NFL preseason debut, completing 11 of 22 passes for 103 yards and a touchdown.
Asked about Kelly’s offensive attack after the game, the fourth-round pick out of USC flashed a smile, “It’s fun. Chip’s a fantastic coach. I’ve learned a lot from him already. I’m just excited to grow and learn from him.”
Foles’ mastery of the no-huddle didn’t necessarily separate him from Vick in the NFL’s most heated starting quarterback competition. Both players looked good Friday night, with each one leading the Eagles on a scoring drive. Foles will start the Eagles’ Week 2 game against the Panthers on Thursday. Kelly has yet to name the starter for the team’s Week 3 exhibition in Jacksonville on Aug. 24.
Though the Patriots have zero such looming questions about their starting quarterback situation, backup Ryan Mallett left Friday’s game with a head injury midway through the second quarter. Free-agent acquisition Tim Tebow played the bulk of the second, third, and fourth quarters. He completed 4 of 12 passes and was sacked three times.
The New England medical staff will be monitoring Mallett’s health throughout the week, but the injury is not expected to be serious.
The Patriots will practice with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Foxboro this week and take on the Bucs in a preseason exhibition Friday night on FOX.
Their quarterback hopes they’ll be even more impressive next week.
“We’re a better football team now than we were at the start of the week,” said Brady. “But we need to be a better football team next week than we were tonight. It’s not all going to go perfect. This sport — once you think you’ve got it all figured it out, it’s going to blow you back. We’ve got a long way to go.”
Though it’s just the preseason, months of questions and worries about the Patriots offense now seem like much ado about nothing. Wide receivers and tight ends can come and go.
But as long as Tom Brady is under center, the Patriots appear to be just fine.