FOXBORO — The Patriots offense ran into some personnel issues on Sunday against the Jets. Several of them, in fact.
They opened the game without James White, who was expecting the birth of his first child on Sunday. Julian Edelman left the game just before the half with a chest injury. Josh Gordon had to come out with a finger injury for a brief period of time.
With Antonio Brown no longer in the mix after being released Friday, those were arguably New England's three best offensive players not named Tom Brady. Of course they still beat up on the Jets, 30-14. But after scoring 20 points in the game's first 17 minutes, their offense stalled.
Gordon taped up his fingers and returned to finish with 83 yards receiving on 11 targets. Phillip Dorsett checked in with 53 yards and a touchdown. But without Edelman and White, things got sideways as the game wore on for Josh McDaniels and his group.
The Patriots punted on their last three drives of the first half — two of those coming with Edelman healthy — and then averaged less than four yards per play through the remainder of the second half when on 35 snaps they accumulated 115 yards (3.3 yards per play).
"A lot of things," Brady said. "I gotta see the film. Obviously not good enough to score points."
With Edelman gone for the game's final 30 minutes, it would've made sense for the Patriots to lean on their running game, but that hasn't been a productive option for them through three weeks. They averaged 3.5 yards per carry coming into Sunday and against the Jets they averaged a full yard less per run play, rushing for 68 total yards on 27 attempts. (Without Brady's kneels at the end of the game, the Patriots ran for 69 yards on 25 carries, for a 2.76 yards-per-carry average.)
Sony Michel ran nine times for 11 yards, including a five-yard touchdown. Rex Burkhead was a little more dynamic, as he had been through the first two games of the season, picking up 47 yards on 11 attempts.
For a team whose identity was based upon their ability to run the football — and run it when everyone in the stadium knew they could run it — this group has yet to sniff that kind of impose-their-will level.
The Patriots were without James Develin, who's dealing with a neck injury. And they had Marshall Newhouse starting at left tackle in place for Isaiah Wynn, who's on injured reserve. And while the people blocking for Patriots backs look much different this year — Newhouse in for Trent Brown; Ryan Izzo in for Rob Gronkowski and Dwayne Allen — this is what the Patriots have at the moment in terms of personnel. It doesn't look like there's anyone coming in to save the day when it comes to that aspect of their offense.
"I don't think we're — in all phases — anywhere near where we want to be," Burkhead said. "We know we've got a lot of improvement to be done. I think the line is doing a great job. But a bunch of things we can improve upon for sure.
"Me as a runner, seeing my keys, definitely, and hitting some things a little more decisively. Overall we can improve as a team. We know we're nowhere we need to be as a team even though we're 3-0 and off to a good start. It's a long season and we understand it's a day by day approach."
We noted last week that the Patriots haven't been nearly as effective as they were late in 2018 running the football. In particular, their two-back and two-tight end sets haven't approached what we saw a year ago in terms of efficiency. With Develin and Matt LaCosse out Sunday, the Patriots hardly used two-back runs and they couldn't go to any two-tight end formations.
That Burkhead out-carried Michel 11-to-9 with a game that needed to be salted away — and that he was overall more productive with his carries — was an eye-opener. Michel helped carry the Patriots to a Super Bowl last season by rushing for 336 yards and six touchdowns on 71 attempts in the playoffs.
Asked if he was pleased with where the Patriots running game was at the moment, Michel said, "Yeah. As long as we winning games, we're doing what we need to do. Obviously the numbers don't match. Everybody else wants the numbers to match. But the team, as long as we're getting the job done and we're winning football games, I think that's all that matters. It just gives us room to improve."
Michel also noted that there was no frustration on his part in terms of the carries he's received. He has 45 attempts through three games and has totaled 108 yards for a 2.4 yards-per-carry average.
"No," he said. "We're winning. Can't be mad if you're winning."
The Patriots are winning, but their running game hasn't factored into their three wins in a major way. Given the depth and health of Brady's weapons in the passing game, the Patriots will probably need the production they're getting from that portion of their offense to pick up soon.
Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.