Patriots

Trust trumps talent for Tom Brady's receivers with Patriots

Trust trumps talent for Tom Brady's receivers with Patriots

FOXBORO — Tom Brady’s stat line Thursday night: 8-for-12 for 75 yards with no touchdowns, no interceptions and two tossed helmets.

Brady was on the field for three drives against the Panthers. The final one was a 15-play, 85-yard sojourn that ended with a James Develin touchdown from the 1.

But the way the first two drives unfolded were what made Brady’s helmet take flight when he returned to the Patriots bench.

On the first drive of Brady’s preseason, a downfield hold by second-year tight end Ryan Izzo put the team behind the sticks then Brady’s third down throw landed harmlessly about 10 yards from where undrafted rookie Jakobi Meyers had stopped running his route. The helmet flew.

The second drive took longer but didn’t end any better. On first down, Meyers couldn’t handle a throw that was slightly behind him. A downfield hold on Meyers — very much a questionable call — wiped out a 30-yard Sony Michel run. A chop block on the next play cost the Patriots another 15 and three plays later the drive was over.

The helmet flew again — much softer this time.

After the game, Brady diplomatically addressed the difficulty of having 20 years of experience on guys like Meyers who — though talented — are on a steep learning curve.

“You play with guys that are maybe new to the offense and so forth, sometimes they think they’re not part of the route, and then a team plays a certain coverage and they’re part of the route,” Brady explained when asked about Meyers trotting to a stop on the third-down misfire. “Early in the season, that’s part of this time of year. We don’t have the full week to prepare. We’re kind of putting things together on the fly. Yeah, those are learning moments for all of us. Again, I think the most important part is to get in there, get to work, see what you need to do, see how you feel out there, real, live action, and then get back to work as quickly as you can and try to make some improvements.”

Brady was on this subject last week in Tennessee as well when he spent a Thursday joint practice throwing to wideouts who had never caught a regular-season pass from him.

In Tennessee that day, it was Braxton Berrios who was alternately making plays and drawing Brady’s ire. Against the Panthers, it was Meyers.

It’s long been the case with Brady that, if he isn’t confident a receiver will be where he’s supposed to be when he’s supposed to be there, the quarterback’s trust fades. Big, strong fast and explosive doesn’t compare to reliable.

And that was on display last night as Brady went 4-for-4 for 39 yards when targeting veteran Phillip Dorsett. The success rate throwing there as opposed to Meyers was evident, as was the contrast in what he said about both wideouts.

“Phillip is a guy that I’ve played a lot of football with, and I have a lot of trust in. Experience is a great thing in football if you use it well, and I think our experience together pays off,” Brady said. “I read his body language.

“I think the great thing about Phil, he takes advantage of his opportunities. A lot of guys have been injured this preseason. Phil plays all three wide receiver positions, remembers all the coaching points from all the times we’ve talked about certain things. Even though he may not have done it, he goes in there and does it the way that Coach wants it done. I love playing with Phil. He’s been a great contributor to our team, and he had a great night.”

Brady has pointed out in the past that he doesn’t make personnel decisions, but that doesn’t mean he can’t lobby. And he’s clearly lobbying for Dorsett, who could be close to the roster bubble.

Julian Edelman and N’Keal Harry are locks to start the season. After that, it’s Meyers, Demaryius Thomas, Josh Gordon (when activated), Dorsett, Braxton Berrios and Maurice Harris.

There are a number of question marks there — and when Brady’s at his best, he’s got certainty. Evidence of that came on Brady’s best throw of the night, an 18-yard laser to Izzo.

“I had a little heat on that,” Brady smiled. “It’s nice when you can be decisive and make a good, decisive throw. So, for me, anticipation and decisiveness are so important. That comes from experience and trust. So, when guys are in those spots, you feel like you can cut it loose because you have all the decisiveness to do that. So, that was a good throw, and I’ve got to make a lot of those this year. That’s what I’ve been working hard to do, and the team expects me to make all the throws that are there.”

Brady has showed for two decades he can make all the throws that are there. Whether he feels confident his receivers will be there when he needs them? Work in progress.

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Gunner Olszewski earning trust of Tom Brady, Bill Belichick with hard work

Gunner Olszewski earning trust of Tom Brady, Bill Belichick with hard work

The New England Patriots have had an unsettled receiver room for most of the 2019 season. At one time, it seemed like they had one of the best groups in the league. But the release of Antonio Brown and the team's decision to trade Demaryius Thomas left them a bit weaker at the position. And in recent weeks, they have been thin at the position due to injuries.

Phillip Dorsett (hamstring), Josh Gordon (knee/ankle), and Julian Edelman (chest) have all been dealing with various maladies over the course of the first six weeks of the season. Additionally, first-round rookie N'Keal Harry has been on IR since just after the team's final cuts.

With these absences, some unexpected contributors have been able to step up. And one of them is Gunner Olszewski. The undrafted rookie out of Bemidji State has earned a big role as a return man and has recently seen an increase in offensive action. And so far, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick has been impressed with his energy and effort.

"Gunner works really hard," Belichick told reporters at Saturday's media availability. "He gives a lot of effort to do, again, whatever we ask him to do. Whether that’s return kicks, cover kicks, block, catch – he works really hard. Just gives his best all of the time, so you can’t ask for anything more than that. He keeps getting better, so we’ll see where it goes. But, yeah, he’s a good, hard worker."

Of course, hard work is only part of the equation. In the Patriots' offense, it's important to have chemistry with Tom Brady. Has Olszewski done enough to earn Brady's trust so far?

"Yeah, definitely," Brady said when asked about his level of trust in Olszewski. "I think they’re – like I said, those guys are – when you’re young, you gain trust in practice, and a lot of it’s doing the right thing over and over and over again. Those guys are working at it. I mean, they’ve been here a short period of time, so try to get as many reps as you can and talk about things. You get coached up, and any young player, they’re trying to earn the trust of the coach and the players every day."

This is seemingly the most positive Brady has felt about his young receiving weapons this year. Perhaps the team's success against the New York Giants despite being limited to only one formation because of their lack of healthy personnel had an impact on Brady. And maybe that helped him to become more confidence in Olszewski and fellow undrafted rookie Jakobi Meyers.

Either way, Brady will likely have to look Olszewski's way a bit more than usual on Monday night against the New York Jets. Josh Gordon is out for the game and so too are tight ends Matt LaCosse and Ryan Izzo. That should afford Olszewski a good opportunity to make his presence felt.

Tom E. Curran's Patriots-Jets Week 7 Preview>>>

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Tom E. Curran's Patriots-Jets Preview: Pats facing MNF challenge

Tom E. Curran's Patriots-Jets Preview: Pats facing MNF challenge

The Patriots have had one game in which there was even a shred of doubt about the outcome into the fourth quarter. And even then, did anyone figure the Bills were going to score? Exactly.

But Monday night at MetLife the Patriots could get their second decent challenge of the season.

Despite their 1-4 record, the Jets just got capable quarterback Sam Darnold back and his presence made a huge difference in the team’s win over Dallas last week. As for the Patriots offense, which isn’t working at optimal potency, the Jets did a nice job against the Patriots in the first meeting between the teams after New England walked through them on their first three drives.

With 11 days to prepare for this, Josh McDaniels is sure to have hatched something to get Gregg Williams’ defense off-balance. But the Patriots are still hamstrung on offense by their personnel so this one could turn into a slugfest.

Click here for Tom E. Curran's full Week 7 Patriots preview>>>