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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