Just one week after Tom Brady's first two throws of the game went to seven-time Pro Bowler, four-time All-Pro, all-time headache Antonio Brown, New England's offense reinvented itself with its first two targets going to ... Brandon Bolden.
The Patriots machine continued to roll on Sunday even after Brown's fuse finally blew out, racing out to a 30-0 lead before the Jets tacked on two garbage time touchdowns on special teams and defense.
Don't expect Bolden, a special teams ace, to continue to figure prominently in the passing attack. Do expect New England's passing game to more resemble what we saw in Week 1 vs. Pittsburgh, prior to Brown's debut, when Brady spread the ball around like the good old days.
With James White absent due to the birth of his child, it was a fairly even division of labor in the passing game between receivers Josh Gordon, Julian Edelman, Phillip Dorsett and running back Rex Burkhead in Week 3, as well. Gordon and Edelman were targeted 11 and 10 times, respectively, while Dorsett and Burkhead were looked at seven times apiece.
Don't read too much into offensive stagnation after the Patriots scored touchdowns on each of their first three drives — the game vs. New York was over before it began — but do read into how the numbers bore out in the end. It's reasonable to believe that Brown, who was the first receiver in NFL history to amass 100 or more receptions in six consecutive seasons, may not have gone along with game plans that didn't make him the focal point of the passing game.
Brady-to-Brown had Brady-to-Randy-Moss potential, and it flashed, if only for one drive in Miami, when Brown caught each of the first three passes thrown his way. While his fourth and final catch in a Patriots uniform went for a touchdown, it was the lone completion among Brady's final five throws targeting the former Steelers great.
But because there's never a dull moment in these parts, both Edelman and Gordon were injured against the Jets. Gordon ultimately returned, finishing with six catches for 83 yards — the six grabs his most as a Patriot — but not before you thought to yourself, 'Boy, it sure would be great if Brady still had Brown to throw to.'"
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It's a natural reaction. Why wouldn't you want someone with Hall of Fame-caliber numbers in the arsenal?
The truth is that the Patriots never needed Brown, and they still don't. Edelman should "be good," according to Ian Rappaport of NFL Network. White will return to action this week. The Patriots still have Cameron Meredith on the PUP list, not to mention first-round pick N'Keal Harry on injured reserve, eligible to return in Week 9.
Above all else, Brown's departure opens the door for Dorsett to flourish in his third season in New England.
Dorsett's 59 snaps played in Week 1 were the most he'd played in a Patriots uniform. After dropping back down to 35 in Week 2 to accommodate Brown, he set another new mark for his time in Foxboro when he was on the field for 71 of New England's 77 offensive snaps on Sunday (Edelman didn't return in the second half for the Patriots, which led to an even greater spike.)
"My mindset really didn't change," Dorsett said when asked about his expanded role once again in Week 3. "Obviously, everything is about getting a win. Things happen, you may have to shuffle some things around, but at the end of the day, it's football. You never know what can happen. So I was glad to stay on point and just need to be able to adjust."
Dorsett, who caught a 25-yard touchdown pass from Brady against the Jets, has already matched his total number of touchdown catches in 2019 from all of last season (three).
The Patriots will also get a chance to see exactly what they have in Jakobi Meyers, the superstar of the preseason who recorded two catches for 38 yards against the Jets after being inactive against the Dolphins.
Meyers played only eight snaps against the Steelers in his debut before getting in on 49 against the Jets.
"It always feels good to play, get the blood flowing," Meyers said. "Keep earning trust. I'm not saying I'm satisfied with the performance, but it felt good to be back out there."
With news Monday that fullback James Develin is headed for injured reserve, the Patriots are going to have to continue to adapt when it comes to the running game — which, as it currently stands, is 28th in the NFL at 3.2 yards per carry.
That's not ideal. What is ideal, however, is the continued opportunity for growth in the passing game, which, at the end of the day, remains the bottom line in the NFL. So long as the 42-year-old quarterback continues to play at an MVP level — he's fourth in the league in passer rating at this juncture, at 116.3 — the sky remains the limit for the Patriots.