Officially beginning his 17th season with New England on Sunday, quarterback Tom Brady became the longest-tenured Patriot in franchise history. It’s just about the only team record he didn’t own already, and with his new offensive toys, Brady is showing no signs of slowing down.
About the only hope Cleveland had in making Sunday’s game against New England competitive was for Brady to be rusty. He wasn’t. Actually, he was at his best, completing 70 percent of his passes for 406 yards and three touchdowns.
Boston might not beat Cleveland in the American League Divisional Series, but the Patriots certainly got the better of `the Browns, blowing them out of the building, 33-13.
The last two games, particularly last week, New England struggled getting the ball into the hands of its best playmakers, Julian Edelman and Rob Gronkowski, but they were established early in Week 5. Brady connected with Edelman for a 10-yard completion on their first play from scrimmage, and then Gronkowski caught a 19-yard pass on the second play.
On New England’s first third-down opportunity, Brady found his tight end again, and Gronkowski rumbled for 34 yards down to the Cleveland 2-yard line.
It looked like the Patriots’ top two pass-catchers were in for big days, but actually, it was the offseason additions New England made to its offense that made the biggest splashes.
Wide receiver Chris Hogan caught four passes and led the team with 114 receiving yards. Tight end Martellus Bennett recorded a team-high six catches for 67 yards. He also caught all three of Brady’s touchdown passes.
It’s only one game, and it was against Cleveland, who amazingly suffered two more quarterback injures, but both players, especially Bennett, are adding another dimension to the Patriots’ offense, which is exactly what coach Bill Belichick was planning when he acquired them.
The Patriots loved using two-tight-end sets back when the team had both Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. At their peak in 2011, the two combined for 2,284 yards from scrimmage. New England finished second in the league with 428.0 yards per game and went 13-3.
Gronkowski has been a consistent All-Pro TE since the Patriots released Hernandez and have continued to be a great offense, but Belichick hoped adding Bennett would make New England even more dangerous.
That plan worked to perfection Sunday. Gronkowski made two early plays, proving that this week he wasn’t just going to be a decoy — his hamstring was healthy, and he was ready to dominate.
With Cleveland’s coverage then concentrated on stopping “Gronk,” the Browns’ defenders forgot all about Bennett, who was wide open in the flat for his first touchdown.
His second touchdown was another short completion inside the 10, but his third was an impressive 37-yard scamper down the sideline that included a dive for the pylon.
Bennett is more of a natural tight end and pass-catcher than Hernandez was, but with both Bennett and Gronkowski on the field together, it’s going to causes defenses a lot of problems. Opposing teams don’t usually have a defender big and fast enough to cover one of them. Both playing at the same time, forget about it.
The addition of Hogan didn’t draw many headlines either, but he too performed extremely well in his role on Sunday. In New England’s offense, he’s the team’s best deep threat, and 63 of his 114 yards came on one catch, a deep pass during the second quarter.
What’s most impressive is Bennett and Hogan posted these numbers in their very first game starting with Brady. Not only was their quarterback not rusty, but it appeared as though Brady had been working with these two new weapons for years. In his very first game back, two pass-catchers he’s never played with before led the team in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns.
As if opposing defenses didn’t have enough to worry about in the Patriots’ offense.