The New England Patriots have plenty of time to get their offense rolling.
The question is: Do they have the players?
The offensive line is struggling to protect quarterback Tom Brady and open holes for running backs. The wide receivers, other than Julian Edelman, have contributed little. The tight end production will be limited until Rob Gronkowski regains his form after offseason knee surgery.
“We can do just really pretty much everything better offensively,” coach Bill Belichick said. “Everything. Blocking, throwing, catching, running, run reads, routes, distribution, you name it.”
That became obvious Sunday when they needed a last-minute interception deep inside their territory to hold off the winless Oakland Raiders for a 16-9 win.
Oakland came in with the NFL’s worst run defense, allowing 200 yards per game. New England managed just 76.
The Patriots gained only 297 yards, their second straight game with fewer than 300.
And wide receivers other than Edelman caught just five passes.
Kenbrell Thompkins, who had one of those catches, said Monday he’s concerned that an offense that has worked together through organized team activities in May, minicamp in June and training camp in July and August, still is struggling to get into a rhythm.
“Mistakes will be made and we’re not perfect,” Thompkins said. “The game’s going fast, everybody’s playing fast, things are flying around, so we’re just going out there and react to certain situations.”
In the last seven seasons, the worst the Patriots finished in offensive yardage was eighth. They were first in 2007 (411.3 yard per game) and 2012 (427.9), second in 2011 (428) and third in 2009 (397.3).
Now their 27th with 301.3 and have just three offensive touchdowns in the last 10 quarters.
“Starting 0-1, it’s good to be 2-1,” Brady said, “but, obviously, there is a lot of room for improvement.”
First, there’s the offensive line.
The trade of left guard Logan Mankins to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Aug. 26, just 12 days before the season opener, removed a six-time Pro Bowl player and the anchor of the line and has led to players rotating in different spots.
Marcus Cannon, a four-year veteran tackle, moved into Mankins’ guard spot and has struggled. So have veteran tackles Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer. Right guard Jordan Devey was replaced after some poor plays Sunday.
“It’s not one guy. It’s not one play,” Solder said. “It’s a number of plays that we’re breaking down.”
Then there are the wide receivers.
Edelman has been sure-handed and elusive with 22 catches. The others have a total of 14, led by Thompkins with six.
Brandon LaFell has four after a career-high 49 last season with Carolina. Danny Amendola, a disappointment since signing a five-year, $31 million contract before last season, has three. Aaron Dobson, inactive despite being healthy Sunday, has one after making 37 catches as second-round draft pick last year.
With poor protection forcing Brady to throw quickly, that mediocre group has little time to get open.
“We’ve got some new players. We’ve got different things that are happening,” Brady said. “We’re all trying to get used to one another and used to the things we’re doing.
“At the end of the year, you’re in a position to, hopefully, make the playoffs.”
It will be easier if Gronkowski keeps progressing.
He had surgery in January, didn’t play in any preseason games and has 11 catches and two touchdowns in three games. But he’s played fewer than half the offensive snaps (112 of 230) and seems tentative at times.
The Patriots have an extra day to prepare for their next game on Monday at the Kansas City Chiefs. They stress that they tend to improve as the season goes on.
There’s plenty of room for that as Belichick tries to find the best combination of offensive linemen and figure out a way to get more wide receivers involved in the attack.
“We’re trying to build something,” Brady said, “but we have to improve everything.”