Tom Brady could be hurting for targets
FOXBOROUGH, MASS. — Tom Brady is running out of receivers.
Two more New England pass-catchers — Aaron Dobson and Danny Amendola — left Monday night's game with injuries, leaving Brady to fill in with backups, running backs and a Gronk. The Patriots held on to beat the Buffalo Bills 20-13 and remain undefeated for the season, but Brady had his least efficient game yet, and there's no sign of help on its way.
"It seems that every week there's another guy that we're leaning on," said special teamer Matthew Slater, who is listed on the roster as a receiver but has caught only one pass in eight seasons. "It hurts on a personal level. To be in here working with guys every day, to see the work that they put in, and to see them have a tough break like that, it's tough."
The Patriots (10-0) are off to their best start since 2007, when they won all 16 regular-season games and two more in the playoffs before losing in the Super Bowl to the New York Giants. With Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning probably out for Sunday's game, the Patriots' biggest obstacle running the table could be the lengthy injury list that has forced them to reshuffle their offensive line and receiving corps.
Amendola, himself a replacement for Julian Edelman, left Monday night's game with an injured knee. Dobson, who was added to the injury report on Monday morning, played in the game but didn't last, limping off midway through the second quarter.
"We were down to two healthy receivers," Brady said after the game. "You get pretty limited quickly in the things that you can do."
Of the seven players who caught passes from Brady on opening night, four were injured by the end of Week 11. In addition to Amendola and Dobson, the Patriots also lost Edelman a week ago and running back Dion Lewis the week before that.
"Yeah, we've lost a lot of guys, and we've lost quite a few guys over the last three weeks," Brady said. "So I think we'll just keep fighting and figuring out a way to win, and it's good to win against a good defense. Any way you can get these wins, I think it's a positive."
One of Brady's favorite targets, tight end Rob Gronkowski, remains the biggest threat. Although he was once considered injury-prone — he was knocked out with season ending injuries in back-to-back seasons in 2012-13 — Gronkowski has been a steady presence in the lineup this year.
With two catches against Buffalo, though, Gronkowski had his least-productive night in years. Brady said that when teams double the big tight end, other players have to take advantage.
"Obviously, I have a lot of confidence in him," Brady said.
Brady completed 20 of 39 passes for 277 yards in the game. His previous low for the season was 61.9 percent — 10 percentage points higher than Monday night. With an offensive line that struggled to hold back Bills pass rushers, Brady occasionally threw the ball at a receiver's feet just to get rid of it.
According to STATS, Brady was pressured on 45 percent of his dropbacks. He had been pressured on 23.3 percent of his dropbacks on the season in the first nine games.
Coach Bill Belichick has shown he is willing to go away from the pass if it isn't working. The Patriots ran the ball just nine times in Week 7, then a season-high 39 times two weeks later.
"We are going to do anything it takes to win the game, whether we have to run the ball or throw the ball," receiver Brandon LaFell said. "Every game we play from here on out is not going to be easy."
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