FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The New England Patriots have plenty of work to do with their offense before they show they can contend for another Super Bowl berth.
Chances are they’ll do it.
With just one of their four exhibition games remaining, the Patriots (No. 2 in the AP Pro32) haven’t moved the ball consistently while shifting players around in the offensive line and dividing playing time among receivers, several of them not likely to make the team.
Still, coach Bill Belichick wasn’t happy after Friday night’s 30-28 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 26) in which Tom Brady threw an interception for a touchdown and was sacked twice.
“We didn’t do anything offensively except lose yardage and turn the ball over. It was tough to watch any of what we did offensively,” Belichick said.
The Patriots added talent and depth to their already potent passing attack in the offseason by signing wide receivers Brandon Lloyd, Donte Stallworth and Jabar Gaffney. They already had Wes Welker, Deion Branch, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez to catch Brady’s throws.
But Welker sat out the last two games and Lloyd, Gronkowski and Hernandez returned Friday night after resting in the Patriots 27-17 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday night. And Brady played just two series in the opening 7-6 win over the New Orleans Saints, then didn’t suit up against the Eagles.
Once the top players get their usual playing time in the regular season, the offense will pick up. Still, Brady did play three quarters at Tampa Bay and threw for just 127 yards on 13 completions in 20 attempts. And Lloyd caught only one of those passes.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do in being consistent and putting drives together to get the ball into the end zone,” said Lloyd, who played for the Patriots’ new offensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels, the past two seasons. “We are developing as an offense and we’re trying to integrate as much of the running game and pass catchers as possible, but I think what it is coming down to is that we all need to make plays and be more consistent out there on the football field.”
That should be easier once the first-string offensive line is back together.
Left guard Logan Mankins played Friday night for the first time since undergoing offseason knee surgery. Sebastian Vollmer will help at right tackle once his back problems subside. And right guard Brian Waters, outstanding in his first year with the Patriots last season, would be an improvement if he reports to camp.
Belichick hasn’t said why Waters hasn’t shown up, but there’s still two weeks left before the opening game at Tennessee on Sept. 9 and he could be ready by then.
Left tackle Matt Light, who protected Brady’s blind side for the past 11 seasons, retired and has been replaced by second-year pro Nate Solder. But Brady said he still has confidence in the offensive line.
“Of course,” he said. “I’ve got confidence in everybody. It’s just a matter of us getting out there and playing, and playing together. There’s too many times when we’re one step forward and two steps back. When you’re not in a rhythm offensively, it’s hard to produce a lot of points, and we just really weren’t in a great rhythm, obviously in the first half.”
The Patriots trailed the Bucs 23-7 before Brady made a big play on his final play — a 16-yard touchdown pass to Gronkowski.
Then third-string quarterback Ryan Mallett came in and threw two scoring passes in the last 5 minutes after the Bucs had taken a 30-14 lead.
“I thought he did a good job with the opportunities he had,” Belichick said. “The game was out of hand at that point, but he did what he could when he had the opportunity for it.”
Now Belichick must get the Patriots ready for their third game in 10 days. On Wednesday night, they visit the New York Giants, who beat them in last season’s Super Bowl 21-17.
Brady usually plays little, if at all, in the final preseason game, and Belichick wouldn’t say how much action his quarterback would see.
But first Belichick must whittle his roster down to 75 players by 4 p.m. Monday. He said Saturday he didn’t know if some of those cuts would come during the weekend.
“We just got in about 4:30 this morning,” he said. “We watched the film here this morning. We have a lot of things to do in a very short period of time. What exactly the time frame will be and how that will play out, I don’t know.”
More importantly, Belichick wants to see improvement in the players who remain — both on offense and defense.
“We have to do a better job in the turnover department, penalty department, get away from negative plays, make more positive plays defensively and certainly some explosive plays in the passing game offensively. We haven’t had any of those,” he said. “We have to find a way to balance off our passing game with that. A lot of things going on here, a lot of things to work on. We’ll just keep chugging away.”