The New England Patriots will look entirely different in Week 5 than they did the first four weeks of the season as quarterback Tom Brady and defensive lineman Rob Ninkovich return from their four-game suspensions. Mike Reiss of ESPN reports that the two team captains are eligible to return to the team on Monday, and that the Patriots should get extra time to decide their corresponding roster moves.
Brady and Ninkovich’s return comes at the ideal time for the Patriots (3-1), who looked completely flat in their 16-0 home loss to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday afternoon. The game marked the first time that New England has been shutout since December 10 against Miami and their first scoreless game at home since 1993.
New England, with rookie quarterback Jacoby Brissett starting for the second straight week, was completely dominated by the Bills in all facets of the game. The Patriots managed just 13 first downs, 11 of those coming in the second half, and 277 total yards. Brissett was under duress on 42 percent of his 30 drop backs — getting sacked three times and taking a hit six other times. He finished the game completing 17 of his 27 passes for 205 yards and added 23 yards on four carries.
The Patriots reached Bills territory in just four of their 10 drives, getting into the red zone once. The Pats committed one turnover and were 1-of-12 on third down conversions. They also committed a season-high of nine penalties for 74 yards.
Running back LaGarrette Blount — the NFL’s leading rusher heading into the game — had a few good runs though he was limited to a season-low 54 yards overall on 13 attempts.
Defensively, New England couldn’t tackle. The Patriots missed several tackles, including several would-be sacks of Tyrod Taylor. The Pats also couldn’t get off the field against Buffalo, permitting the Bills to convert 7-of-15 third down opportunities. The defense surrendered 378 total yards to the Bills, which included 130 yards on the ground.
Cornerback Logan Ryan led the Patriots with 17 tackles (14 solo) versus the Bills, while defensive linemen Alan Branch and Jabeel Sheard each picked up a sack.
Despite the shellacking the Patriots took yesterday, they really couldn’t expect any better start than they are off to. New England heads to Cleveland (0-4) with a one-game lead over Buffalo (2-2) in the AFC East, and are getting healthier every day as tight end Rob Gronkowski made his season debut against the Bills. The game against the Browns will be just the Pats second road game of the season.
So how will Brady and Ninkovich’s return affect the Patriots?
New England, on the strength of Blount and Brissett’s running, was still relatively efficient on offense without Brady. The problem offensively for the Patriots were that they were very conservative and really changed their offense, specifically with Brissett under center. The Pats currently rank 20th in the NFL in scoring with 20.3 points per game, and are 28th in passing yards with 210.8.
Now that Brady is back, expect the Patriots to pick up the pace offensively– something they had trouble executing against Buffalo. And open the offense up considerably despite the fact that Brady will likely be rusty.
New England was using more of their traditional offense in games that Jimmy Garappolo started, but switched things up when Brissett was inserted into the lineup. The Patriots have relied heavily on the run and short passes the past two games. The Pats are averaging 135.5 yards on the ground through the first four games, which is third most in the league.
Last year, Brady averaged 39 pass attempts and completed 64.4 percent of his tosses for 284.1 yards a game. The 39-year-old averaged 7.64 yards per attempt and had 57 plays that went for 20 or more yards. New England has attempted the fourth fewest passes with 114 (28.5 a game) though they have completed 66.7 percent of those passes for four scores and no turnovers. Nearly half of the Patriots’ passing yards have come after the catch and they have just 11 plays of 20 or more yards.
One thing that is not expected to change with Brady under center is the Patriots winning games. Brady has never had a losing season since earning the starting job in 2001. He is 172-51 overall as a starter, completing 63.6 percent of his passes for his career. Brady has led 37 fourth quarter comebacks and 48 game-winning drives.
It is unknown who will back up Brady next week. It will be Garroppolo if his right shoulder is fully healed, otherwise, it will be Brissett though he is dealing with a lingering thumb injury, according to Ian Rapoport of the NFL.
Ninkovich will certainly help the Pats’ front seven. The 32-year-old has the ability to rush the passer and is a capable run stopper. He was the team’s seventh leading tackler last season and totaled 6.5 sacks. Overall, Ninkovich has tallied 42 career sacks.
Ninkovich was suspended for a PED violation.
New England is giving up 15.3 points a contest (fourth fewest). However, the Pats are permitting 365.8 yards a game with 101.3 yards coming on the ground. The Patriots have registered seven sacks and forced four turnovers — all fumbles. Their opponents are converting 46.2 percent of their third down tries (29th in the NFL).
[Featured Image by Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images]