The New England Patriots only scored seven points in their first preseason game, but it was evident how potent this offense can be.
A matchup of the Patriots against the New Orleans Saints would normally indicate a high-scoring affair. In the preseason, however, all bets were off, as the Saints were unable to match even the snail's pace of seven points, losing 7-6 in a game that had even ardent fans snoozing by the end of the third quarter.
However, for both of these teams, the goal of this game was not necessarily, to win—this is the preseason, after all—or even to help decide battles for starting spots. The Patriots and the Saints are both established teams that look to be right back in the playoff hunt in 2012.
Rather, both the Patriots and the Saints have high-octane, precision offenses. The first week of the preseason gave both teams a chance to tune some some of the finer points of the machine. Like a pit crew making adjustments the day before a big race, these teams are searching for just a little more speed, a little more power before the games start to matter.
Tom Brady and the Patriots, in particular, looked just inches away from greatness in their first preseason game.
The first miscue happened on the first offensive play—a long pass down the left seam intended for tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Gronkowski ran the route perfectly, beating his defender, and had plenty of green field ahead of him. Brady misfired, albeit slightly, and the ball sailed toward the middle of the field rather than in front of his tight end. Gronkowski, with an incredible effort, still managed to make a play on the ball, falling just short of a huge completion.
Any reasonable observer knows well what that play will look like four weeks from now when the Patriots face off in Week 1 against the Tennessee Titans.
After a couple of runs (and a first down), Brady threw a perfect ball down the right sideline to Brandon Lloyd—the newest weapon in the Patriots' arsenal. Lloyd adjusted well, but the ball bounced off of his hands.
Even incomplete, the play was everything to love about the Patriots offense. Only Brady can see what others would call perfect coverage and still be able to throw the ball into a window in which his receiver can make a play on the ball.
Lloyd already knows he has to work on his "dropsies," but in reality, that is a tough play to make and one the Patriots don't need to make. However, it's also the type of play that the Patriots are accustomed to making, and they still very nearly completed the pass!
To borrow an analogy from the Olympics, think of it this way: While every other team is figuring out how to get onto the balance beam, the Patriots are perfecting moves that no one else in the world will even try.
Lloyd got another chance a few plays later, and again, the connection was close-to-spectacular. Beating Johnny Patrick down the field, Lloyd cut toward the end zone, and Brady let loose a beauty. Patrick needed to make a spectacular play to swat the ball away.
When the Patriots get back to practice, Lloyd will know that he needs to cut that angle a little quicker to gain more separation, and Brady will admit he could have led his receiver a little more, but the fact remains that if the Patriots ran that play 100 times, the result would be positive more often than note.
Incidentally, 100 times may actually be a conservative estimate of how often Bill Belichick will run through that play in the coming weeks.
The Patriots' biggest issue as they head into the season can be seen on that play as well. New starting left tackle Nate Solder was flagged for holding on the play. Solder takes over for Matt Light—one of the most love Patriots of the past decade—and it is clearly going to take some time.
Just a few plays later, Solder was beaten again, resulting in a sack fumble and a Saints field goal. Same player (Will Smith), same move (work outside, go in)—guess what Nate Solder is working on when he gets to the practice field?
That is, essentially, the point here.
This isn't just blind hope looking at missed opportunities and assuming things will work themselves out. This is recognizing that the Patriots have been there/done that in the past. This is a veteran-laden team that knows how to put the work in and how to meet their goals. This is a coaching staff that knows what to work on and how to work on it.
While other quarterbacks are checking down and other coaches are holding their cards close to their proverbial vests, the New England Patriots are working on what could be a record-setting offense.
It may not have clicked in the first week of the preseason, but it's clearly only inches away.
Michael Schottey is the NFL National Lead Writer for Bleacher Report and an award-winning member of the Pro Football Writers of America. Find more of his stuff alongside other great writers at "The Go Route."
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