Patriots Survive A Frustrating, Maddening Game Against Jets

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. —

It was as intriguing as it was maddening. It was head-scratching. It was ugly. And we're talking about the offense of the winning team.

The big question going into Thursday night was who would Tom Brady target? How often? And what would happen when he did?

We knew he'd throw to Julian Edelman. Everybody did. Brady trusts No. 11. That noted comedian Rex Ryan called Edelman and Danny Amendola "Wes Welker clones" the other day. And when it grew apparent that Amendola would not play in this unsightly 13-10 victory over the Jets, Brady figured to go to No. 11 early and often.

So it was little surprise that Edelman, the former college quarterback turned the most versatile item since the Swiss Army Knife, caught a career-high 13 catches. Of course, Brady had only six completions to everybody else and the Patriots offense produced only 232 yards.

"Julian played well, made some tough catches, did a good job on punt returns," coach Bill Belichick said. "He played hard like he always does. He's a tough kid. He made a couple tough catches in the second half in the rain, too."

"Julian did a great job, caught the ball in traffic," Brady said. "He was dependable [no catch went for more than 10 yards]. We won. Obviously we have a lot of room for improvement. We have a long way to go. Nobody is coming to rescue and save the day. We've got to work harder and be consistent."

Amendola had 63 catches last year with the St. Louis Rams. He had been called the poor man's Welker, but the truth was he got $19 million richer the March day he signed with the Patriots. Some experts insist Amendola is every bit as good as Welker when he's healthy and, get this, he's four years younger. Plenty is expected of his new relationship with Brady. Yet here's the rub:

Amendola, who the NFL Network reported is out anywhere from two to six weeks with a groin injury, is far less durable than Welker. The Patriots, Ian Rapoport reported before the game, haven't figured out exactly what is wrong with Amendola. This particular injury has lingered since training camp and although he had 10 catches in the opening 23-21 victory against the Bills, he has now missed 21 of 34 games dating to 2011.

If you're wondering, Denver quarterback Peyton Manning's newest buddy, Welker, has had perfect attendance during that time.

So there was no Rob Gronkowski, who could be back within a few weeks from forearm and back injuries. There obviously was no Aaron Hernandez, who sits in a jail cell and won't be back in a thousand lifetimes. There was no Shane Vereen, who broke his wrist against Buffalo after running for 101 yards and catching seven passes for 58 yards.

So who would Tommy target?

One answer, perhaps the biggest, came on the opening drive. How's this for a start? Rookie Aaron Dobson, who had missed the opener with a hamstring problem, lined up for his first NFL play semi-disguised as a wing back. The Jets bit hard on a Brady play-fake. They swarmed everybody except Dobson. He was wide open for a little flare catch that he took 39 yards for a touchdown. First play. First reception. First TD. How's that for a debut? Incredible?

"It looked like they had everybody pretty close to the line of scrimmage," Belichick said. "They did that quite a bit tonight. They had no deep-field players. They got kind of caught up there in the action and Aaron slipped behind them. We got behind them several times. We didn't convert as much as we need to."

It went downhill from there for Dobson. He dropped a long ball that would have gone for monstrous yardage, maybe even a touchdown. Later in the first half, Brady threw a snit worthy of Dan Marino in his prime. With the ball on the New York 12, Dobson wasn't looking when Brady uncorked a pass to him. It could have been seven; instead the Patriots settled for three and a 13-3 halftime lead.

Brady was caught on TV screaming on the play and he was still steaming on the sidelines. Nobody in the Brady clan had been that hot under the collar since Gisele flew off the handle over Welker's drop in the Super Bowl.

"I have to do a better job with my body language," said Brady, who finished only 19-for-39 and 187 yards, but did manage to throw a touchdown for the 50th consecutive game. "I wouldn't say it's a strong point of mine right now."

The Patriots offense, 1-for-9 on third-down conversations in the first half, was dreadful in the second. Brady had some bad passes. There were drops. Belichick, who benched Stevan Ridley in Buffalo after a fumble, played him, but there was no running game (54 total yards) to mention.

Kenbrell Thompkins made a 38-yard catch on the drive that made it 13-3. In the closing seconds of the first half he also made a terrific diving stab in the end zone for what would have been a 25-yard touchdown. The replay, however, reversed the call. The ball barely bounced off the turf as he caught it.

There were a few sublime moments, but overall this was one ugly game. There were mistakes. There were dropped passes on both teams. After Tedy Bruschi screamed so much when he was honored at halftime, the skies opened and it poured for a while. It was messy. Plenty messy. If you didn't know any better, you'd swear the NFL preseason is too short. There are some serious not-ready-for-prime-time players in the AFC East this season. Wow. The AFC East could be truly horrible.

Except Edelman. After catching two touchdown passes in Buffalo and becoming the NFL career leader in punt-return average, he was called on to do what he has insisted he is not trying to do. Replace Welker. The guy has played on both sides of the ball in his career, returned punts, a little bit of everything. And while his decision to re-sign with the Patriots made little news during the off-season, he looked like a gem in the muddy, ugliness of this game.

The Patriots led the NFL in scoring last season. The offense led the NFL in yardage. On this night, they had nine measly first downs. Of course, as Brady rushed to point out, they also are 2-0.

CHICAGO