Patriots rely on veterans for opening victory
By Howard Ulman, Associated Press
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — With the game on the line, Tom Brady got the ball to his experienced players.
The rookies already had wasted their chances in the season opener.
Another three days of work may not help as the New England Patriots prepare for Thursday night's game against the New York Jets.
"Anybody that's playing on your unit that has experience with the group you are going to play against, that obviously helps," Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said Monday. "Tom has had a lot of games against this defense, a lot of games against coach (Rex) Ryan's unit, and this is not going to be different in that regard."
But three rookies — wide receivers Kenbrell Thompkins and Josh Boyce and tight end Zach Sudfeld — have never faced the Jets. Brady threw 17 passes toward them in Sunday's 23-21 win over the Buffalo Bills. They caught just four.
More bad news: third-year running back Shane Vereen, who rushed for 101 yards Sunday, missed practice Monday with a wrist injury and could be sidelined. He broke a small bone in his left wrist on the first play from scrimmage and will miss a few weeks, Fox Sports reported.
The Patriots made no announcement about the extent of the injury.
"He was one of the best players we had," against Buffalo, running back LeGarrette Blount said.
Brady got the most production out of his veterans. Danny Amendola, signed as a free agent, had 10 receptions for 104 yards. Julian Edelman caught seven passes for 79 yards and two touchdowns. Vereen had seven catches for 58 yards.
On the winning drive, Brady completed four passes to Amendola for 26 yards and three to Vereen for 10. Vereen also gained 21 yards on two carries. Those three, plus center Ryan Wendell, were the only players who touched the ball on the drive leading to Stephen Gostkowski's 35-yard field goal with 5 seconds left.
"We know that there're some players on our offense that are gaining experience each week and that there are plenty of players on our offense that have plenty of experience already," McDaniels said. "Our standard is high. We want to play good offense and take care of the football and maintain our balance, score in the red zone and convert on third down. Those things are never going to change."
When first-string running back Stevan Ridley didn't take care of the ball, he was benched.
He fumbled in the second quarter as he slipped while cutting and Buffalo's Da'Norris Searcy returned the ball 74 yards for a touchdown. He also lost the ball in the first quarter, but officials ruled that he was downed by contact, a call that was upheld upon review.
"You try to make decisions based on what you feel like is best for the team at each individual time," McDaniels said. "We made the choice to go with Shane and LeGarrette. Stevan needs to do a better job of holding onto the ball, and he knows that. We will work hard with him on that, and he'll work hard as well to make sure that we don't do that anymore, but I think any decision on the future or what is going to happen this week or next week, I don't think those have been made yet."
At least Ridley's healthy.
Five other players at skill positions were limited in practice Monday with a variety of injuries — Amendola (groin), Sudfeld (hamstring), rookie wide receiver Aaron Dobson (hamstring), running back Leon Washington (running back) and tight end Rob Gronkowski (back and forearm).
The Patriots did gain 431 yards, surpassing their NFL-leading average of 427.9 last year. But they did it on 89 plays, an average of 4.8 yards, compared to 5.7 last season.
"We have a long way to go," Brady said.
The rookies have the longest journey, getting used to the fast pace and hard hitting of the regular season and meshing with Brady, a 14-year veteran trying to produce with a rebuilt group of pass catchers.
That includes Sudfeld, who let the only pass thrown to him bounce off his hands for an interception.
And Thompkins, who had four catches on 13 throws to him — and several sideline conversations with Brady in Buffalo.
"Pretty much playing at his tempo," Thompkins said, "doing the things he tells me to do and checking with him and what he wants me to do."
He has just a few days to learn before the next game.
"Buffalo's in the past. Mistakes have obviously been made," Thompkins said. "We're looking forward to the Jets right now."
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