Tom Brady is back under center in New England, even if his only action to date since blowing his knee out last opening day has come in non-contact OTAs and veteran minicamp.
That in and of itself -- Brady retaking the field with Randy Moss and Wes Welker -- is probably enough to cue up the comparisons between the potential the New England offense has in 2009 and what the unit produced back in 2007 when the dynamic trio last haunted opposing defenses.
That '07 incarnation of New England's aerial-based attack rewrote the record books. Brady became the first quarterback ever to toss 50 touchdown passes. Moss galloped past Jerry Rice's record with 23 touchdown receptions. The Patriots put up an NFL record 589 points on the way to the league's first 16-0 regular season.
It's a tall resume to try to live up to, even with a healthy and reunited Brady, Moss and Welker. But the trio isn't the only reason some are wondering if this Patriots' offense could be even better.
New England has added former Pro Bowl running back Fred Taylor, aging but still very speedy wide receiver Joey Galloway and experienced tight ends Chris Baker and Alex Smith. The former two bring additional big-play ability to the group while the latter pair adds both depth and insurance to a tight end spot that's been oft-injured and has underachieved in recent years.
Better at running back. Better at wide receiver. Solid at tight end. And Brady is back under center behind an offensive line that returns all five starters and key backups. All the pieces certainly seem to be in place for a show of firepower, even while acknowledging the loss of quarterbacks coach/offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels who is now running his own show in Denver. After all, McDaniels himself was an ill-prepared replacement for Charlie Weis at one point.
But Bill Belichick would never allow his players to look ahead to records -- not in the summer, not during the season, not ever. As such his offensive leader and captain isn't fueling the hype that's already building steam nearly three months before the team takes the field against the Bills in the Monday night opener.
"There's a lot of work that we need to do to get on the same page," Brady said of the group's potential. "I know the kind of effort we put in in 2007 and we need to match that, and in 2008 as well -- we worked hard that offseason. It didn't work out for us in the end, but I think this year is another bit of excitement, it's a new challenge and that's why we are out here practicing. I don't think you overlook anything out here. Every rep we are trying to complete is for a reason. There are signals (to learn). We're walking through the two-minute drill today. We're trying to all get on the same page and that's going to carry over into training camp and training camp carries over to the season. We have a lot of tough opponents this year. We have a challenging schedule and we are going to need the work that we have. I think the new guys -- they are a bit overwhelmed with the offense and the terminology and the speed of how I'm spitting things out in the huddle and how I'm changing things at the line. We are all trying to get used to that."
But not all players are ignoring the possibilities, or at least those that are being tossed around at this point by fans and the media.
"It's hard to get a sense now, but it is exciting," left tackle Matt Light said. "I mean we went to the (Patriots Charitable Foundation) Golf Tournament and a lot of the sponsors had a lot to say and they were pretty amped up about the guys that we have here and the guys that we brought in. So it's exciting as always. This is the start of a new season. The new guys and now getting a crack at installing the offense and seeing what these guys can do...I think it'll be a lot of fun, I'll put it that way."