At the start of the season when the Patriots offense projected to be without many of its weapons from 2012, Team PFW wondered where the production would come from. More than three months later, with Rob Gronkowski now lost for the season, a similar thought persists.
Tom Brady hasn't had one of his better seasons in many ways yet still has his team atop the AFC East with a 10-3 record. He's been able to cobble together enough offense along the way, particularly late in games, in order to maintain some distance between the Patriots and the rest of the pack in the division.
After Gronkowski returned the production rose dramatically. The Patriots were no longer struggling on third down or in the red zone and the points were coming much more frequently than they were earlier in the season. Now Brady will once again have to do without his most talented option.
So where does the pressure fall? There are a lot of options, and they come in a variety of forms. Brady, of course, will have more on his shoulders, as will the running backs and remaining receivers. Shane Vereen has been a key component of the passing game but now could be the focus of the attack. The same could be said of Julian Edelman, who has been the team's leading receiver.
The defense also could be asked to do more, particularly the banged up secondary that is trying to fight through injuries while keeping opponents under wraps.
So there is no shortage of options, but we want to determine which one is the best. Therefore, this week's Samsonite Make Your Case question is who will be under the most pressure to keep the Patriots winning?
PFW's Andy Hart says...
Brady is, will be and always has been the focal point of what's going on with the Patriots and the team's offense. That's even truer as the team struggles to hold together an injury-riddled defense and seemingly goes through its third change of identity on offense this season.
There is no longer a margin of error for No. 12. No more chances for inaccurate throws early in games or allowing his team to fall behind with the expectation that it can come back late. Brady must be almost perfect, not only in his performance but in how he leads his new-look, transitioning offensive unit littered with young and unproven playoff talents.
There is no greater a competitor in all of sports. Brady must feel the pressure that's on him right now and we know he's responded to doubt and pressure so well in the past. That's what New England needs him to do yet again. If the Patriots are going to make a Super Bowl run it will require contributions and playmaking from a wide variety of people. But it all must be led by Brady. That's the reality of the current situation. New England will go only where Brady leads it at this point.
PFW's Paul Perillo says...
The Patriots are dealing with loads of injuries and not just to those who are on injured reserve. Vereen is one of the rare healthy bodies at this point, and he needs to emerge as the offense's top overall playmaker in order for the Patriots to succeed.
Vereen has been terrific out of the backfield as a receiver but with Rob Gronkowski out he'll need to prove he can keep catching passes even while being the focal point of opponents' game plans. No longer will Vereen be able to waltz into the end zone while three guys are covering Gronk 10 yards away. Vereen will now have to beat the coverage on his own, and probably some double coverage at times as well.
Vereen is a talented back and his ability to be a dual threat may be the most reliable element the Patriots offense has at this point. Brady can't do it all alone. He needs others to make plays, and no one is more equipped to do that than Vereen. He has to deliver.
Now it's the fans turn to cast their vote in this week's Samsonite Make Your Case poll question.