The Patriots offense has been sputtering as of late after being held to 20 points or less in each of the last three games. In all three opposing defenses have been crowding the box with extra defensive backs, trying to cover the short and intermediate zones by getting hands and bodies in passing lanes without much fear of being beaten over the top.
That was the case in the Giants loss, and the Patriots made it easy on them. Looking back at the game it's easy to see that 25 of Tom Brady's 49 pass attempts went to Wes Welker (10) and Rob Gronkowski (15). While Brady completed 17 of those for 237 yards and a touchdown, the downside was no one else was able to make much of an impact.
It was similar earlier in the season when Aaron Hernandez was out and Brady stuck with Welker and Gronkowski in Buffalo and Oakland. Hernandez was on the field against the Giants - and he caught four passes for 35 yards and a touchdown - but he seems to be operating at less than 100 percent as he deals with a bad knee.
With Hernandez' big-play ability perhaps sacrificed by the knee problem, and Deion Branch struggling to get open, Brady is relying on Welker and Gronkowski when he needs a play - at times to the detriment of the offense.
Brady's second interception of the day was reminiscent of one he threw in Buffalo back in Week 3 when he tried to force one to Gronkowski. The tight end was headed down the seam and Brady looked right before throwing back to the left without seeing Deon Grant trailing in coverage. Had the throw been over the top, it had a shot. But instead Brady tried to sneak it past Grant and wound up having it picked.
Later, when the game was on the line, Brady brought back more memories of Buffalo. On the final offensive drive against the Bills he went almost exclusively to Welker and was rewarded with a touchdown on fourth down. Against the Giants it was Gronkowski who was the target on the final three plays - the last of which resulted in the go-ahead touchdown on fourth-and-nine from the 14.
It's hard to argue with the production Welker and Gronkowski are providing. Both have been outstanding all season long and it's understandable that Brady would look their way when things are tight. But it's also hard to ignore the problems the offense had against the Giants was at least partially due to the inability of anyone else to step in and make plays.
Branch and Chad Ochocinco were targeted 10 times against New York and managed just two catches - both by Branch. With just two guys to contain, the Giants were able to keep things in check for most of the day and ultimately give their offense a chance to win.
And while Brady thinks that big plays to help take the top off the defense can come from a variety of players in a variety of ways, even he admits it would be nice to be able to get the ball down the field.
"There're different ways to get the ball down the field and all those guys that we have out there are capable of making big plays. Sometimes it's great to make big plays; sometimes it's good to be methodical. But yeah, big plays never hurt the offense."
But clearly a lack of them can. That's what he and the Patriots are finding out right now.