FOXBOROUGH — From the beginning, there has always been a potential savior on the way for the Patriots.
In training camp, it was Julian Edelman. Lost for the summer with a broken thumb, it was easy to overlook the slapdash collection of rookies and castoffs at receiver knowing he’d be back.
Once the season began, it was N’Keal Harry. When the big first round pick went down with a hamstring injury in the preseason, he loomed as a potential difference maker for an offense that badly needed a big-play threat.
Struggles in the run game? Not a worry. We knew Isaiah Wynn would be back soon. Surely the blocking up front would get better and the backs would take advantage.
But who is supposed to be walking through that door now?
Sunday night, the Patriots took the field against Kansas City with essentially their entire starting offense active and healthy. Outside of third-string center James Ferentz, the unit looked exactly as it’s meant to. Well, until the game began. Then it looked nothing like it’s meant to, playing a hideous brand of football unlike anything we’ve seen from the Patriots in more than a decade for long stretches of the team’s 23-16 loss.
It’s been this way for weeks now, but at this point the hay is in the barn. No reinforcements are coming for the Patriots, who are going to have to figure this mess out with the guys they’ve got.
In the four games since the bye week, the Patriots have averaged just 17 points per game and converted just 19 of 59 third down conversions. They’ve scored just seven touchdowns against 22 punts during that stretch, and for two weeks in a row the offense has looked completely hapless early before eventually showing some fight late. Even when New England could get into the end zone on Sunday, it took a flea flicker and a Brandon Bolden run after a blocked punt to make it happen.
That’s a far cry from the highly efficient, chain-moving machine we’re used to seeing from New England, and it’s not going to get it done in the playoffs.
So if there aren’t going to be any dramatic late arrivals — and no, Rob Gronkowski and Antonio Brown aren’t coming back — then how are the Patriots supposed to turn this around?
For starters, Sony Michel could step up. The former first-round pick had his worst game of the season on Sunday, rushing for just eight yards on five carries. He now has 653 yards on 189 carries (3.4 yards per carry) over 13 games, a huge step back from his rookie year when he went for 931 yards on 209 carries (4.5 yards per carry) in 13 games. That’s not good enough.
Same could be said about Mohamed Sanu, who has had limited impact in the five games since his arrival. Other than his 10-catch, 81-yard showing against Baltimore, the midseason trade acquisition has been all but invisible. Sunday night he had just a single catch for 13 yards, his fourth game with the Patriots with three or fewer catches for 25 or fewer yards.
How about Harry? He’s in a tough spot as a rookie trying to come in midseason after an injury, but a guy with as much talent as him needs to be more than the fourth wide receiver on the depth chart. As for Jakobi Meyers, he’s far exceeded expectations as an undrafted free agent, but if he’s going to be out there he can’t be dropping easy passes like we saw several times on Sunday.
It hasn’t been all bad. Julian Edelman (90 catches, 1,010 yards) has done everything he can, and James White remains an essential piece even if his overall numbers are down. But at the end of the day, this offense only runs if everyone is doing their jobs, and lately too many guys on offense haven’t been doing theirs.
Mac Cerullo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow Mac on Twitter at @MacCerullo.