FOXBOROUGH — The New England Patriots have used a balanced offense in becoming one of just eight unbeaten teams.
Both their running and passing games have struggled.
Tom Brady’s rookie receivers have plenty to learn and their performances show it with wrong routes and dropped passes.
Stevan Ridley has a lot to improve on to build on his 1,263 yards rushing last year and carries a bigger burden with backup running back Shane Vereen sidelined for at least seven more games with a broken left wrist.
“It’s just a struggle,” Ridley said Monday when the Patriots returned from two days off.
“It’s going into Week 3 and I don’t think any football team in the league is really where they want to be right now, and that’s not making any excuses for us.”
The Patriots edged the New York Jets 13-10 last Thursday night four days after beating the Buffalo Bills 23-21 on Stephen Gostkowski’s 35-yard field goal with 5 seconds left.
Hardly impressive, but the Patriots are 2-0 heading into Sunday’s home game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-2).
“A victory is a victory. I’d rather have ugly wins than pretty losses any day, and I had a lot of pretty losses in my career,” said defensive tackle Tommy Kelly, who spent his other nine NFL seasons with the Oakland Raiders.
The Bucs had ugly losses in their first two games, losing on a field goal with 2 seconds left and another field goal as time expired.
“Talk about a team that’s two plays away from being 2-0, that’s Tampa,” coach Bill Belichick said.
“They’ve been really close the last two weeks and have come up short, but a couple plays that just turn out a little differently, wouldn’t have taken much, we’d be looking at a 2-0 team.”
A couple of plays that turned out differently would have left the Patriots at 0-2.
But they’ve done just enough to win with an offense nothing like the one that led the NFL in points and yards last season.
Only one team has gained fewer yards per pass attempt than the Patriots with Brady averaging 5.2 per throw.
And his completion rate of 52.7 leaves the Patriots tied with the Jets for 30th. Only the Bucs, at 45.3, are worse.
The running game is better but far below last year’s ranking of seventh in the league. It’s 15th with 3.6 yards per rush and 13th with 106 yards per game.
“I don’t think anybody on this team’s happy with where they (are),” Ridley said. “I struggled myself and I definitely didn’t get off to the start that I wanted and I’ll man up and say that.”
Ridley didn’t return to the opener after 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.
Vereen rushed for 101 yards in the opener then was placed on injured reserve with a designation to return, “a crucial blow,” Ridley said. Vereen is eligible to play on Nov. 18 against the Carolina Panthers.
Against the Jets tough defensive front, Ridley gained just 40 yards on 16 carries.
On Sunday, he faces the team that led the NFL in run defense last season.
Anything specific he needs to work on?
“Hold the ball,” he said. “It’s early in the year so nobody’s going to be perfect.”
The Patriots and Bucs practiced together before their preseason game, but that may not help either team.
“I know they’re going to show a lot more than when they were here this summer,” Ridley said. “I don’t think our coaching staff really showed too much and I don’t think they really showed too much.”
It’s time for Brady and the Patriots offense to show more.
“I’m not going to say anything about our offense. I just expect as a defense to keep playing better,” Kelly said. “I can’t worry about what’s going on over there. Tom knows what he’s doing. I’m going to leave that to Tom.”
NOTES: WR Danny Amendola was at the start of practice that the media was allowed to observe. He missed Thursday’s game with a groin injury. ... Asked if tight end Rob Gronkowski would play Sunday, Belichick said, “We’ll take everybody day to day here.” Gronkowski missed the first two games while recovering from forearm and back surgery.
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