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No need for old reinforcements, Tom: Patriots' young receivers take right route

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  September 23, 2013 07:42 AM

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So far as I can tell, there's no truth to the rumor that Patriots receivers have been texting Brian Hoyer to gauge his availability in coming back to New England.

Oh, c'mon, don't click over to the 50 scariest Halloween movies gallery just yet. As cool as it was to hop over to the RedZone channel in time to see Hoyer, Tom Brady's longtime understudy who often looked capable of leading a team of his own, rally the Browns to a stirring victory, you know I'm kidding.

It just strikes me as rather amusing that the day that this interesting and completely believable item ...

... is reported happens to be the day that the Patriots' embattled young receivers show significant progress, sometimes in spite of the legendary quarterback who for once was the one who left some big plays on the field.

That's the No. 1 takeaway from Sunday's workmanlike 23-3 victory over once-and-future Big East big shot Greg Schiano and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The young receivers, as lost as Bill Parcells's proverbial ball in tall grass at times during the first two victories over the Bills and Jets, are worth being excited about.

Kenbrell Thompkins (3 catches, 41 yards, 2 TDs) and Aaron Dobson (7 catches, 52 yards, one fourth-down conversion) were pretty close to indispensable in the Patriots' third straight victory to open the season.

What was especially encouraging is that they both showed significant progress in all of the myriad aspects of playing receiver in this offense while facing a Buccaneers defensive backfield dotted with superb talent (Darrelle Revis, Mark Barron, Dashon Goldson).

There's no doubt there will be more hiccups along the way, a step back once in a while for every couple of steps forward. That's OK; it's becoming clear Bill Belichick budgeted for this when he decided to go with the kids.

Rob Gronkowski will be back soon enough to ease the burden on everyone, Danny Amendola is refusing to be written off as an injury casualty despite an injury that makes any man shiver, Julian Edelman has become dependable, and the mix-and-match running game seems to have a worthy option for every situation. Meanwhile, the deep and talented defense continues to pick up the slack as the offense gets acclimated, and isn't that a refreshing plot twist?

With the Patriots now moving into the varsity portion of their schedule – they have the Falcons, Bengals and Saints over the next three weeks – the progress we saw from Thompkins and Dobson Sunday was imperative. And damned if they didn't offer the most encouraging confirmation yet that they are going to be a relevant part of this offense and all it accomplishes this year.

They have shown the ability to get open, even on plays that ended with their quarterback giving them the full Marino treatment. Now they're actually getting open while running the route and being in the place the rightful perfectionist of a quarterback demands, and they're holding on to the football and even picking up some yards after the catch. I'm enthused to discover what these guys will be once the calendar turns to January.

There is no doubt that they are capable of giving the Patriots much more than either Brandon Lloyd and Deion Branch would. I liked Lloyd and his knack for the spectacular catch, but he was a weird bird who too often spent his Sunday afternoons looking like he was auditioning for a zombie movie. (It all makes sense now.)

Branch? What Patriots fan – or quarterback – doesn't adore the guy? He was always a right-place-at-the-right-time receiver, one who made all the plays in his prime – hell, he was the MVP of their last Super Bowl victory. But he's 34 years old now, could really run only one effective route a season ago when he had just 16 catches for 145 yards. He's a flashback, not a solution.

The Patriots don't need Deion Branch. They need the next Deion Branch, and throw in a David Givens or two as well.

No one knows this better than Brady. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that he texted something approximating, "Hey, we could really use you, 84. Has Bill reached out?" to Branch, and probably checked in with the great thespian Lloyd as well.

The frustrations of the first two weeks left him longing for reliability rather than potential. So in a strange way, it was encouraging that it was Brady's spotty play (at least by his standards) that kept Thompkins and Dobson from shining even more.

On Barron's interception in the red zone – an extremely uncharacteristic gaffe for Brady – he locked in on Dobson. He also missed Thompkins wide-open down field on at least one occasion.

It was not Brady's sharpest performance by any stretch, and maybe that's one more encouraging takeaway from Sunday. The young receivers are playing better. And yet there's still room for the brilliant quarterback to play better, too.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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