Patriots have to be worried about their passing game — and QB

It was a ho-hum Sunday at Gillette Stadium, with the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills replacing ugly sweaters with ugly football.

Then suddenly the announcement in the press box with 6:39 left woke everyone up:

“Brian Hoyer is now in at quarterback for the Patriots.”

Interesting. Sure, the score at the time was 24-6, and your New England Patriots were pretty much in control. If you had the fa-la-la flu, the Bills could cure it, because their horrendous offense has been the gift that keeps on giving as far as most opponents are concerned. There’s been a few exceptions, but Sunday’s 24-12 Patriots win wasn’t one of them.

The timing of Buffalo’s arrival was perfect. The Patriots were reeling, two straight road losses and had dropped back into the No. 3 pole position. By day’s end, they snapped the losing streak and are back as the No. 2 seed in the AFC thanks to old friend Nick Foles and his Eagles’ win over Houston.

Oh, and the hats and T-shirts for the AFC East title that have been collecting moths for the last two weeks finally escaped their boxes.

But not even the Bills presence could cure an abysmal Patriots passing attack. Were it any other average team that came into Gillette Stadium on Sunday, the New England Patriots would have been in deep trouble. While network NFL pre-game shows tripped all over each other about revealing the deep, dark secrets of receiver Josh Gordon’s suspension, the Patriots passing offense without him was abysmal.

It’s clear there’s something wrong with TB 12, likely mainly due to the reported grade two MCL sprain. He’s stayed in games almost to a fault with the Patriots nursing much larger leads. He would always give you the impression you’d need the jaws of life to get him out of there.

When asked if it was odd seeing him come out that early, Duron Harmon said, “No, the game was over.”

Given the opponent, yes. But plenty of games have been over with Brady still in. And no, this wasn’t time off for good behavior, with the starting quarterback smiling and shaking hands on the sidelines. Instead Brady clearly wasn’t happy, standing on the sideline with a helmet on, arms folded after 13-of-24 completion day for 126 yards, one TD and two INTs that could be blamed somewhat on targets Rex Burkhead and Rob Gronkowsk. A day in which his quarterback rating was 48.3, his lowest since a game vs. Indianapolis in 2006. A day in which Gronkowski went without a catch for just the third time in his career.

A day in which Patriots coach, Bill Belichick, said “I think overall our passing game could be better. We ran the ball well, that offset it.”

They sure did, some 47 times for 273 yards, led by rookie Sony Michel’s 118 yards and a TD on 18 carries.

“Whatever it takes on a week-to-week basis, I think that’s what we’ve got to do,” Brady said. “This time of year, whatever it takes to win, that’s what you’ve got to do. … Yeah, we didn’t have our best day in the pass game, but we won. So I think everybody’s feeling pretty good about winning.”

Was he surprised to be pulled? The response was no. Is he healthy? “I feel great,” he said. “I feel 100 percent.”

But the team’s passing game, its bread and butter over the years, isn’t. The rookie QB on the other side, Josh Allen, does miss open receivers but he’s got a great arm — yet the people he’s throwing to for the most part can’t catch a cold. Thus 24 points based on great runs and a heads up play by Julian Edelman (bouncing up off a defender to run into the end zone) was enough.

It was just a strange day. Belichick said that pulling Brady when he did “was the right thing to do.” Cheers outside and inside the locker room erupted when the Eagles and Foles had a game winning drive to pull out a 32-30 win over the Texans that means the Patriots can clinch the No. 2 seed and a first round bye with a win next Sunday over the Jets.

Pure irony as someone in the Patriots locker room yelled out, “Nick Foles does it again.”

Will the rest of the NFL be saying that about Tom Brady in a few weeks?

You wonder.

Tom King can be reached at 594-1251,tking@nashuatelegraph.com, or@Telegraph_TomK.