It took 60 minutes of Tom Brady to realize there is a next level to the New England Patriots offense.
We’ve seen it before.
Since the off-field demise of Aaron Hernandez in 2013, the Patriots were missing a chance to reach their full capacity of potency. The Patriots knew it and that’s why they acquired Martellus Bennett from Chicago early in the offseason. The Patriots received the tight end and a sixth-round pick for a fourth-round pick.
The acquisition of Bennett enabled the Patriots to use their dangerous double-tight-end set with him and superstar Rob Gronkowski. Gronkowski had his best NFL season with 1,327 yards receiving playing with Hernandez in 2011. Of course, Hernandez’s career ended when he was arrested for murder in 2013.
The idea of having dual receiving threats at tight end in Gronkowski and Bennett was tantalizing for the Patriots.
“I really think this offense is going to be great again because of the Bennett trade,” longtime NFL scout Gary Horton said shortly before the start of the season. “Bennett is going to make Gronkowski more dangerous because someone will have to cover Bennett and it will even make Brady better. They are going to be dangerous.”
Because of Brady’s four-game suspension, the Patriots’ double-tight-end weaponry was put on hold. Until Sunday.
In Brady’s first game back, he and Bennett had instant electric chemistry in their first game together. Brady hit Bennett for three touchdowns. Finally healthy, Gronkowski had his first 100-yard game of the season.
With everyone in place, it appears the benefits of the Bennett trade is ready to take off. The colorful Bennett, who was a standout in Chicago and in Dallas earlier in his career, is ready to bloom in New England. After Sunday’s game, he sent out this gleeful message on Twitter:
Playing for the @Patriots has been a dream come true. Proud to wear the Red. Silver. And Blue looks great with my skin complexion btw…
— Martellus Bennett (@MartysaurusRex) October 10, 2016
The feeling is mutual.
“We’ve been waiting for this moment since we got together to both get out on the field both healthy,” Gronkowski said after the game.
Make no mistake, the defensive coaches in Cincinnati this week are going insane in anticipation of dealing with Gronkowski and Bennett. There is no way of defending them. While Gronkowski could go down as the all-time best tight end to play in the NFL, the key to the alignment is Bennett. While not at Gronkowski’s level, Bennett is such a skilled field stretcher, he makes it a pick-your-poison situation for defensive coordinators.
According to this breakdown, the Patriots used Gronkowski and Bennett tighter on 43 snaps at Cleveland. That number should increase as the Brady-led offense gloves. Gronkowski reportedly was in-line on 31 on of those snaps, in the slot on 8 and was wide out on four of the plays. Bennett was in-line on 35 of the plays and in the slot and out wide on four plays each.
Bennett’s best NFL season was in 2014 when he had 90 catches for 916 yards with the Bears. Bennett, 29, has 21 catches for 314 yards (for a 15-yard per catch average, which is nifty for a tight end) and four touchdowns. Expect the numbers of the 6-foot-6, 275-pound Bennett to increase with Brady throwing to him. He’ll be one of the most closely watched skill position players in the league for the rest of the season after his 3-touchdown performance at Cleveland.
“Bennett will go down as one of the offseason’s very best acquisitions,” longtime NFL scout Matt Williamson said. “He is a huge bump for this club, especially with Gronk now healthy.”
New England coach Bill Belichick doesn’t get too excited about much, especially in front of the media. But, after the Cleveland game, it was clear, he was tickled by the Brady-Bennett hookups.
“He made some big plays for us,” Belichick told reporters. “He and Rob (Gronkowski) both had big plays, got the ball in the end zone, made a tough catch right there on the goal line, made a good effort in the end zone on the play down the sideline where he jumped over a guy in the end zone. All of our guys made some good effort plays. I thought we competed well today.”
This was just the start of the way this New England offense is going to compete with Brady, Gronkowski and Bennett on the field together.