FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP)- Wide receiver Julian Edelman hasn't thought much about the New England Patriots' struggling offense as they approach the midway point of the season.
Quarterback Tom Brady, on the other hand, can't get his mind off it.
"We haven't done great on offense this year, period," Brady said. "So there are probably a lot of places we've struggled - in the third quarter and at the end of games, and third downs and red area and short yardage.
"But you know, this a new week, so we are going to go out there and try to execute our best. If we do that, we're confident that we are going to win."
So, while Brady is leading the first-place Patriots (5-2) into a pivotal divisional matchup Sunday against the Miami Dolphins (3-3), he knows their offense is hardly as feared or fluent as it has been throughout his career.
Third downs are becoming a significant hurdle. Third-quarter play is declining. Red zone efficiency ranks near the bottom of the league.
As far as excuses go, though, Brady has none.
"We're 5-2, we're at a decent place," he said. "We're a long ways from the end of the season. Based on what we've done so far, there's a lot of room for improvement.
"Imagine if we make the improvement. I think that is the positive."
Brady certainly is not used to this.
New England has ranked in the top four in the league in passing offense three of the past four seasons, and was first and second, respectively, in overall offense the last two years, averaging 428 yards per game.
The Patriots, losers of two of their last three games, now rank 20th with 225 yards passing a game. They haven't scored a touchdown in the third quarter, getting outscored 44-9. They've found the end zone just 45.8 percent of the time while inside the 20-yard line compared to 67.5 percent last year. And they rank 28th on third down, converting just 33 percent (35 for 105), including 1-for-12 performances in losses to the Cincinnati Bengals and New York Jets.
"Some weeks you think you have the solution, and you go out and it works, so you go, 'OK, I think we figured it out.' Then you go out the next week and it doesn't, and then you have to re-evaluate where you're at," Brady said. "So, you've just got to try as a team to improve, build confidence in areas that you're good at and, like I said, try to stay level headed-about where you're at and where you're heading and what you believe in your team."
Part of the Patriots' problems stem from their shuffling receiving corps.
Danny Amendola has played in just three games due to a lingering groin injury and a concussion suffered two weeks ago. All-Pro tight end Rob Gronkowski finally made his season debut Sunday in a 30-27 overtime loss to the Jets. And rookie receivers Kenbrell Thompkins, Aaron Dobson and Josh Boyce haven't exactly emerged as trusted targets.
"Coach (Bill Belichick) always says, 'Your role is what you create.' It's really a matter of the players and whatever role they choose to create for themselves, that's how much they are going to be implemented into what we are doing," said Brady, who three times this season has completed less than 50 percent of his passes after doing so in just nine games previously in his career. "Everyone who is active on game day has a role of some sort, and how that develops all depends on ... coverages, what routes we had and whether we made the plays or not."
Edelman has been the one constant. The fifth-year receiver has played in all seven games, already exceeding his career highs in catches (46), yards (455) and targets (68).
"We're all creatures of habit here and we just kind of go forward each week and worry about what we have to do," Edelman said. "That's what we're trying to do here each day, go out and execute in critical situations, making plays when we have to, making more plays than the other team."
The Patriots did so two weeks ago against New Orleans, beating the Saints on Brady's touchdown pass to Thompkins with 5 seconds left. However, that's the only thing standing between New England and a three-game losing streak.
"Guys are focused and losing (stinks)," Brady said. "It (stinks) to be around here when we lose. But it's happened and you move on and try to do better next week."
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