The Patriots offense in 2013 wasn't what we had hoped. It wasn't what they produced- their 444 points were one point behind the second ranked Bears offense- but how they produced. For a unit that's finished in the top three for points scored in each of the past four seasons, 2013's bunch easily offered the least amount of confidence.
A drink-inducing cocktail of unparallel personnel turnover, offensive line and running back inconsistency, and Tom Brady's inflatable hand put forward a maddeningly inconsistent offensive effort. Throw in rookie growing pains and Rob Gronkowski's bodily pains and Brady wasn't able to throw to anyone (other than new best friend Julian Incredelman).
In all, Brady went from an All Time Great to looking merely mortal on the field. With Edelman as his only target, Brady was in dire need of a reliable target. Injured rookies and injured veterans just wasn't cutting it.
This year, hopefully everything will be different. Rob Gronkowski has started blocking in practice and engaging in basic contact, which is a positive sign for his return, and he's also been taking part in private sessions with Brady, Bill Belichick, and Darrelle Revis, so he's not only facing top competition, he's rebuilding his rapport with his quarterback.
Aaron Dobson has started his sprints on the sideline, which likely means he'll see his return to the field sooner rather than later. Danny Amendola has looked reliable and, more importantly, healthy.
Edelman has picked up where he left off last season, which is on top as Brady's favorite target, and this all comes together to present the offense in the most positive light. It relegates free agent signee Brandon LaFell and rising sophomore Kenbrell Thompkins to more reserve roles, which is probably for the best with the inconsistency of their hands.
But still, nothing means more to the offense that the return of Gronk. He's looking as good as ever and his importance to the team cannot be understated. Below are Brady's splits over the past two seasons with and without Gronk, playoffs included:
That difference is enough to place Brady's numbers either as one of the top producers of all time, with a passer rating on par for second best of all time, or at the literal middle of the pack, with the Jay Cutlers and Andy Daltons.
A healthy Gronk has elevated the offensive production from a standard offense to one of the best of all time. The hopeful health of Gronk, Dobson, Amendola, and Shane Vereen, in addition to the continued growth of Edelman in a leading role, should put this offense back at the top of the league.