FOXBORO - Through eight games, these are the target-reception numbers for the Patriots' leading receivers.
Wes Welker: 93-66
Rob Gronkowski: 62-44
Aaron Hernandez 50-33
Deion Branch 51-32.
Chad Ochocinco? 21 targets, 9 receptions.
On Sunday, Tom Brady targeted Welker and Gronkowski 25 times.
"I think you want to try to get the ball to your playmakers," said Bill Belichick when I asked him about the ever-increasing reliance on those two players in an offense that was so multifaceted early in the season. "Those guys have made a lot of plays for us, so Id say if we threw that many passes and didnt throw it to them, then youd be coming in here saying, Hey Bill, you threw all these passes, how come only two went to Welker and one went to Gronkowski? How come you didnt throw it to them? "
Probably would. But on a day when the Patriots were scoreless in the first half and picks were thrown on forces to Gronkowski and Branch, the game against the Giants begged for another player to emerge.
Ocho was actually getting first-half separation but no targets. Suddenly, in the third quarter, Tom Brady started throwing to him. The separation went away for the most part, although Brady could have flattened out the throw to Ocho in the end zone that was slapped down. Brady wasn't sharp on Sunday.
But this isn't about Brady as much as it is about the fact that - in press coverage - the only guys regularly getting open are Welker and Gronkowski. It takes Ocho forever to come clear; Branch's separation ability is in the 0- to-15-yard range on timing routes.
Meanwhile, the frustration level with and from Ochocinco is rising. You saw it on the sidelines when FOX cameras caught some back and forth. And it was interesting to see Brady's clothes down with the offensive linemen when he packed up his duds to leave the locker room and away from the area where Ocho and he dress almost side-by-side.
Belichick stuck with the point about Gronkowski and Welker giving great returns on throws their way.
"I think theyre good options if theyre open," said Belichick. "If theyre not open, then hopefully theres somebody else that is. Theyre two of our better players. I dont think theres anything wrong with throwing it to them if theyre productive and they were both productive yesterday.
"A couple of times, could we maybe have gone somewhere else? Yeah, we probably could have," Belichick continued. "Maybe a couple of times if we went somewhere else, could we have gone to them? Maybe we could have. But Id say Tom Brady generally makes real good decisions with the ball. Has he had plays hed like to have back? Sure. Have I had calls Id like to have back? Sure. Thats part of the game. But Id say he makes pretty good decisions with the ball where to go, who to throw it to. We trust him doing that. Im not going to second guess him on those."
No doubt Brady's earned the benefit of the doubt a few dozen times over thanks to the decisions he's made over the course of his career. But when it comes to getting the ball "to your playmakers" the Patriots need one to emerge on the outside to complement the slot guy and the tight end.
And almost every time the number 85 gets dialed up, there's no answer.