ATLANTA -- Tom Brady usually makes it look so easy.
Year after year, he churned out staggering offensive numbers with such regularity it was hard to envision much of a drop-off, even when he lost two of his most trusted receivers.
But here we are, three weeks into the season, and Brady is struggling to get in sync with his new guys.
Sure, the Patriots (3-0) are off to a strong start in the standings, but defence and the running game have largely carried the load. Brady turns up in some very unfamiliar spots on the stat sheet: 24th in passer rating, 26th in completion percentage, 33rd in average gain per attempt.
"We've definitely left some points on the board," he said heading into today's prime-time game against the Atlanta Falcons.
Brady knew things would be a bit different after Wes Welker signed with the Broncos and Brandon Lloyd was released. A year ago, those two combined for 192 receptions, 2,265 yards and 10 touchdowns.
Also, receiver Danny Amendola missed the last two games with a groin injury, while two-time Pro Bowl tight end Rob Gronkowski has yet to play while recovering from forearm and back surgeries. In the meantime, rookies Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson have become Brady's main receivers, a transition that hasn't gone all that smoothly.
The Patriots have really struggled in the red zone, scoring only four times in 13 trips inside the 20-yard line.
"You're always trying to develop that (timing) over the course of the season," Brady said. "You don't really have it figured out to start."
Brady and the passing game will need to pick up against the Falcons (1-2), a team that has another of the league's top quarterbacks, Matt Ryan, and plenty of offensive weapons.
Atlanta has an extra sense of urgency after a pair of last-minute losses, leaving the team in danger of falling two games below .500 for the first time under coach Mike Smith.
WHERE'S RODDY? Falcons WR Roddy White is still trying to get back to full speed after spraining his right ankle during the pre-season. White played in the first three games but wasn't very effective with seven catches for 56 yards and no touchdowns.
-- The Associated Press