FOXBOROUGH — In time, Brandon Lloyd might become the dangerous deep threat that quarterback Tom Brady hasn’t had since the Patriots cut ties with Randy Moss.
Others have tried, and mostly failed. The Patriots are hoping they’ll be able to bank on Brady-to-Lloyd. Expecting it, actually, or else they wouldn’t have given Lloyd a three-year, $12 million contract in March, one of the splashiest free agent moves the team made in the offseason.
Like fine wine, chemistry between a quarterback and receiver gets better with age. That, plus practice, repetition, film study, consultation, and anything else that can be lumped in as extra work. It’s rare a quarterback and receiver are in synch right away. Lloyd only has five games with Brady under his belt: Three in the preseason, two in the regular season. Way too early to be humming along.
“It’s just time, that’s the only thing, the most important thing,” Lloyd said. “Practicing as close to game speed as possible. Obviously, you’re not going to be at game speed because you’re missing the adrenaline and everything that factors into playing on game day, but practicing as fast as possible to try to get that timing down in practice is another way to help that.”
As the Patriots prepare for Sunday night’s game at Baltimore, it’s obvious they’re trying hard to make this connection work. Through two games, Lloyd has been targeted by Brady 21 times, most on the team. Wes Welker is second (16), followed by Rob Gronkowski (15). Lloyd has caught 13 passes, also tops on the team, for 129 yards. He has yet to bring one into the end zone.
Once each game, Brady has attempted to hit Lloyd on a deep ball. Both passes were incomplete. Chalk it up to two players still getting to know each other. Brady and Moss seemed to have it. Brady and veteran receiver Deion Branch, who was re-signed this week, have it. Communication and a sixth sense of where the ball needs to go depending on what the defense does — breaking off a route, taking advantage of a mismatch — is something that takes a while to develop between a quarterback and receiver. Two games is too small a sample size.
“I don’t know if there’s a measurement, it’s more just consistent play, making the plays downfield, making the short plays, just playing consistent,” Lloyd said. “I think that would be the measurement to me as far as how successful and how cohesive we are.”
The person calling the plays for the Patriots definitely sounds like he’ll keep dialing them up.
“I think Brandon and Tom have certainly connected a number of times this year and have made some important, big plays for us,” offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said. “We’ve thrown it out there quite a bit and Brandon has made a lot of plays. At the same time we’ve missed a few opportunities, too, but I think that’s the NFL and that’s passing the football. Some of those plays are not high percentage, but the more we work at it, the better we’re going to get.”
Brady, in a response this week about the offense, could have been talking about Lloyd.
“We’ve just been inconsistent, I’d say, with our execution. I think there’s plays out there that we’re trying to make,” Brady said. “I don’t think it’s through lack of effort. It’s just a matter of execution.”
Lloyd has been in the league since 2003, and is already on his sixth team (also San Francisco, Washington, Chicago, Denver, and St. Louis), so he’s well-versed in the fine art of learning about and getting to know a new quarterback: How he throws the ball, how he wants routes run, strengths, weaknesses, wishes, demands, expectations.
Lloyd is hitched at the hip with one of the best quarterbacks the NFL has ever seen. But he’s not the lone option; there are a number of players Brady can target. How well Lloyd catches it will likely determine how often No. 85 gets targeted going forward.
“I know as far as a pass catcher, I do like to get into a rhythm catching the ball and get a feel for the game,” Lloyd said.
Does Lloyd feel like he and Brady are getting close to establishing the kind of receiver-quarterback chemistry that can change games?
“I don’t know,” he said. “It definitely takes time.”