FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots (3-0) have been on a roller-coaster ride with the wide receiver position this season, and they are currently experiencing a turbulent dip.
The volatility traces back to the preseason when the Patriots were struggling to piece together a unit through three games, then they were riding high and loaded after a Week 2 regular-season win in Miami, and now they're back down again.
Last week at this time, Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon, Antonio Brown, Phillip Dorsett and undrafted free agents Jakobi Meyers and Gunner Olszewski represented the strength of the offense. The possibilities were endless, especially with Brown dazzling at times in practices, and the group was deep enough that there was comfort in trading veteran Demaryius Thomas to the New York Jets.
But now Brown is gone, and Edelman is battling a chest/rib injury that knocked him out of Sunday's win against the Jets late in the second quarter. Edelman's initial X-rays were negative, but he was undergoing more tests Monday to determine the severity of the injury, which naturally had quarterback Tom Brady's attention.
"He's tough, he's one of the best players to ever play for this organization. I love being out there with him, and if he's not out there, the offense takes a huge hit," Brady said of Edelman on Monday during his weekly interview on sports radio WEEI.
"We're going to need to get some healthy bodies out there, we're going to need some experienced players. It's just too hard to put a bunch of new players in there and think we're going to be spectacular."
The topsy-turvy situation was magnified Sunday when Gordon briefly left the game in the third quarter after injuring his left hand and fingers, leaving only Dorsett and rookies Meyers and Olszewski as options. Gordon later returned with his left pinkie and ring fingers taped together, earning respect from teammates with what captain Matthew Slater referred to as a "war daddy deluxe" performance.
Gordon (11 catches, 175 yards, TD) and Edelman (17 catches, 196 yards, TD) have been the clear-cut starters through three games, with Dorsett (13 catches, 187 yards, 3 TDs) the player whose time on the field increased most with Brown gone.
"Phil has done a great job for us. He's been versatile and very dependable," coach Bill Belichick said. "His role has changed many times. He's played inside, he's played outside. He's played on early downs, and third down and two-minute [drill]. He's been kind of a motion player, or a perimeter player. He's very smart and comes through for us week after week, year after year, in many critical junctures."
Belichick pointed out how Dorsett's adaptability showed up Sunday after Edelman departed, with his role changing.
"He's very well prepared and has great position versatility and a mental flexibility to handle a lot of different assignments. He's a very valuable player for us," he said.
Dorsett played a season-low 35 snaps in the one game Brown suited up for the Patriots, in Week 2 against Miami. On Sunday, Dorsett played 71 snaps.
Meyers, who broke Torry Holt's single-season record for catches at NC State but went undrafted this year in part because of a slow 40-yard dash time, also had a major increase in playing time Sunday after Edelman's injury (49 snaps overall). He was inactive against the Dolphins after playing eight snaps in the season opener.
Meyers is learning on the fly, with Belichick noting how things are different in the NFL with more coverages, tighter coverage in general, and more route adjustments, using Sunday's game as an example.
"The Jets played a lot of Cover 2, but they had two or three different ways of the way they played it. It kind of looks the same, but it's not the same. It really can affect the receiver's rules and his adjustments because it looks differently. So experience and understanding route concepts and coverages, that's a big area of growth for the passing game in general," he explained, adding that Meyers has made steady progress.
The Patriots will need more from Meyers, and their running game.
The offense has struggled to run, with the passing game serving as the primary catalyst. Now things could get tougher, with a road trip to face the Buffalo Bills (1 p.m. ET, CBS) and a suddenly depleted and banged-up receiver depth chart.