Kenbrell Thompkins... third pro game of his career.
Aaron Dobson... second pro game of his career.
Both thrown into the fire, into starting roles, at the very start of the season.
It wasn't in Bill Belichick's plans, this wasn't what he envisioned the offense would look like back in June. A mere 90 days ago.
There were supposed to be two tight ends starting out there. Many considered those two TEs to be two of the top five TEs in the NFL, easily the top TE duo in the NFL. When they were both healthy and on the field together, the Patriots' offense had proven nearly impossible to stop.
But neither has suited up to play one game for the Patriots this year, one of them never will again.
That's a tough turn of events for a team that thought both of them would be out there starting, back in June.
The Patriots also lost the most productive slot receiver in Patriots' history, Wes Welker, who walked away during the offseason. It was expected that Danny Amendola would be able to make up for that lost production, that he would gel with Brady and be his 'release valve', his 'go-to guy', when everything else out there was looking bad.
But he was injured in the first game of the season, and hasn't been seen since.
The Patriots also lost in free agency the scatback Danny Woodhead, the Patriots' running back version of Wes Welker, who regularly made the first down with a clutch run or catch when they needed it most. Not really a problem for them, as they had drafted Shane Vereen a couple years ago and groomed him to do everything Woodhead could do, and more.
But he was injured in the first game of the season as well, and won't be seen again for a few more weeks, as he landed on IR (designated to return).
Essentially, the Patriots are without their top four skillset players on offense.
And yet, they are 3-0.
How have they managed that, when in the last two games, Brady has thrown for a mere 3 TDs?
This is a team that is used to producing upwards of 3 TDs in a quarter... not in total for two games.
Perhaps after years of rebuilding, the defense finally has the chemistry, cohesion, and talent it needs to be a dominant force.
Perhaps there is now that communication and familiarity between players on defense, that has been missing for so many seasons prior.
It could be possible.
This is the first season since 2007, that they have returned allmost every starter on defense.
This is the first season since 2007 that every starter, and almost every depth player, has returned on their secondary.
McCourty, Arrington, Talib, etc. have been in the NFL for a while now, and have been playing with one another since last season. Perhaps they have developed the type of communication, cohesion and play recognition skills that are required to have a truly sound Secondary unit.
Contrast that to the Tampa Bay Bucs who they played last … the Bucs have arguably a better collection of secondary players, in Revis, Goldson, Barron, etc., great players, but they have only played three games together. They make mistakes and miscues because of it. They aren't used to playing with one another, and aren't overly familiar with the system.
Much like those rookie wide receivers that the Patriots have been forced to start, they aren't overly familiar with the system, they haven't developed that cohesion, they struggle to recognize and read a defense properly.
But they are already getting the hang of it.
Soon enough, Gronkowski, Amendola, and Vereen will return to the offense.
And then Brady will have his top three playmakers, in addition to his rookie WRs, who were thrown into the fire.