Pats' passing offense will improve

Tom Brady will be looking to guide the Patriots beyond the AFC Championship Game in 2014. Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports

Only two teams -- the Denver Broncos and Chicago Bears -- outscored the New England Patriots last season, the latter by a single point.

And yet, there were prolonged stretches in 2013 when the Patriots offense simply wasn't on track. Specifically, the passing game -- which endured substantial personnel turnover last offseason -- struggled, as Tom Brady entered November with only nine passing touchdowns in eight games.

Yes, Brady was without tight end Rob Gronkowski for much of that stretch, and, as it turned out, much of 2013 in general. He also was dealing with the absence of Danny Amendola for several games after Amendola suffered a Week 1 groin injury. Throw in the assimilation of three rookie wide receivers, and the growing pains were understandable.

At its height, the Patriots' passing game was more than adequate, as Brady ripped off a six-game stretch beginning in early November in which he threw for 14 touchdowns and eclipsed a quarterback rating of 100 on three occasions. And while debate has raged this offseason about where Brady ranks among the best quarterbacks in the NFL (those types of debates are sort of like a game of Monopoly; they can go on forever), the Patriots feel there is no better quarterback equipped to guide their offense, and expectations for the group ought to be high this season.

But the passing game simply wasn't the week-to-week threat to which those across New England have grown accustomed. As the start of the 2014 season draws nearer, the Patriots are counting on their passing game reverting to its previous form. In order for that to happen, several factors need to line up with Brady's supporting cast.