New England tight end Ryan Izzo is the top producing tight end for the Patriots, with just nine catches for 114 yards and no touchdowns. Steven Senne/Associated Press

All season long, the New England Patriots have been playing offense with one hand tied behind their collective backs.

It’s like Cam Newton has been operating as one of 10 players, instead of 11.

That’s what happens with a largely vacant tight end room. The position becomes nonexistent.

And while the Patriots are lacking at so many positions, be it the defensive line, linebacker or wide receiver, the tight end group has surged to the head of that class.

It’s that bad, which is stunning to observers, as well as former Patriots who knew another time with a much more prominent tight end room.

“You wouldn’t think that this could happen to a Patriots team,” said ESPN analyst Damien Woody, a former Patriots offensive lineman, when asked about the position. “They were the ones that got the two tight end set going for the rest of the league. But now, it’s almost like a forgotten group.”

With the team trying to get out of a 3-5 hole, it doesn’t bode well having that many trouble spots.

The tight ends are merely in focus this week because Coach Bill Belichick and director of player personnel Nick Caserio have been scrambling to find help. It’s reached desperation time.

How can a 2020 NFL offense legitimately function without a tight end?

Right now, the Patriots are down to a banged-up Ryan Izzo and a collection of prayers. Between injuries, a lack of depth, lack of talent, and inexperienced players, the position has pretty much been a no-show on the field. And given the importance of the position over the past two decades, it’s a real head-scratcher why the team hasn’t paid more attention to maintaining it as a strength.

Izzo’s nine catches for 114 yards and no touchdowns, along with Dalton Keene’s single catch for eight yards, are the sum total of offense provided at the position through eight games.

Rookies Devin Asiasi and Keene are on injured reserve. Prior to them landing on IR, they had little to no impact, and that’s a big part of the problem. Given all the post-draft hype for both, given the Patriots used a pair of third-round picks on the duo, it’s disappointing they weren’t able to contribute more prior to landing on IR.

Looking across the league, the Patriots aren’t alone, as few rookie tight ends have made an impact as yet. Denver’s Albert Okwuegbunam played well against the Patriots in Week 5 with two catches for 45 yards. He’s hurt now, but contributed 11 catches for 121 yards and a touchdown.

Harrison Bryant has also provided a boost with 15 catches for 151 yards and three touchdowns for Cleveland. He’s been the best of the lot, thus far.

That’s just the 2020 class. The 2019 class has produced a bunch of stars at tight end, notably Noah Fant with the Broncos,and T.J. Hockenson with the Lions. The 2018 class, which is where Izzo was drafted, produced Dallas Goedert (Eagles), Mike Gesicki (Dolphins), Hayden Hurst (Falcons) and Baltimore’s Mark Andrews.

While Izzo has been playing with a bad hamstring, opposing teams know he’s not a threat. In fact, the whole position scares no one.

They’ve been using offensive linemen (Corey Cunningham) to block in the tight end spot. They just can’t find one guy who can block and catch.

On Tuesday, the team claimed former Cardinals tight end Jordan Thomas off waivers and signed free-agent tight ends David Wells and Dylan Cantrell to their practice squad.

The more the merrier, right? Guess if you sign enough discarded players from other teams, one might stick.

At this point, anything’s an improvement.

It’s just incredible how far the group has fallen. A decade ago, as Woody stated, the Patriots revolutionized the position. They were the first to put together a collection of matchup nightmares in Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez.

Forget just having a blocking tight end, this duo befuddled defenses because no one could effectively cover them. They lined up everywhere, and drove defensive coordinators crazy trying to figure out how to defend them. Teams have since copied the same blueprint, while the Patriots are the ones having nightmares.

On Sunday, the Patriots will have a tough time defending the Ravens duo of Andrews and Nick Boyle, reliable and often-used targets of Lamar Jackson.

Meanwhile, the Patriots are still auditioning people, trying to find someone, anyone, who can block and catch. As it is, the Patriots have the 30th-worst tight end group in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus. Only Carolina and Washington are considered worse.

Izzo, their top gun, is currently the 65th-best tight end in the league.

As if Newton doesn’t have a tough enough time with a lack of playmaking receivers, he’s getting zero help from tight ends. And it’s just so stunning given the type of offense the Patriots have, and what’s needed to make it tick.

Look at the Ravens. As another run-first team, they made sure Jackson had viable outlets at tight end.

“When you have a quarterback that tends to be inaccurate like Cam, the easiest throws are to the middle of the field,” said Woody. “That’s where tight ends usually work at. It’s kind of baffling to me that they wouldn’t have more of a presence at the tight end position than they do now.”

The Patriots need help, but just can’t seem to find it. Between free agents and draft picks, they’ve failed to adequately stock the position.

This isn’t a 2020 season problem. It’s been a problem the past few years, and even during Gronkowski’s final year.

With a new quarterback, and an offense that doesn’t have many playmakers as it is, going invisible at tight end just doesn’t compute.

GILMORE UPDATE: A day after the Patriots boasted perfect practice attendance, they had three non-participants on Thursday – all in the secondary.

Stephon Gilmore sat out because of a knee injury, while Terrence Brooks and Jonathan Jones both came down will illnesses. It’s unlikely to be COVID-19 though, as the two would have been placed on the reserve list if they tested positive.

Beyond that, the Patriots’ report was the same as Wednesday’s.

Seventeen players were limited, including N’Keal Harry (concussion), Ja’Whaun Bentley (groin) and three starters on the offensive line.

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