After coasting to a nice 41-25 win against the Bills, the Patriots now sit comfortably at 7-1 atop the AFC and AFC East. Even Rex Ryan admitted that his 4-4 Bills would now be playing for a Wild Card spot, seeing as they are three games behind the Tom Brady-led Patriots. Going into the Bye Week, the Patriots have performed about as well as anyone could hope for. Thus, unlike most Holy Cross students, they will be happy to get their midseason grades.
Tom Brady: A+
“I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.” – Andy Bernard.
We’re now going on about 15 years of the good old days with Tom Brady, and it doesn’t seem as though we are going to leave them anytime soon. With a four game rest to start the season, Brady has come out with a vengeance, going 4-0 with stats that include 12 touchdowns, 1,319 yards passing, a passing rating of 132, and an astounding 44 yards rushing! Not sure how you could script a better return from suspension than what Brady has done in October. In half the time as any other player, he has emerged as the frontrunner for MVP. Less than a year away from 40, Tom’s dominance this season is an amazing feat. But for anyone paying attention the past 15 years, it’s no surprise. TB12 is the ultimate gamer, especially with a chip on his shoulder. Thanks, Roger.
Offensive Line: A-
“Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in.” – Michael Corleone
The disappointing end to last season was a real wake-up call for the offensive line. Their poor play was so evident that even the retired Dante Scarnecchia felt compelled to come back to the Patriots to right the ship. Either that or Belichick made him an offer he couldn’t refuse… In any case, the Scarnecchia effect has been seriously felt throughout the first eight games. All three quarterbacks have rarely been sacked, which is great news when your quarterback is almost 40. Most impressive, however, is how they have opened up running lanes. The Patriots’ running game has been a pleasant surprise, thanks in part to Scarnecchia’s squad.
Running Backs: A-
“Rumble, young man, rumble.” – Muhammad Ali
LeGarrette Blount has been a workhorse so far for the Patriots this season. Averaging about 20 carries and around 80 yards a game, Blount has established himself as an integral part of the offense. He already has a career-high in rushing touchdowns with eight games to go. On the receiving end, James White has been a solid option with three touchdowns. It’s also worth noting that a Dion Lewis-return could happen any week now.
Receiving Corps (Tight Ends Included): A
Remember when people used to complain about how Brady didn’t have enough good weapons? In the words of Michael Scott, “Well, well, well, how the turntables…” With the likes of Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, Malcolm Mitchell, Rob Gronkowski, and Martellus Bennett, Brady’s combination of receiving threats is really unfair. How can a defense possibly defend all of those weapons without the help of divine intervention? Edelman is as reliable as ever on the short routes; Hogan has established himself as Brady’s favorite long-ball target; Amendola continues to make clutch catches; and the combination of Bennett and Gronk—unfathomable. While there are some dominant defenses in the NFL this season, I don’t see any way the Patriots’ passing attack can be stopped, given that everyone is healthy.
Pass Rush: B-
“You blitz… all… night!” – Coach Yoast
It can’t all be perfect, right? The fact of the matter is that the Patriots haven’t done much blitzing, and their four man rush isn’t getting it done either. Though the absence of Chandler Jones certainly doesn’t help, you can’t blame the lack of pass rush on that trade. Sheard has stepped up nicely with three and a half sacks. Hightower has also come up big at times, forcing a pair of safeties. The pieces are there for the Patriots to get after the quarterback, but it would require a more aggressive gameplan. And, hey, if Bill doesn’t see that as the best thing for the team, then who am I to argue?
“Nothing behind me, everything ahead of me, as is ever so on the road.” – Jack Kerouac
The secondary has been okay. Good enough to win games, which is all that matters. Occasionally they have struggled to get off the field on third downs and have made lesser quarterbacks look way better than they should, but at the end of the day, they hold teams to low scoring, which is most important. Belichick has long been a proponent of sacrificing modest gains in the passing game to not allow the deep ball. His main goal is to not let any receivers get behind the defense, thus hoping the secondary can tighten as the field gets shorter. So far this strategy has been good enough for seven wins. And even in the one loss, it was hardly the secondary’s fault (only 16 points allowed). Also notable is how well the secondaries, particularly Logan Ryan, Malcolm Butler, and Patrick Chung, have tackled. You best believe Bill loves to see that.
Special Teams: C+
“Baseball is ninety percent mental, and the other half is physical.” – Yogi Berra
If Yogi Berra were a mathematician and a Patriots fan, he might say that Stephen Gostowski’s struggles are 90 percent mental and 10 percent physical. Ever since his missed extra point in the AFC Championship game, the Pro Bowl kicker has not been the same, missing both field goals and extra points. Hopefully with a solid performance against the Bills he will have gotten his mental edge back, because we know leg strength isn’t the issue. Other special teams mistakes include fumbles, a short punt, and allowing a botched punt to turn into a twenty yard first down. Saving the grade for the Patriots is Danny Amendola’s impressive kickoff return against the Bills, and Ryan Allen’s mostly solid punting this season, aside from when the Pats played the Steelers. Oh yeah, and there has been no Olympic hangover for Nate Ebner, who has nine special teams tackles.