By Jeremy Gottlieb Patriots Daily Staff
It was the picture perfect scenario for the Patriots on Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium. Coming off their excruciating loss in Indy, they would get the Jets, the same Jets who beat them in Week 2 and then behaved and talked as though they had just won the Super Bowl. The timing couldn’t have been any better and for the most part, the Pats did everything necessary, rolling to a 24-0 first half lead, overcoming some more of their ongoing (and slightly troubling) third quarter/second half issues and taking advantage of Jets rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez’s hideous performance in completely outclassing their division rivals, 31-14. It was a very good day for the defense, which dispelled all of the lunacy regarding whether they would be haunted by last week’s loss or not motivated because coach Bill Belichick supposedly showed such little faith in them by going for it on the fateful fourth-and-2, forcing five turnovers to go with a couple of sacks and a touchdown. And it was an even better day to be Wes Welker, who had his best game yet as a Patriot with career highs in catches and yards. Throw in the losses by Pittsburgh and Cincinnati elsewhere in the AFC and suddenly, the Pats are not only in the driver’s seat for a first-round bye come playoff time but that Colts loss seems to be a distant memory, at least until the Pats have to go back to Indy for the AFC Championship game. About the only aspect of the game that didn’t go well for the Pats was the special teams but those issues would seem to be easily solvable. So with that in mind, let’s keep the positive vibes flowing with this week’s report card, brought to you by Rex Ryan and whatever clownish gimmick he comes up with to unsuccessfully motivate his mediocre team this week.
OFFENSE: Overall Grade: B
410 more total yards, 31 more points and just about a 2-to-1 edge in time of possession for the offense, which is firing on most cylinders despite a swath of injuries and on Sunday produced big time while also allowing the defense ample opportunities to stay fresh and on point. The Pats scored 27 or more points for the fifth consecutive time and while it was obviously Welker’s day, others stood out too, starting with Tom Brady. Also at the top of the PDU honor roll this week is Logan Mankins, who had a huge game and solidified the line after Sebastian Vollmer left with an injury. The running game got off to a slow start and didn’t look too good on the stat sheet, but Laurence Maroney , after his second damaging fumble in as many weeks, ran with strength and with a purpose and racked up two more touchdowns. There could have been even more production, especially from the final minute of the second quarter until the early stages of the fourth resulted in five consecutive drives that ended in either punts (one of which was blocked and returned for a TD) or a missed field goal. There are absolutely some kinks that must be worked out, especially given the upcoming Monday Nighter in New Orleans that could well turn into a shootout. With some of the injured guys on the cusp of returning, any problems may be more easily fixable thanks to the added depth the returnees will provide.
Brady went over 300 yards passing for the fifth straight week, going 28-of-41 for 310 yards (7.6 YPA) and a TD with a 98.6 passer rating, tying Drew Bledsoe’s team record for consecutive, 300-yard games and moving within one game of the league mark. He led three first half scoring marches after a bit of a rough start, and was continually able to exploit all of the energy the Jets spent on the deep stuff by completing 19 passes to Welker and Kevin Faulk, most of which were underneath, flat passes or quick throws. He had time to throw, sometimes too much, as he sailed a couple and held on to the ball too long more than once too, particularly on his late second quarter fumble when Jets lineman Shaun Ellis got to him after what seemed like an eternity. There were also more than a couple of occasions in which he looked like he was trying to force the ball to Randy Moss, who was blanketed by stud Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis (who did most of work in one-on-one situations with little help, making the performance even more impressive – yes, I just complemented the Jets) and his two second half delay of game penalties made little sense. But for whatever reason, the Jets decided their linebackers and safeties were good enough to stay with Welker and Brady saw it often, especially on the 43-yard seam route on which the closest person to Welker wasn’t a Jet, but one of the Norfolk cops on sideline security detail. He also was much better equipped to deal with the Jets’ blitzing, sliding away from pressure when it got near him with an ease that was completely missing back in Week 2. It wasn’t Brady’s best game of the year, but it was more than good enough as well as another big step forward in his continued recovery from his knee injury.
Running Backs: B
Maroney’s fumble along with his slight, 3.5 yards per attempt (as well as the team’s even slighter 3.2) suggest a lower grade. But it seemed a switch went off inMaroney’s head after the fumble. From that point on, he looked a lot like his former college teammate, Dallas back Marion Barber, exploding upon hitting the holes and creases and then looking to take guys on once he reached the next level of the defense. Yes, he did some dancing, but it was almost different, as he already appeared to have forward momentum while tippy -toeing and looked as though he was seeing running room more quickly and decisively than usual. Better still, he was displaying the same kind of power late in the game, seeming to get stronger as the minutes ticked away. With Sammy Morris apparently on the verge of playing in the game, it makes sense to assume he will be back against the Saints on Monday, which in turn leads to questions of how much Maroney will play. He carried the ball 23 times against the Jets, the third most carries of his career. Overall, since Morris’s injury in the Tennessee game,Maroney has played reasonably well and if he continues to get the bulk of the reps, he probably deserves them. Faulk was huge in the passing game, not just as a bail out option for Brady but as a primary target on short and intermediate routes that were designed to attack the Jets linebackers as well as nullify their pass rush. He finished with four catches for 53 yards, one of them a 25-yard catch and run that featured a couple of nifty broken tackles and while he had a couple of drops, none were all that damaging.Ben Jarvus Green-Ellis was again the third back and saw some time at fullback in power sets while also carrying five times for 10 yards.
Wide Receivers: A
Moss was pretty much stopped, unable to get going against Revis other than on his four-yard TD catch on which he and Brady perfectly read the coverage and checked down onto a super quick underneath throw on the goal line. Julian Edelman posted three catches, one of them a twisting, diving third down conversion that was impressive but nothing all that special. Isaiah Stanback caught Brady’s first pass of the game for five yards, then did nothing for the remainder of the game. But the group still gets an A and it’s all because of Welker. 15 catches for 192 yards. It looked so effortless, too. The guy is positively amazing, easily the most valuable player on the offense not named Tom Brady (and I say that with zero disrespect to Moss) and it seems like he’s just getting better. No one can cover him. He’s always in the right place at the right time. He never drops the ball – every time it’s coming his way and he doesn’t catch it, it was either a bad pass or tipped/deflected. And he looks unfazed by even the biggest of hits. It was so easy for him on Sunday, one wonders not if the Pats would have won had he played back in Week 2 but by how much. There is no one like him. It’s impossible to think of any more ways to praise him or to imagine he’s played his best game because there isn’t and he probably hasn’t. As long as Brady is upright and has even a sliver of time to throw and Welker stays healthy, there’s no reason to think more performances like Sunday’s aren’t still to come.
Tight Ends: B
No catches or targets for either Ben Watson or Chris Baker, understandable thanks to the lack of depth on the offensive line combined with the Jets relentless pressure in the passing game. Each played a lot, both contributed to Brady only taking two sacks on 43 pass attempts and had something to do with any success running the ball as well. Watson and Baker’s roles seem to change from week to week but no matter what they are asked to do, they can be counted on to block and protect and do both well.
Offensive Line: B
Things didn’t look good. With Matt Light already out, his replacement Vollmer, who’s been so good, got dinged up and had to leave. Stephen Neal missed the game at right guard, replaced by rookie Dan Connolly. Fellow rookie Rich Ohrnberger had to dress and play for the first time. Backup/third string tight end Mark Levoir was forced to see several snaps. Dan Koppen played but was still on the injury report this past week and Nick Kaczur was coming off last week’s mugging at the hands of the Colts Robert Mathis. So what made the line go all day long? Mankins . He was a monster, clearing running room up the middle and to the left as well as not letting Jets pass rusher Calvin Pace anywhere near Brady. No one is more consistent or tougher among this group and even if he did have a couple of sub-par games earlier in the year, there’s still nobody better. He’s a free agent after the year and hopefully won’t get into a pissing match with the team about his true value or he may well be gone. Elsewhere,Koppen held up well and didn’t even have his weekly holding or false start penalty. Kazcur bounced back from the Mathis beatdown and survived what looked like a nasty knee injury when Brady rolled into him from behind on a first half hit. Connolly, who also lined up at fullback a couple times, had some trouble at right guard, giving up both Jets sacks, each of which was registered by Ellis, who, to Connolly’s credit, is an excellent player.Vollmer’s injury didn’t seem to be serious, but this being the Pats, we won’t know anything until Monday night. Ohrnbeger was not noticed which means he did just fine. And Levoir was pretty awesome, not only leading the way on Maroney’s second TD but absolutely burying Jets corner Donald Strickland on a second quarter screen pass. It will be nice when everyone in this group is healthy and active. But even amidst a lot of shuffling and so forth, they’re OK and a lot of the credit for that goes to Mankins.
DEFENSE: Overall Grade: A-
Of course, it helped immensely that Sanchez absolutely sucks. But lesser teams may not have been able to take advantage of his total awfulness the way the Pats did. Sanchez completed just eight passes all day and with the exception of the one scoring drive he led in the third quarter, appeared completely overwhelmed by anything the Pats showed him, panicking at the slightest bit of pressure and making one bad decision after another. How much of this had to do with the Pats? The answer is subjective, but what is not arguable is that the Jets had just 226 total yards and managed just 12 first downs. The Pats got huge efforts from Vince Wilfork, as usual, as well as Ty Warren who was back from his ankle injury. Tully Banta-Cain showed no ill effects from his rib injury suffered at Indy last week as he filled up the stat sheet again and Leigh Bodden had what could have been the best game of his career with the three picks, one for a TD. Even though they were only on the field for just over 20 minutes and 51 plays, almost everyone managed to make at least a bit of an impact against the woeful Jets offense. Any hangover this unit may have felt coming off the fourth quarter in Indy didn’t show one bit.
Defensive Line: A
Wilfork is the defense’s version of Welker. He does everything asked of him exceptionally well all pretty much all the time. The guy lines up all over the line of scrimmage and just makes one play after another that have a positive effect on the game. Want him to stop the run? Fine, he’ll lead the defense in holding the Jets to 2.3YPA in the first half. Need him in the right place at the right time on a trick play? Just look at what happened when the Jets tried that silly pistol formation in the second quarter (I’ll give you a hint – it involved Wilfork sliding out to an end spot, shedding a couple of blocks and stopping the play for a loss of four yards). Even when the game plan calls for nickel and dime sets most of the time like last week in Indy, as Albert Breer noted in the Boston Globe on Monday, Wilfork still plays most of the snaps. Also like Welker (and unlike most of the Jets), he doesn’t run his yap. He just plays, plays well and deflects any individual attention onto the team. The Patriots defense will always be stout at the very least when Wilfork is in and I really hope they keep him (I still think ultimately they won’t, but Belichick has been more effusive in his praise of Wilfork this year, so maybe that’s a good sign). Elsewhere, Ty Warren returned and more than held up, playing equal to Wilfork in the running game and aiding in allowing just 28 rushing yards in the first half and 63 through three quarters to the league’s top ranked rushing offense while posting six tackles. Mike Wright also had another nice game with three solo tackles and Myron Pryor saw time at the nose when Wilfork was shifted. This group plays well pretty much every week, which is to be expected with guys like Wilfork and Warren in there. And with Jarvis Green due back in the next week or two, they will likely get even better.
Where would this group be without Banta-Cain? The Pats linebacking corps has been suspect all season long, whether it’s due to injury (Jerod Mayo), age (Adalius Thomas), inexperience (Gary Guyton) or just old-fashioned invisibility (Derrick Burgess). The one constant has been Banta-Cain, who has become an every down player this year, a pass rushing force from the edge who leads the team in sacks (five) but is no less threatening in running situations. After not starting and despite playing only about half the game, Banta -Cain had five tackles (four solos, one for a loss), two sacks as well as another hit on Sanchez and a forced fumble late in the game. He’s come out of nowhere to become one of the most indispensable players on the defense. Mayo and Guyton were out there all day and while each has had better games, neither was bad, particularly Mayo, who looked fairly solid both against the run and in coverage and continued to look more and more comfortable in the wake of his return from that Week 1 knee injury. Thomas was very active, piledriving Jets leading rusher Thomas Jones on one stop for a loss in the first half and looking more spry than he has in some weeks. And since I knew you were waiting for me to point it out, I will relay the information that Burgess once again did nothing of any visible consequence, recording zero stats until he recovered the fumble forced by Banta-Cain. For at least the fourth time this year, I had no idea he was even active until I saw him just standing in someone else’s camera shot at some point in the second or third quarter. It’s entirely possible that he is having some sort of impact, that Belichick doesn’t care that he’s always been just a pass rusher and is employing him in other less flashy ways. But I just don’t know. He reminds me of Chad Brown, who came here late in his career with the pedigree of an experienced, veteran outside guy/pass rusher, was asked to do grunt work in the middle of the defense even though he never had and spent an entire season doing absolutely nothing before disappearing, never to be heard from again. Sums up Burgess this year pretty well, I’d say.
Bodden apparently took a lot of crap from his teammates after the game for his three picks looking more like fair catches than actual INTs. But he still had to make the plays and even though two of them were putrid throws that came right to him, he did make a play on one and returned another 53 yards for the score. It was his second straight strong week and I feel pretty good about him being back there this Monday night against Drew Brees and the Saints air show. Playing corner obviously requires considerable skill and talent but it also entails being in the right place at the right time and Bodden seems to be around the ball a lot. Jonathan Wilhite didn’t fare as well. He was torched a few times by Jets receiver Jerricho Cotchery on the Jets only sustained offensive drive of the game and looked like the weakest link in the group. Wilhite seems to be very much a work in progress, a fast, athletic guy who can stay with most anyone but hasn’t developed very good balls skills yet. Hopefully, that will come for him because based on the last two games, it looks like he’s being picked on. Brandon McGowan’s dream season continued with all of his strengths (good cover skills on backs and tight ends, big hits, strong against the run at the point of attack, able to disguise pressure/blitzes well) on display. The play he made coming clean from the weak side on Banta -Cain’s first sack was outstanding in the way he stayed hidden until the last second, then timed his rush just perfectly enough to force Sanchez to slide right into Banta -Cain. Brandon Meriweather came up with the fourth pick, an ill-advised duck by Sanchez deep in his own territory, and added a few tackles while also breaking up another pass. Meriweather seems to play his best games against lousy teams – I’m looking forward to how he does in New Orleans. Rookies Darius Butler and Patrick Chung were used sparingly and James Sanders, who started the year in a starring role was out there only as Chung’s (the sixth DB) backup. A long, strange fall for Sanders, eh?
Special Teams: D
Not a good day for these guys at all. Playing without captain Sam Aiken, things were messy. The punt block for a touchdown at the end of the first half was terrible – Pierre Woods was pantsed by Jets safety Jim Leonhard and Chung, who was in the backfield in place of Aiken, didn’t react in time, giving Leonhard a free swipe at punter Chris Hanson. The play came with the Jets down 24-0 and gave them life – if they were any good, who knows what may have happened? Safety Bret Lockett, who is on the team only to play special teams, had two ugly 15-yard penalties. Stephen Gostkowski made a field goal but missed another from 40 yards out at the end of the first half right after the punt block TD, not exactly good timing. Oh and the Jets averaged 30 yards per kickoff return. Was all of this nastiness because of Aiken’s absence? Not entirely. But I sure do hope he’s back in time for Monday night.
Good to see Belichick wasn’t too arrogant and didn’t outwardly show too much hubris for the Pats to be able to hang on and win. He won the rematch with the clown Ryan easily, capitalizing on the Jets mystifying unwillingness to cover Welker with anyone who can actually cover and throwing plenty of different looks at the outclassed Sanchez. He didn’t look so good on either of his unsuccessful replay challenges and once again the Pats lethargy in the second half reflects at least partially on him. But after the misery of Indy, he did what he always does, which is lead his team to a win one week after a loss. The Pats have now not lost two straight games in over three calendar years and the single biggest reason for that remarkable stat is Belichick. The game plan was sound, as usual, and the players responded as they should have. Just another day at the office.
I’m confused about the tight end grade… did they get a B because they were doing their jobs protecting Brady and helping the running game? Seems to me like they did exactly what they were coached up to do, and we are trying to measure by stats.
Just a thought.