The Patriots Regular Season Report Card Is Complete - NECN

The Patriots Regular Season Report Card Is Complete

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Brady: GOAT by the Numbers

    Tom Brady just completed another regular season with the New England Patriots. Here's the numbers to prove he's the greatest of all time as the Pats head into the playoffs.

    (Published Monday, Feb. 5, 2018)

    The Patriots are going to add to their playoff feats this weekend without even taking the field.

    Four lengthy postseason droughts belonging to the Buffalo Bills, Los Angeles Rams, Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans have come to an end.

    Once those teams take the field this weekend, the Patriots will be one of just four teams remaining this decade not to play a game on the NFL’s wild-card weekend, joining the Cleveland Browns, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Chicago Bears.

    One of those teams is not like the other. Neither the Browns (2002) nor Bucs (2007) has even made the postseason this decade, while the Bears earned a first-round bye in 2010, avoiding the wild-card round, but haven’t been heard from since.

    New England, of course, is currently enjoying its NFL-record eighth-consecutive first-round bye.

    The 13-3 Patriots are awaiting one of three teams to pay a visit to Foxboro on Saturday, Jan. 13 for an 8:15 p.m. kickoff: the Bills, Titans or Kansas City Chiefs.

    In the meantime, as we move closer towards the conclusion of New England’s 2017 season, here’s a look at how each position group grades out prior to final exams – with a look back at where each group fell after the first eight weeks of the season.

    Quarterback

    Tom Brady “stumbled” down the stretch, by his standards, throwing an interception in five consecutive games for the first time since 2002. The pseudo-slump did very little to mar his overall numbers, as the 40-year-old quarterback led the league in passing yards with 4,577 and had exactly as many touchdown passes in the second half of the season (16) as he had in the first.

    Has this been Brady’s best season ever? Not by a longshot. Has his entire body of work still been enough to likely claim his third MVP award? Almost certainly.

    Midseason grade: A

    Final grade: A

    Running backs

    Six of Dion Lewis’ top-10 career single-game rushing yard totals came in the second half of the season, including the first two 100-yard games of his career. Rex Burkhead scored six total touchdowns in a four-game stretch between Nov. 26 and Dec. 17 before leaving the Steelers game with an injury.

    What’s truly amazing about the contributions the Patriots have gotten in the running game is that at the start of the season, Burkhead and Lewis looked to be more secondary options compared to Mike Gillislee and James White. Gillislee was inactive for seven of New England’s final eight games and White dealt with some injuries of his own and slightly different usage even before he got hurt.

    After Rob Gronkowski (more on him in a minute), the case could be made that Lewis is the most important weapon remaining in Brady’s arsenal.

    Midseason grade: B

    Final grade: B+

    Fullback

    James Develin has finally received national recognition for his work as New England’s old-school battering ram out of the backfield, earning his first Pro Bowl honor this season.

    Midseason grade: A

    Final grade: A

    Wide receiver

    Brady didn’t fall off of a cliff without Julian Edelman available, after all.

    That isn’t to say life was easy without Jules. Brandin Cooks quietly eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving, with 1,082, but contributions beyond him were sparse from the receiving corps.

    A lot of that is due to injuries. Chris Hogan played in only nine games this season but still managed a career-high five touchdown catches. Malcolm Mitchell missed the entire regular season and has only just begun practicing, with no guarantees he’ll suit up at all this postseason.

    Danny Amendola is no longer at the point of his career when he can be counted on for significant usage, although consider the (very) small sample size of New England’s opening drive against the Jets on Sunday: four catches for 43 yards. When need be, Amendola is still there for Brady. And we know all about his postseason track record – he’s one of just three players to catch a touchdown pass from Brady in multiple Super Bowls, after all.

    The return of Hogan and perhaps Mitchell will be huge for the Patriots this postseason because neither Philip Dorsett nor Kenny Britt has found their way into Brady’s circle of trust quite yet.

    Midseason grade: B+

    Final grade: B

    Tight ends

    Save for a quick Thursday night absence and a one-game suspension, the Patriots had a fully healthy Rob Gronkowski this season. The results, as expected, were outstanding: Gronk caught 69 passes for 1,084 yards – 10th-most overall in the NFL and the most by a tight end – with eight touchdowns. He’s in all likelihood going to be named to the All-Pro First Team, which will trigger an additional $5.5 million in incentives to his contract.

    Life without Gronk would be dire for these Patriots sans Edelman, but at the very least, Dwayne Allen has proved himself to have a pulse in the second half of the season. After zero catches in his first eight games, Allen caught at least one pass in each of his next seven before a quiet performance in the regular season finale. And to be totally fair, Allen has excelled as a blocker when need be. It still doesn’t justify the fourth-round pick New England gave up to get him, but he’s no longer a total lost cause.

    Midseason grade: B+

    Final grade: A

    Offensive line

    Brady was sacked 35 times this season, the fourth-most in his career, though the pace slowed considerably in the second half of the season – even without starting right tackle Marcus Cannon, who hadn’t played since Week 8 vs. the Chargers. Both LaAdrian Waddle and Cameron Fleming filled in nicely in place of Cannon, helping lower Brady’s first half sack total from 21 to 14.

    No one played in 100 percent of New England’s offensive snaps, but Shaq Mason came closest: he missed only four snaps all season long for the Patriots.

    Midseason grade: B

    Final grade: B+

    Defensive line

    Just like at the halfway point of the season, the Patriots are second-to-last in the NFL in opponents’ yards per rush, at 4.7. Granted, it was against the hapless Jets, but the team at least ended the season on a high note by holding New York to just 40 yards on the ground – its best performance of the season.

    Trey Flowers was a rock all season long, leading New England with 6.5 sacks, while Deatrich Wise Jr. ended his rookie campaign with five.

    The rest of the pass rush has been a revolving door, but it’s been shored up in recent weeks. Eric Lee has certainly shown flashes since joining the active roster, with 3.5 sacks (one of which was a safety) in six games, and 39-year-old James Harrison registered sacks on back-to-back plays at the end of the Jets game in the season finale.

    Midseason grade: B-

    Final grade: B

    Linebackers

    “From a depth piece to pretty much indispensable,” I wrote about Kyle Van Noy at the halfway point. “That’s what Van Noy means to the Patriots linebacker corps.”

    Van Noy missed four of New England’s final five games, though all signs point to him being ready to go next weekend. Which is big, because while the team ultimately survived without him down the stretch in the regular season, the Patriots would be tempting fate without him now.

    Elandon Roberts continues to be strong against the run but struggles in coverage, while 33-year-old David Harris continues to move in and out of the lineup based on the week. Marquis Flowers has burst on to the scene nicely in the last two weeks, registering the first 3.5 sacks of his career. This unit is still as razor thin as any group on the roster, however.

    Midseason grade: B-

    Final grade: C

    Secondary

    After allowing six straight quarterbacks to throw for 300 yards or more out of the gate in 2017…none of the next 10 QB’s to face New England eclipsed three bills.

    It hasn’t been perfect at all times. Both Malcolm Butler and Stephon Gilmore remain up-and-down week to week, but plenty of situations have still arisen where it’s clear just how valuable they can be to the Patriots. Remember when Jesse James failed to “survive the ground” against the Steelers? Butler’s heads-up tackle of Darius Heyward-Bey inbounds one play later set the stage for Ben Roethlisberger’s mind-boggling throw to effectively hand the Patriots home-field advantage.

    Against the Jets, neither Butler nor Gilmore were targeted by Bryce Petty in the first half.

    Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung, and Duron Harmon have been lights out at safety. If the corners can hold up their part of the bargain, what was once shockingly a weak point can morph right back into a full-on strength in January and February.

    Midseason grade: C

    Final grade: B-

    Specialists

    No need to overthink it: Stephen Gostkowski is as good a kicker there is in the NFL. He finished second in scoring league-wide, with 156 points and connected on 92.5 percent of his field goal attempts (37 for 40), the third-best mark of his career.

    Matthew Slater and Nate Ebner missed considerable time with injuries – Ebner is on injured reserve, done for the season – but the rest of New England’s core special teamers played just fine in their absence. Jonathan Jones, in particular, seems primed to be the next great Patriot special teamer, following the lineage of Slater and Larry Izzo before him.

    Midseason grade: B+

    Final grade: A-

    Overall

    The Patriots have home-field advantage throughout the postseason. That was the No. 1 goal back in September, and it wouldn’t make sense to dock the team style points just because it may not have been the most glamorous 13-3 record ever.

    In addition to this being New England’s eighth straight first-round bye, it’s now won the AFC East title nine straight years and 15 times in the last 17 years under Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. The regular season accolades are nice, but the truth is no true final grade can be doled out until the team’s Super Bowl fate is sealed.

    For now? The Patriots have a solid A here, up from a B+ at the halfway point of the season. What happens in Minnesota on Feb. 4 – if they get there – will determine New England’s closing mark.


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