After a week off, Goose’s Gabs is back with an all-new Patriots Report Card. New England fans were treated to an old-school victory by the Patriots on Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens. Down 10 in the fourth quarter, Tom Brady threw a touchdown pass to Deion Branch to cut the lead to 20-17 Ravens, then Stephen Gostkowski kicked a field goal inside of two minutes to tie it and send the game to overtime, where the Patriots defense stopped the Ravens three times before Gostkowski kicked his third field goal of the day, winning the game. Classic Patriots. So let’s give out some grades!
Quarterback: B+. Brady’s numbers are a little skewed for this game. One of his interceptions was on a 44-yard Hail Mary pass to the end zone as the fourth quarter ended, and it was only intercepted because it landed on Ken Hamlin after being batted around in the end zone a few times. And of his 17 incomplete passes, five of them were dropped by receivers. So his stats must be contextualized a bit. What matter’s most is that when the Patriots were down late in the game, Brady played his best football. In the fourth quarter and overtime, Brady was 68 percent accurate for 160 yards and a touchdown. Without the drops, the numbers would be even higher. Brady loses some points for early inaccuracies, plus his first interception, in which he was completely fooled by the Ravens defense, but the bottom line is that the Patriots won, and he was one of the primary reasons why.
Running Backs: A-. Danny Woodhead leads the group with 63 yards on just 11 carries, good for 5.7 yards-per-carry. He also picked up 52 yards via the pass. Woodhead and BenJarvus Green-Ellis combined for 83 yards rushing and touchdown on the day, but some of that was because they were frequently used as decoys for either play-action passes or end-around routes. The Patriots used play-action successfully three times, and that always is a credit to the running backs playing well enough to make the defense think it’s a running play. Green-Ellis also executed the flip to Brandon Tate on their 23-yard end-around run that put the Patriots at the Ravens 2-yard line, then scored a touchdown on the next play to put the Patriots up 7-3. When they weren’t running, they were successfully selling Baltimore on the run. A very commendable performance.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: B+. Five drops is not acceptable, but the wide receivers for the most part did their part. Deion Branch picked up right where he left off. He might not have Randy Moss’s pure athletic ability, but he ran his routs perfectly, and as the stakes got higher as the game went on, he got better. Seven of his nine completions came in the fourth quarter or overtime. Aaron Hernandez also was impressive, catching four balls for 61 yards and picking up 18 more yards on the ground. But in overtime he dropped two passes that hit him right in the numbers. He is still learning how to play under pressure, so we can’t come down to hard on him. For the most part, the receivers and tight ends did their part in getting open. But too many drops either late in the game or in the red zone brought their grade down. And some of their big plays were only possible because the running backs played well enough to make reverses and play-action passes effective.
Offensive Line: B-. Tom Brady was sacked three times, costing the team 25 yards. The offensive line also gave up two tackles for negative yardage or no gain on running plays. Five breakdowns is not acceptable, especially the final sack, which kept the Patriots out of field goal range at the end of the fourth quarter. Without that sack, the Patriots likely would have faced about a 52-yard field goal try, not a 62-yard try, and gone for it. The Patriots still won, but the team might have been saved 13 extra minutes of work. This grade would’ve been lower, but the Patriots won, so it’s hard to ding them too much. But the line has now allowed eight sacks in five games. If they want Brady still standing at the end of the season, this has to change, and soon.
Special Teams: A+. Though this game may not have had the flash of their win against Miami, the special teams unit was every bit as important in this game as that one. Stephen Gostkowski continued his recent trend of sending kickoffs so far that they can’t be returned. He was also three for three on field goal attempts, tying and then winning the game. He’s perfect in the fourth quarter when the Patriots are tied or behind. He’s proving himself to be every bit the big-moment kicker that Adam Vinatieri was. Not wanting to be out-done by his place-kicking compadre was Zoltan Mesko. He averaged 47.0 yards per punt, and his 65-yard bomb in the overtime was an absolute back-breaker for the Ravens. The Patriots were punting from inside their 15-yard line, and instead of starting at their 40-yard line as they expected, the Ravens wound up starting at their own 19-yard line. A three-and-out later, and the Patriots executed their game-winning drive. Mesko and Gostkowski were absolute heroes for the Patriots.
Defensive Line: A. You wouldn’t think so if you just watched the game, but the defensive line played really, really well. Jermaine Cunningham, Mike Wright, and Brandon Deaderick all sacked Joe Flacco, and Vince Wilfork had two tackles for losses, one coming after Cunningham had stripped Flacco. The defensive line kept the Ravens running backs, which feature an explosive player in Ray Rice, to under 100 yards. And the defense on the whole gets extra credit for holding the Ravens scoreless in their final five possessions, give the offense time to tie and then win the game. Terrific effort all around.
Linebackers: A-. Again, you wouldn’t necessarily see it, but a pretty solid performance. Ravens tight ends combined for just 56 yards in receptions, and most of their big plays were when they were covered by safeties, not linebackers. Jerrod Mayo had 18 tackles, and he leads the team with 61, good for second in the league. If he keeps this up, we’ll be watching him in the Pro Bowl. The linebackers also did a terrific job at stopping runs. No Ravens running back ever ran for more than eight yards at a time, and Rice averaged just 3.1 yards per carry. That’s a testament to linebackers clogging up holes. And while Rob Ninkovich didn’t quite live up two his two-interception game from two weeks ago, he hit Flacco twice and made two solid open-field tackles to set up either third or fourth-and-long situations.
Defensive Backs: B-. I had to take points off for Brandon Meriweather. His vicious hit on Todd Heap is unacceptable, and he will likely be fined by the NFL for it. Those kind of hits can give players concussions, and the Patriots should not be o.k. with dirty play. Meriweather also led with his helmet on a touchdown pass to Heap in the second quarter, he just got lucky that he missed. Let’s not forget that we’re just four years removed from the Miami-FIU game where Meriweather repeatedly stomped on FIU players lying on the ground. The other defensive backs played poorly at first, then improved as the game moved on. By overtime, for instance, Devin McCourty was facing the right direction while covering his wide receivers, and he made a great play to kill a Ravens overtime drive. McCourty, Kyle Arrington, and Patrick Chung are all still improving their games. They get points for stepping up at the end, but I’d still like to see a game where they don’t appear out of position at least a half-dozen times.
Coaching: A-. Bill Belichick gets credit for the Patriots play in the fourth quarter and overtime. The Ravens offense looked completely out-of-sorts for the final 28 minutes, only picking up three first downs after kicking their field goal to open up the fourth quarter. The Patriots definitely got better as the game went on. Their best play was in overtime, followed by the second half, then the first. That was likely because Belichick successfully adjusted to Baltimore’s game plan at halftime, then came up with some creative new ideas for overtime. The offensive play calls also improved across the game, as the Patriots began using Branch’s route-running skills more effectively. Their decision to use play-action and end-around plays more was also a good coaching decision. The first half could’ve been a lot better (Patriots fans were booing when Brady knelt down to end the half), but the Patriots’ continually improving play means high marks for the man in the hooded sweatshirt.