Patriots Report Card: Week 17

Rob Gronkowski led all Patriot receivers with two touchdown catches Sunday against the Bills, and his 108 yards helped set an NFL single-season record for receiving yards by a tight end. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

All’s well that ends well. The New England Patriots overcame an early 21-point deficit Sunday, blowing out the Bills in the second half and cruising to home-field advantage for the playoffs. Final score: Patriots 49, Bills 21. A fitting revenge after the Bills came back from being down 21 to beat the Patriots in September.

Who finished the regular season on the high honor roll, and who’s spending Wild Card weekend with an outside tutor? Here’s the final report card before the playoffs.

Quarterbacks: A

Despite a rough start, Tom Brady still finished the game with 338 passing yards and three touchdowns. He refused to be cowed by the Bills’ lead, instead slowly chipping away until the Bills crumbled beneath his far-superior abilities. With a healthier Wes Welker and a year of development from his tight ends, Brady’s yardage skyrocketed this season to the tune of 5,235 yards – not the most in the NFL this season, but the most for Brady by over 400 yards. A combination of shoulder strength, pocket protection and down-field plays will determine Brady’s playoff success.

Running Backs: A-

Stevan Ridley did the grunt-work Sunday, picking up 81 yards on 15 carries. In the red zone, however, Bill Belichick chose the sure-handed BenJarvus Green-Ellis to bust it in. Green-Ellis delivered two rushing touchdowns, including the Patriots’ first. He also executed a flawless screen play, chewing up 53 yards on the second play of the second half. That drive ended in a field goal that cut the Bills’ lead to one point.

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Ryan Fitzpatrick’s Football Intelligence Not Up to Harvard Standards

The Bills' Ryan Fitzpatrick just hasn't been the same since signing his six-year, $59 million contract on Oct. 28, throwing more interceptions than touchdowns and struggling against weak competition. (AP Photo/David Duprey)

Humorist Dave Barry once wrote that Harvard University “for more than three centuries has produced graduates who, no matter what their philosophical differences, are all dedicated to the lofty goal of subtly letting you know that they went to Harvard.” Former Harvard Crimson and current Buffalo Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick hasn’t needed to purse his alma mater’s self-gratification.

Instead, football commentators and analysts have done the work for him, pointing out at every opportunity possible that Fitzpatrick did indeed once play for Harvard. And based on his play since signing a six-year, $59 million contract, Fitzpatrick may still think he’s playing in the Ivy League.

Lots of Money, Few Results

Since Fitzpatrick signed his deal on Oct. 28, his success in the NFL has plummeted. His accuracy dipped from over 67 percent before the deal to under 60 percent after. His 2:1 touchdown-interception ratio became 1.3:1 in the opposite direction. His QB rating has dropped from an average of 95.4 through the first six games to 71.4 for the final nine.

Since the Bills basically bet the farm on Fitzpatrick, the team’s success has died with Fitzpatrick’s. Of Buffalo’s six wins, four came in the first week. Buffalo has gone 2-7 since extending Fitzpatrick, at one point losing seven consecutive games and plummeting from first all the way to third in the AFC East.

Despite the incredible beginning of their season, the Bills could actually finish last in the division: They play a Patriots team seeking home-field advantage on Sunday, whereas the Dolphins play the Jets. The Dolphins hold the tie-breaker over the Bills.

Weak Competition Weakens Bills

As disappointing as the Bills’ collapse has been for their fans, what’s strange is that it’s come against weaker teams than they played before Oct. 28. Pre-contract Bills opponents have a current average winning percentage of .555; post-contract opponents average .459. Since Fitzpatrick’s extension, the Bills have played the God-awful Redskins, the equally awful Dolphins twice and the sub-.500 Chargers.

The Bills went 1-3 against what should have been their easiest opponents all season, only beating the Redskins. Fitzpatrick really struggled against the Dolphins and Chargers, completing just 53.3 percent of his throws and throwing just two touchdowns to seven interceptions.

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Patriots Report Card: Week 3

It doesn't happen often, but Brady's four interceptions Sunday against the Bills cost the Patriots more than poor play by anyone else. (AP Photo/Derek Gee)

Welcome back to Goose’s Gabs’ weekly report card for the New England Patriots. Well, Sunday’s game against the Buffalo Bills was a stinker of historic proportions. The Patriots blew a 21-point lead, Tom Brady threw four picks, Bill Belichick somehow wasted a crucial timeout in the final minute of the game, and the Patriots lost, 34-31. Here’s our take on who deserves a lot of the blame for the Patriots’ first loss to the Bills in 16 games, and who only deserves a little.

Quarterback: D+

Very rarely can we say this, but this time it’s the truth: Brady killed the Patriots Sunday. Four touchdowns and 387 passing yards are great, but every interception proved costly and could have been avoided. The first came on an ill-advised floater to a running back in the flat, killing a drive at the Buffalo 37. The resultant Buffalo field goal completed at least a six-point swing and showed the Bills they could win. The second interception – thrown into very tight coverage over the middle – ruined a great chance for the Patriots to re-seize momentum early in the third. The third – a telegraphed play that safety George Wilson read easily and undercut – ended a drive well into field goal range and led to the Bills’ tying the game. And the fourth gave the Bills the lead.

Brady’s number of games this poor can be counted on one hand, but there’s no way around his poor decision-making’s role in the Patriots loss. He put up big numbers, but he made bigger mistakes.

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