When the 2012 New England Patriots kick off their season in a few months, many of the faces will look familiar. Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski and Wes Welker will still be there, picking apart defenses. Jerod Mayo will still blow up any receiver foolhardy enough to run across the middle of the field. Stephen Gostkowski will still split the uprights with computer-like proficiency.
But one familiar face won’t be there: Matt Light, who retired from the NFL Monday. Light played for the Patriots for 11 years, starting 153 of 155 total regular season games, plus 16 playoff games. He started all 16 games in seven different seasons, playing a key role in the Patriots’ transformation into the premier NFL franchise of the 21st century.
Light Anchored Competent Offensive Line
In the five years before Light arrived, the Patriots’ offensive line averaged just under 41 sacks per season, with an average rank smack in the middle of the NFL (16). With Light anchoring the team starting in 2001, average sacks dropped down to 30.5, and average ranking improved to 11.1.
Each conference’s representative in the last two Super Bowls have been identical. Both the Colts and Saints were pass-heavy offenses without much defense. Both the Steelers and Packers liked to build big leads early, then rely on opportunistic defenses to force turnovers in the second half. And this year, the Patriots and the Giants have incredible quarterbacks backed up by dominant receiving units.
Both teams try to run just enough to ease up the pass-rush, and both rely on pressure up front to bail out bad secondaries. Whichever team better executes their identical strategies will will the game.
Here’s my Super Bowl preview.
The Battle for the Line
Super Bowl XLVI will be won at the line of scrimmage. The Giants will try like hell to either hit Tom Brady or force him to throw before Wes Welker, Aaron Hernandez or Rob Gronkowski inevitably get open. Even with the ankle injury, Gronkowski’s physical size makes him particularly tough on the Giants’ defensive backs, the biggest of whom are still four inches shorter and 40 pounds lighter than Gronkowski.
The Patriots’ offensive line will face quite a challenge themselves, because not even the Ravens could match the pass-rush onslaught of the Giants’ linemen. Justin Tuck, Jason Pierre-Paul, and Osi Umenyiora can all get to the quarterback, as can linebacker Mathias Kiwanuka. If the offensive line can control those four, Tom Coughlin may have to pull an extra linebacker out of coverage, freeing up one of the Big Three receivers, who are all lethal in single-coverage.
The Patriots have the personnel to counter the pass-rush, with Logan Mankins and Matt Light healthy again. Whether they can do so without drawing holding penalties is another question entirely.
Flipping things, Vince Wilfork has had a monster postseason on the Patriots’ defensive line, but he’ll need help to shut down Eli Manning. Some combination of Mark Anderson, Brandon Spikes and Rob Ninkovich will have to step up. If they can get to Manning early, they might rattle the sky-high confidence he’ll feel, having already beaten the two best teams in the NFC and beaten the Patriots in a Super Bowl.
A confident Manning is dangerous, because receivers Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz are very, very good. Even if the Patriots double-team them, either one could break away for 15- to 20-yard receptions without much difficulty. And considering the tackling problems the Patriots had with the Ravens, a 20-yard reception could easily become a 40-yard reception.
The Book of (2) Timothy states: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.”
The Book of Tom states: “Good for you. I just whomped your ass.”
Any comparisons between Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos and Tom Brady and the New England Patriots died following Saturday’s divisional-round playoff game. Brady tied the NFL postseason record with six passing touchdowns, the defense squished Tebow under hundreds of pounds of linemen and linebackers, and the Patriots cruised to a 45-10 gelding of the Broncos.
With a victory as complete as the Patriots’ over the Broncos, did anyone not earn academic honors? Here’s my first report card of the playoffs.
Brady set a first-half playoff record with five touchdown passes, then tied the single-game record with a sixth in the third quarter. He completed over 75 percent of his passes, averaging better than a first down per reception. He finished the game with 363 passing yards, six touchdowns and an interception. He orchestrated a masterful 58-yard drive with a minute left in the half, needing just five plays to hit Rob Gronkowski in the end zone for a 35-7 lead with 5 seconds left in the half.
Brady’s best touchdown pass came with just under two minutes left in the first half, when he hit Deion Branch perfectly in stride after Branch ran past cornerback Andre’ Goodman. Not needing to slow down to catch the ball, Branch easily got to the end zone for the 61-yard score and a 28-7 lead.
The Miami Dolphins narrowly avoided disaster Saturday against the New England Patriots. Somehow a group of talented, motivated football players broke into their locker room, knocked everyone out, stole their uniforms and took the field for kickoff. The “Dolphins” went into halftime up 17-0.
Luckily, the true – and truly terrible – Dolphins regained consciousness and took back their uniforms for the second half. The Patriots scored 27 points in a row and held on to win, 27-24.
The Patriots clinched a first-round bye, and the Dolphins continued their mission of destroying the legacy of a once-great franchise.
Which Patriots graduated with honors, and which will have to take summer school classes? Here’s this week’s report card.
Tom Brady couldn’t do much in the first half, what with all the Dolphins constantly in his face. Whatever happened at halftime, the protection improved in the second half, and Brady came alive. Brady’s second-half line: 20-27 for 217 yards and a touchdown, finishing 27-46 for 306 overall. Brady continues to play with guts, QB-sneaking not once but twice for rushing touchdowns in the second half.
The New England Patriots took every punch the Miami Dolphins threw at them in the first half of Sunday afternoon’s game at Gillette.
In the second half, the Patriots came out swinging, and the Dolphins went down for the count.
The Patriots scored 27 points in the second half, overcoming a 17-point deficit to beat the Dolphins, 27-24, and clinch a first-round playoff bye.
Brady Comes Alive in Second Half
The Patriots entered halftime down 17-0, dispirited and disheveled. Missing Matt Light and losing Logan Mankins early in the game, the Patriots’ offensive line had crumbled under the Dolphins’ pass-rushing onslaught, leading to three sacks. Tom Brady could never sit comfortably in the pocket, completely derailing the passing game.
The Patriots went three-and-out four times in the first half, and Stephen Gostkowski badly missed a 51-yard field goal attempt in the waning seconds before halftime.
Whatever Bill Belichick said to his team, they exited the locker room with renewed energy and resolve. Brady began the second half with an 11-play drive – highlighted by a 15-yarder to Chad Ochocinco – that ended with a 45-yard field goal and put the Patriots on the board.
The Washington Redskins made two mistakes Sunday: one within the opening three minutes, another in the final 30 seconds. That was all it took for the defensively incompetent, offensively inconsistent Patriots to secure a 34-27 victory in Washington.
Can the Patriots defend their thesis any better than they defended against the Redskins? Here’s this week’s report card.
Brady can scream at Bill O’Brien all he wants, but throwing a softball to a well-covered and very inexperienced Tiquan Underwood was a stupid decision. The Patriots only needed a field goal for a two-possession lead with six minutes left in the game. Instead, Josh Wilson intercepted Brady, and the Patriots’ linebackers had to save the game. The interception highlighted just how out of sync Brady was with his receivers.
Brady completed less than 60 percent of his passes Sunday, and his receivers’ ability to get yards after catches accounted for many of his 357 passing yards. But Brady still threw three touchdowns; a third-quarter 24-yarder showed Brady’s impressive mobility, with him ducking and dodging tacklers before hitting Wes Welker in the end zone. Brady went 8-for-10 in the third quarter.
The Indianapolis Colts gave the New England Patriots a late-game scare Sunday afternoon, but ultimately all the Colts could do was lose with dignity. The Patriots beat the Colts, 31-24, continuing the Colts’ winless season and for now moving the Patriots into first place in the AFC.
Who’s using this game for college credit, and who needs to repeat Calculus 101? Here are this week’s grades.
Tom Brady has shown more mobility in the last few games than he ever has before. Given his line’s vulnerabilities, he’s pretty much had to. But whatever the reason, Brady’s agility has become his best pass-protection, helping him elude tackle after tackle while he waits for his receivers to inevitably get open.
Brady completed over 75 percent of his passes Sunday, hitting seven different receivers for 289 yards. One one drive alone he went 7-for-7 for 77 yards. That drive ended in a touchdown pass, the first of two for Brady. Brady passed Johnny Unitas and is now tied with Warren Moon for sixth-most career regular-season touchdown passes.
Running Backs: B+
Stevan Ridley led the team with eight rushes for 33 numbers – paltry numbers that reflect just how ineffective the Patriots’ running game was Sunday. Ridley’s agility and flash isn’t so useful when he’s just trying to run up the middle, and his performance suffered because he tried to dance when he should have just barreled. BenJarvus Green-Ellis knows how to barrel, taking advantage Donald Thomas‘s bulk at fullback to force his way into the end zone for the 1-yard touchdown run in the second.
I don’t know why, but football players more than any other athlete legitimately rally around negative press. So when the media almost universally gave Sunday’s New England Patriots-Pittsburgh Steelers game to the visiting Patriots, a Steelers victory became a near-guarantee. And the Steelers won in truly convincing fashion, doubling up the Patriots in both total yardage (427 vs. 213) and possession time (39:22 to 20:38). The Patriots never led and, coupled with a Bills’s shutout of the lowly Redskins, fell back into a tie atop the AFC East.
In a game this poor, did anyone play well? Here’s my report card.
Tom Brady had to withstand a constant barrage of Pittsburgh pass-rushers while his receivers hurried to get open. That he completed over 68 percent of his passes and threw no interceptions is quite remarkable. Even more remarkable: his second-to-last drive of the game, in which Brady went 8-for-10 in a pass-exclusive offense. Brady’s high completion percentage and two touchdown passes helped him finish with his highest QB rating (101.8) since beating the Chargers in Week 2, but Patriots fans have seen far superior performances from Brady, especially at Heinz Field.
Running Backs: C
Nice to see Kevin Faulk (32 yards on the ground, 20 in the air) back, but Sunday’s game was a no-show for the Patriot running game. BenJarvus Green-Ellis rushed for just 9 yards; neither back made it into the end zone, and Faulk could not convert any third down in which he carried the ball. Granted, these were usually third-and-long situations, but Sunday was a huge step back for a ground game the Patriots need to keep opponents from eating Brady and his receivers alive.
Welcome back to Goose’s Gabs’ weekly report card for your New England Patriots. After a record-setting offensive explosion in Week 1, the Patriots continued their near-unstoppable passing attack Sunday, beating the Chargers 35-21. So who stood out and who hung back? Read on and find out!
Tom Brady followed his record-setting game against the Dolphins with another record-setting game against the Chargers. Throwing for 423 yards, Brady’s two-week total of 940 passing yards broke the record set earlier Sunday by the Panthers’ Cam Newton. Brady completed 77.5 percent of his passes, including converting five of the Patriots’ seven third downs. His three-touchdown, zero-interception day earned him a 135.7 rating, and he completed passes to seven different receivers.
Running Backs: B+
Three Patriots running backs combined for 91 yards and a touchdown. BenJarvus Green-Ellis‘ 16-yard score late in the game following a Chargers fumble turned what could have been a 28-28 tie into a 35-21 almost-insurmountable Patriots lead. Green-Ellis led the team with 70 yards on 17 carries, doing most of the damage in the second half. Danny Woodhead was rarely used Sunday, but ran in a matter-of-fact two-point conversion in the third to give the Patriots a 28-14 lead. Stevan Ridley got his first two NFL carries, averaging 4.5 yards per play and displaying the spinning agility that dazzled Patriots fans during preseason.