Patriots Report Card: AFC Championship

Vince Wilfork's terrific individual effort of six tackles – three behind the line – a sack and a key fourth-down hit on Ravens QB Joe Flacco earns him an "A" in the AFC Championship report card. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

The Baltimore Ravens shut down the New England Patriots’ receivers in Sunday’s AFC Championship, rattled Tom Brady and held the Patriots to their fewest points since October. And they still didn’t win.

The Patriots beat the Ravens, 23-20, advancing to their fifth Super Bowl of the new millennium when Ravens place-kicker Billy Cundiff badly missed a game-tying 32-yard field goal with 11 seconds left. The Patriots will face the New York Giants in Indianapolis in two weeks.

The AFC Championship was the last test before the final. Who’s ready, and who’ll be pulling an all-nighter? Here’s the penultimate report card of the season.

Quarterback: B+

Brady’s successes Sunday came on seven, eight, nine-yard passes – the bit-by-bit passing attack that’s won three Super Bowls. Brady only got into trouble when he got greedy and tried for more too quickly. Given the ball following a Brandon Spikes interception, Brady could have slowly marched the Patriots 50 yards, scored a touchdown and probably clinched the game. Instead he tried an unconvincing play-action bomb to Matthew Slater, who’s caught one pass this season. The Ravens sniffed it out, sent two deep and picked him off.

Every so often, Brady forgets to use common sense when selecting targets. Against a good pass-rush, Brady barely completed 60 percent of his passes, throwing for just 239 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. In typically gritty fashion, he did rush for a touchdown on fourth down in the fourth, putting the Patriots ahead for good.

Brady won’t have to be perfect to out-score the Giants in two weeks. He just can’t get lost inside his own head as much as he did Sunday.

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Patriots Report Card: Week 13

With two more touchdown catches Sunday, Rob Gronkowski needs just one more this season to break the NFL record for most by a tight end. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

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.

Quarterback: A

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.

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Patriots Report Card: Week 6

Andre Carter's two sacks highlighted a strong performance from the New England Patriot defensive line against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 6. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

For the first 25 minutes the New England Patriots had the ball against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 6, they played sloppy, uncreative football. But down three points with 2:31 left in the game, Tom Brady led a precision air-strike that culminated in Brady’s 8-yard bullet to Aaron Hernandez in the end zone, completing yet another comeback in the saga of Tom Terrific. Coupled with a Buffalo Bills loss to the New York Giants, the Patriots enter their bye-week in first place in the AFC East.

Who qualified for the AP class and who’s taking Remedial English? Here’s one analyst’s opinion.

Quarterback: A-

Brady played B/B- football for most of the game, struggling to solve the Cowboys’ complicated defense before their bloodthirsty pass-rushers could reach him. On his final drive, however, Brady’s play became immaculate. Brady went 8-for-9 on that drive, averaging nearly 10 yards per completion. The Cowboys never knew who Brady would throw to next: he targeted his tight ends three times, Wes Welker four times, and Danny Woodhead twice. He also converted a third-and-1 from the Dallas 29 with a QB sneak, capping a 17-yard rushing day to go with his 289-yard and two-touchdown passing day.

Brady’s only truly boneheaded play came in the fourth quarter, when he threw to Hernandez in double-coverage and linebacker Sean Lee easily picked him off. That interception – Brady’s second – killed a drive that had already entered field-goal territory, but better protection might have prevented the snap-judgment throw.

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In Defense of Ochocinco

Chad Ochocinco is averaging just 1.8 receptions and 27.2 yards per game this season. I couldn't care less. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Chad Ochocinco has nine catches, 136 receiving yards and no touchdowns in six games this season. These numbers are far and away the worst they’ve ever been for Ochocinco, who averaged five catches and 74 yards per game in his first 10 seasons. Ochocinco has given the Patriots virtually nothing as he takes his sweet time learning their offense.

I could not care less. I have absolutely no problem with Ochocinco, and I’m getting increasingly tired of all the Chad-bashing.

Ochocinco: Just the Fifth Receiving Option

Every team has a receiver who contributes less than the others. There has to be a fifth receiver. In years past, a tight end usually filled that role. Tom Brady knew this, so he either lived along the sidelines or used slot receivers to cover the middle of the field. Now, with the the Patriots’ Dynamic Duo of Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, Brady has two huge targets to throw to in the flat. Gronkowski is too big and strong, and Hernandez is too quick. No defense has figured out how to shut one down without springing the other, and Hernandez’s speed let’s him double as a deep-threat.

Ochocinco doesn’t need to run the flat routes that older Patriots’ wide receivers had to because the Patriots’ tight ends match up better against opposing linebackers than Ochocinco ever could. Just remember: Hernandez is as tall as Ochocino with 50 extra pounds of muscle; Gronkowski is five inches taller and 70 pounds stronger.

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Patriots Report Card: Week 1

Tom Brady's record-setting 517 passing yards and four touchdown throws highlighted an A-level offensive performance against the Miami Dolphins on Monday Night Football. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)

Welcome to Goose’s Gabs’ weekly report card for your New England Patriots! Each week I’ll analyze every Patriots position group, identifying particularly noteworthy performances from the previous week’s game.

In their 38-24 victory over the Miami Dolphins on Monday Night Football, the Patriots answered many of the questions fans had about the offense entering Week 1. Between 622 total offensive yards, 38 points, and 27 first downs on 8-for-13 third-down efficiency, few can still worry about this team’s ability to score points. Their ability to prevent points is another question, but for now all is well in New England.

So let’s play teacher and hand out some grades!

Quarterback: A

Tom Brady set both a Patriots and Monday Night Football record with 517 passing yards. Only four other quarterbacks have ever racked up more passing yards in a game, and none since 1996. Coupled with a 66.7 completion percentage and four touchdown passes, it’s impossible to give Brady anything other than a straight A. His third-quarter interception allowed Miami to tie the game, but even that couldn’t keep him from a 121.6 QB rating. Although one game is too early to tell, Brady certainly looks poised for another big year, able to throw the ball short and deep, over the middle and to the sidelines.

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Patriots Look to Wrap Up Preseason Against Giants

Wes Welker may have scored a touchdown against the Lions, but his neck injury will likely keep him and most of the other Patriot starters from Thursday's preseason finale against the Giants. (AP Photo/Tony Ding)

The 2-1 New England Patriots will finish their preseason Thursday night at Gillette against the 2-0 New York Giants. It will be the seventh consecutive Patriots preseason concluded with the Giants. The Giants beat the Patriots 20-17 last season at the New Meadowlands Stadium.

It’s been a Jekyll and Hyde preseason for the Patriots. They looked fantastic in their first two games, crushing the Jaguars with their reserves and the Buccaneers with their starters. Against the Lions – a team that ranks first in the league in passing and total yards per game, and second in the NFC in points allowed per game – they looked dreadful. Which team will show up Thursday?

Giants Not as Scary as Lions

The Giants do not pack quite the same punch the Lions did. Their defense is mediocre, ranking them in the nebulous middle of the pack in most categories. They’ve only recorded five sacks, lacking the dynamic pass rush that helped them derail the Patriots’ undefeated season in Super Bowl XLII.

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