New England Patriots Report Card: Week 3

Tom Brady and his receivers get A- grades for their performances Sunday against the Ravens, but the rest of the team didn’t do nearly as well. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Before Sunday’s New England Patriots-Baltimore Ravens game, noted actor (also Ravens linebacker) Ray Lewis said, “Revenge is a dish best served cold. We on fire tonight.”

Facing a mind like that, the Patriots should count themselves lucky they just lost, as opposed to waking up tied to a chair in a basement somewhere.

But lose the Patriots did, blowing a two-possession lead in the fourth quarter and losing on a game-ending 27-yard field goal by Justin Tucker. But before Pats fans start moaning, just remember that the Ravens are a very good team, matching talent with physicality and effort. The Patriots didn’t lose this game — the Ravens won it.

With that said, and before Ray Lewis comes bursting through the door in a clown costume singing “Helter Skelter,” let’s give out some grades.

Quarterback: A-

Tom Brady looked very sharp Sunday, completing nearly 70 percent of his passes for 335 yards and a touchdown. He might not have gotten it done on the Patriots’ last drive, but he executed a near-flawless two-minute offense at the end of the first half, capping an 81-yard drive with a 7-yard touchdown pass to Julian Edelman.

Thirty points usually means victory. Brady did more than enough to put his team in a position to win. Don’t hang this loss on the quarterback.

Running backs: B

Danny Woodhead and Brandon Bolden each scored a rushing touchdown, but along with Steven Ridley combined for just 75 yards, all three averaging fewer than 3 yards per carry. And with the run-game all but stopped, the Ravens began overloading on pass-defense.

Against a worse pass-rushing team, the Patriots can get away with that weak a running game. But against the Ravens? Not so much.

Wide receivers/tight ends: A-

Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd recorded over 100 receiving yards apiece Sunday. Lloyd may have made the flashier catches, but Welker handled the nitty gritty. And both starred against a Ravens secondary that tested the replacement referees’ excessive contact rules every chance it could.

Lloyd brings a dynamic element to the Patriots’ receiving corps that’s been missing since Randy Moss circa 2007. Expect big aerial numbers for Brady and his receivers this season.

Offensive line: B-

The offensive line allowed a sack four plays into the game, tightened up for awhile, then crumbled late in the fourth, allowing a key sack that killed the Patriots’ last drive, forced them to punt and ultimately led to the Ravens’ game-winning field goal.

The line also utterly failed to open up holes for the Patriots’ running game, repeatedly allowing Ravens linemen to simply move across blockers and chase down running backs from behind.

On a positive note, the O-line played penalty-free. And with Sunday’s officiating crew, that’s quite an accomplishment.

Defensive line: D

The defensive line put no pressure on Joe Flacco… literally. No sacks, no quarterback hits, only one tackle for a loss (by Patrick Chung, no less). And Ray Rice rushed for over 100 yards, a touchdown and 5.1 yards per carry.

The defensive line so struggled Sunday that Bill Belichick had to abandon his original defensive scheme, moving up a safety to help on run-defense. That left New England’s mediocre cornerbacks one-on-one with receivers — one reason why Flacco threw for 389 yards and three touchdowns.

Linebackers: D+

Jerod Mayo‘s pass-interference penalty on third down in the second quarter extended a Ravens drive that ended with a touchdown pass, but he also led the team with 11 tackles. Brandon Spikes‘ holding penalty, meanwhile, wiped out the Patriots’ only sack and gave the Ravens first-and-goal from the Patriots’ 5-yard-line.

Flacco’s third touchdown throw came on the very next play, making it a two-point game with four minutes left in the fourth. These veteran linebackers have to play better than that moving forward.

Defensive backs: C-

Too, too many penalties really hurt the Patriots secondary. Kyle Arrington, Sterling Moore and Devin McCourty all gave away third-and-long situations with defensive holding penalties, and McCourty’s pass-interference penalty turned a 52-yard field goal attempt into a 27-yard chip-shot.

Despite the secondary’s inadequacies, three things picked up its grade: Chung’s fourth-down tackle, Steve Gregory‘s first-quarter interception, and the secondary’s overall high level of energy. For once, the Pats’ defense didn’t look exhausted by the fourth quarter.

Special teams: B+

Stephen Gostkowski made all of his field goals and extra points, and for the most part just kicked touchbacks. Excluding the Patriots’ two drives off turnovers, however, they lost the starting-yardage battle to the Ravens, and no one on the Patriots’ special teams did anything spectacular.

Acceptable play from special teams, but nothing distinguishing.

Coaching: B+

Belichick’s decision to leave the Patriots’ front seven to deal with the Ravens’ running game worked for awhile. But once Rice began running roughshod, Belichick had to bring a safety forward, because as good as Flacco is, Belichick knows Rice is much better.

Despite little success on the ground, Belichick continued running the ball, only throwing the ball about 53 percent of the time. Had the Patriots abandoned the running game, Brady likely would’ve taken far more than two sacks and six hits. The Patriots might have lost, but at least they left Baltimore relatively healthy (though the jury’s still out on Edelman and Arrington).

Belichick for the most part coached well, but his team just couldn’t maintain the level of execution necessary to win.

Patriots Report Card: Divisional Round

With over 75 percent accuracy, masterful two-minute offense and a playoff record-tying six touchdown passes, Tom Brady gets an "A+" in this week's report card. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

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.

Quarterback: A+

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.

Brady also executed the best quick-kick I’ve ever seen.

Continue reading Patriots Report Card: Divisional Round

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.

Continue reading Patriots Report Card: Week 17

Patriots Report Card: Week 8

Andre Carter's two-sack game highlighted an A- performance from the Patriots' defensive line in Sunday's loss to the Steelers. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

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.

Quarterback: B+

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.

Continue reading Patriots Report Card: Week 8

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.

Continue reading Patriots Report Card: Week 6

Patriots Report Card: Week 4

Stevan Ridley's 97 yards, 9.7 yards per carry and first NFL touchdown made him the top performer of Sunday's Patriots victory over the Raiders. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

Welcome back to Goose’s Gabs’ weekly report card for your New England Patriots! The Patriots did what they always do the week after a loss: win. Specifically, they beat the Oakland Raiders, 31-19. And with losses by the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets, the Patriots are once again tied atop the AFC East (though the Bills still have the tie-breaker). For one week, equilibrium is restored in Foxborough.

Quarterback: A-

Tom Brady was not quite his usual, crisp self, completing just 53.3 percent of his passes after completing nearly 70 percent through the first three weeks. Brady seemed slightly out of sync with his receivers Sunday, always overthrowing them. Perhaps Oakland’s pass rush affected his timing more than normal. Still, Brady followed a four-interception game with a zero-interception game, throwing for 226 yards and two touchdowns. He did far, far more to help the team than to hinder it. How odd, however, to see Brady take a back seat to his running backs. Speaking of which…

Running backs: A

Three Patriots running backs ran for 185 yards and two touchdowns, including the first ever by Stevan Ridley, who also led the team with 97 yards and 9.7 yards per carry. Ridley finally showed the full measure of his speed and athleticism, spinning, whirling and leaping his way to three first downs. The Patriots wanted to take the pressure off Brady, who defenses will focus on more and more as the season progresses, and the running backs stepped up. BenJarvus Green-Ellis did the lion’s share of the rushing with 16 carries, gaining 75 yards and a touchdown in the process. Ridley and Green-Ellis have the kind of complimentary skills that could finally rebuild the Patriots’ running game. Green-Ellis has the strength to chew up yards through the middle, whereas Ridley has the speed to get around the corner and up the sidelines.

Continue reading Patriots Report Card: Week 4

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.

Continue reading Patriots Report Card: Week 1

Patriots-Dolphins: Ranking Tom Brady’s Trips to Miami

The Patriots are 5-5 in Miami during the Tom Brady Era. Brady's best game came on Oct. 21, 2007, in which he passed for 354 yards and a whopping six touchdowns. (AP Photo/Hans Deryk)

The 2011 New England Patriots season kicks off with a trip to Sun Life Stadium to play the Miami Dolphins on Monday Night Football. The Patriots have played 10 games in Miami during the Tom Brady era (including the 2008 season in which Brady played just one game), so how could we not do a Top 10 as part of our pre-game festivities?

Here’s how the last 10 Patriots-Dolphins road games stack up against each other:

10. Dolphins 21, Patriots 0 – Dec. 10, 2006

The Patriots’ 2006 game in Miami was one of just two Patriots shutouts that Brady has ever played, and Brady went 12-for-25 for just 78 yards in this one. He threw no interceptions, but he fumbled the ball twice, one of which the Dolphins recovered. The Patriots fumbled away three possessions total. The offensive line also couldn’t stop the Dolphins’ elite pass-rush, allowing five sacks and keeping the Patriots offense from ever developing any rhythm. Future-Patriot Sammy Morris rushed for 123 yards and a fourth-quarter touchdown that gave the Dolphins a three-possession lead with less than a quarter to play.

Continue reading Patriots-Dolphins: Ranking Tom Brady’s Trips to Miami