The Pats got a much needed, belated Christmas present from the Indianapolis Colts, of all people. With their 28-16 win over the crumbling Houston Texans, Indy allowed New England to seize the second seeding in the AFC tournament, and a bye week, following the Pats' 28-0 white-washing of the Miami Dolphins. Earning a bye is a godsend for the Patriots. It provides an invaluable extra week for the walking wounded to heal, and considerably shortens the Pats' path to the SB in New Orleans...to just two playoff wins. Here are my grades:
I. OFFENSE: After a bit of a slow start yet again, the Pats were efficient and methodical thereafter...building a 21-0 halftime lead, which was never seriously challenged.
1.) QB: After being plagued by a touch of inaccuracy and some drops by receivers, Tom took control following a Steve Gregory pick. The turnover gave Tom a short field, and, 28 yards later, he would cash in with a 9 yard TD pass to Wes Welker. It was the 48th straight game in which Brady has passed for a TD, placing him one ahead of Johnny Unitas for second place, in this category. Tom would also surpass Vinny Testaverde for 8th place in all-time pass completions, with 3788, midway through the second quarter. Following the above mentioned Welker TD, Brady would engineer TD drives of 92 and 69 yards, which effectively put an end to any suspense, on this wintry, late afternoon. In all, Tom completed 22 of 36 passes for 284 yards, two TDs, and had no picks. Lots of dinking and dunking today for the Terrifc One, with an exclamation point 23 yard laser TD pass to Gronk in the 4th quarter, to round out the scoring: GRADE: B+;
2.) RBs: It's cold weather games like this, where solid play from the RBs is a necessity. Stevan Ridley had 20 solid, but unspecatular runs for 74 yards, two TDs, and no fumbles. Shane Vereen showed some fire with 8 carries for 38 yards, while Brandon Bolden contributed six carries more, for 26 yards. Finally, Danny Woodhead continued his Kevin Faulk impersonation, rushing for 18 yards on 3 carries, and catching 5 passes for 79 yards: GRADE: B+;
3.) OL: This group finally regained their proide...or responded to a swift kick in the backside from their coaches, and got the job done. Tom Brady was hit only twice, and sacked once, over the entire game. This sort of effort must continue throughout the play-offs, if the Patriots are to get where they want to go: GRADE: A-;
4.) TEs and WRs: Great to see Gronk and Aaron Hernandez back on the field together. Though Gronk hauled in just two passes for 38 yards, one of them set up the Pats' first TD, as it preceeded Brady's 9 yard TD pass to Wes Welker. The other was the aforementioned 23 yard scoring play. As for Hernandez, ever since he got bombed by DeSean Goldson in the 49er loss, it appears that he's been hearing footsteps. He's dropped several passes over the past couple of weeks...and had only 5 catches for 44 yards. Wes Welker was pretty much the sole contributor amongst the WRs...and he continued to make a case for why the Pats should sign him to a lucrative contract extension. Welker added 8 more catches for 94 yards, and a TD, finishing the season with 118 receptions, for 1354 yards. The way this guy moves the chains, drive in and drive out, is amazing. It's hard to visualize where the Pats' offense would be without him: GRADE: B-;
II. DEFENSE: With the liberal passing rules and the tackling prohibitions, pitching a shut-out in this league has pretty much gone the way of the dinosaur. Yet, the Patriots were on the Dolphins all day today, like white on rice...in a full tilt, full time performance, that surely made ol' #54 proud.
1.) DL: Led by Vince Wilfolk, the Pats' front-line played with anger, and purpose. They limited the 'Fins to just 47 yards rushing, and applied constant pressure to young QB, Ryan Tannehill. The DL accounted for 6 of the 7 sacks registered against Tannehill...with Justin Francis getting 3, and Wilfolk, Trevor Scott, and Brandon Deaderick accounting for the other three. Chandler Jones added 7 tackles (3 solos), including a tackle for loss, and two pass deflections. The only down note was an apparent season ending leg injury suffered by DE, Rob Ninkovich. If the Pats' can continue applying pressure like this, they'll gain that elusive 4th SB trophy: GRADE: A+;
2.) LBs: The DL play was so dominant, that there wasn't all that much left for this unit to do. Jarod Mayo had a season low 5 tackles. Donta' Hightower added three more, and recovered a fumble at the New England 3 yard line, ending Miami's only real scoring drive for the game...in the 3rd quarter. Hightower also got flagged on what appeared to be a bogus late hit call on Tannehill. This crew also did a solid job defensing RB Reggie Bush, coming out of the backfield as a receiver. Bush was held to just 2 catches for 23 yards. Overall, a rocking chair evening, for what has become a solid LB corp: GRADE: B;
3.) SECONDARY: What a difference having a pass rush makes! Huge interception and 13 yard return to the Miami 28 by Steve Gregory. It spurred a somewhat sluggish Pats' offense on to a 21 point first half. Though Kyle Arrington had his usual issues in coverage, he led the team in tackles with 8 (7 solos), and limited any big plays. Patrick Chung and Devin McCourty combined for 10 tackles (9 solos), as they also limited any big plays. In fact, the longest play from scrimmage by Miami was just 22 yards. Patriots' pest Brian Hartline was held to just 5 catches for 69 yards. Not too shabby, especially considering that starting CBs, Aqib Talib and Alonzo Dennard, were out: GRADE: B+;
III. SPECIAL TEAMS: Pretty solid kicking game by the Pats today, in very windy conditions. Though Zoltan Mesko's punting average doesn't impress, he pouched punted a couple of times, nailing the 'Fins offense, deep in their own territory. Good job of kickoff coverage, though a 14 yard return was allowed on a punt. Wes Welker had another solid, reliable day as a punt returner...returning 4 punts for 30 yards: GRADE: B;
IV. COACHING: Apparently, BB got his message across to his players after two straight sluggish performances. Improved OL play was noticable. Occasional blitzing seemed to be quite effective. Got some rust off Gronk...but would like to see Brandon Lloyd incorporated more into the offense. Still, it's likely that the Pats were in vanilla mode, with the play-offs on the horizon. Good to see Chandler Jones back in the swing of things. Could the Patriots have a diamond in the rough, in Justin Francis? Time will tell: GRADE: A;
V. PLAY OF THE GAME: The Gregory first quarter interception got the Pats rolling!;
VI. PLAYER OF THE GAME: Wes Welker and Danny Woodhead were outstanding. Edge: Wes Welker.
Here are the game stats: http://scores.espn.go.com/nfl/boxscore?gameId=321230017
As always, your comments and opinions are welcome...especially from the esteemed, learned members of the Ostrich Society...LOL!!!