In my younger days in New England, it was a family tradition that on Sunday, we all would gather for a huge meal. I have continued that tradition in Texas. But, after watching the first half of the Browns game Sunday, I had lost my appetitie. Then, after seeing Gronk suffer that devastating knee injury and get carted off, I became queasy. Though the Patriots would miraculously bounce back from playing terribly throughout the game, and win with two TDs in the final 61 seconds of play, it was little consolation. Here are my grades:
I. OFFENSE: Absolutely pathetic, until the final quarter of play. This unit sleep-walked throughout the first half, and was shut out. In the third quarter, after the Gronk injury and subsequent Brady strip sack, the "O' appeared to slowly come to the realization that they were playing a football game. Finally, in the frantic fourth quarter, they managed to steal a victory at the end. Given this unit's performance for the first 40 minutes or so of play, that hardly seems fair.
1.) QB: As was the case with the entire offensive unit, Tom Brady was terrible in the first quarter, in which he completed just one (1) of six (6) passes for five (5) yards, and threw an interception. Over the first 15 minutes, the Patriots "held" the ball for just 2:02, during which the "O" ran seven (7) plays, netting 17 total yards. Tom's second quarter was only slightly better, as he completed six (6) passes in 12 attempts for 90 yards, and allowed himself to take a sack which knocked his club out of FG range. In the third quarter, Tom started hot, completing three (3) of his first four (4) passes for 55 yards. But then came the Gronk injury, followed immediately by a Brady strip-sack fumble. The Browns would convert the turnover into a FG, as they did with his ealier interception. They went on to build a 19-3, lead with 1:25 left to play in the quarter. From that point on, Brady was immense, completing 17 of 22 passes for 208 yards and two TDs...plus a couple of huge PI penalties to spare. Leading his team for two TDs in the final 61 seconds is legendary stuff. Still, there was that awful start: GRADE: B+;
2.) RBs: When an OL is not opening up running lanes, a RB is almost always not going to garner impressive stats. Still, LeGarrette Blount did okay with 42 yards on eight (8) carries, while Stevan Ridley chipped in with 35 yards on eight (8) carries. Though Shane Vereen did little damage on the ground (nine (9) yards on three (3) carries), he was superb in the passing game. Vereen was targeted 17 times, and finished with a game high 12 receptions for 153 yards. FB James Develin also contributed in the passing game with a nice over the shoulder catch and run down the right sideline, for 31 yards: GRADE: B+;
3.) OL: This group must get better, fast. They allowed their 36 year old QB to be under constant pressure, especially in the first half. Running lanes for the RBs was a rare occurrence. Folks, these guys didn't show up until the 4th quarter. With Gronk out for the season, Tom Brady is going to have to rely more heavily on his running game, and be afforded the time to burn defenses deep, to keep them honest. The middle of the line in particular needs to step up: GRADE: C-;
4.) TEs and WRs: A sad ending for Gronk, who had just two catches for 16 yards, before being low-balled by Cleveland safety T. J. Ward. Though the hit was technically legal, it appeared to be a bit of a cheap shot. Still, Ward is 5'10" and around 200 lbs.. Under the current NFL rules, how else is he going to cut down a 6'6", 265 lb. truck coming towards him? As for the WRs, Julian Edelman again led the way with six catches for 64 yards, and a TD, maintaining the two (2) yard TD catch despite taking a tough head shot from Cleveland DB, Jordan Poyer. Josh Boyce had his most extensive action of the season and showed some explosiveness, finishing with three (3) catches for 49 yards. Boyce also drew the controversial PI penalty in the endzone, with the 29 yard penalty setting up the Pats' game winning TD. With Gronk gone, the Pats must now get more production out of Danny Amendola, who finished with four (4) catches for 36 yards: GRADE: C;
II. DEFENSE: This unit was the reverse of the offense. The "D" was outstanding in the first half, as it held the Browns to just six (6) points...keeping the Pats in the game. But, in the second half, the "D" made Jason Campbell appear to be the second coming of John Elway.
1.) DL: Though the shock troopers in the trenches pretty much took away what little there was of the Cleveland running game, they were able to get absolutely no pressure on Browns' QB Jason Campbell throughout the game. Rob Ninkovich was the best of a poor pass rushing lot, registering the lone Patriots' sack, and finished with seven (7) tackles, including five (5) solos. DE Chandler Jones was no where to be found, and the Pats' DTs got zero pressure up the middle: GRADE: D+;
2.) LBs: Dont'a Hightower played one of his better games in terms of making tackles, finishing with a team high 11, seven (7) of which were solos. Hightower appeared to force a fumble after blowing up a RB on a swing pass...but was robbed onhis turnover forcing play due to a quick whistle by the zebras. But Hightower was badly beaten by Browns reserve TE Gary Barnage for a 40 yard TD catch and run. Though Jamie Collins was active (eight (8) tackles, four (4) solos), he and the Pats' secondary had a ton of trouble keeping up with starting Cleveland TE Jordan Cameron, who finished the day with nine (9) catches for 121 yards, and a TD. The Cleveland RBs also hurt the Patriots on pass receptions coming out of the backfield, finishing with a combined 6 receptions for 74 yards. Allowing QB Jason Campbell to scramble for 21 yards on a 2nd and 8 late in the first quarter was inexcusable: GRADE: D;
3.) SECONDARY: Aqib Talib and company, save for an 80 yard catch and run, did a decent job of containing Cleveland stud WR Josh Morgan, who finished with seven (7) receptions for 151 yards. Yards after catch was an issue all afternoon...as it was with this 80 yard play, and the above mentioned Gary Barnage 40 yard TD play. No Pats' DB distinguished himself in this performance, as the secondary was torched by Cleveland QB Jason Campbell. For the day, Campbell completed 29 of 44 for 391 yards, three (3) TDs, and no picks. What was particularly infuriating was, after the Pats had gone ahead, 27-26, the "D" nearly allowed Campbell to pull the game out for Cleveland. Needing a FG to win, Campbell had 31 seconds to work with, and no time outs. Beginning from his own 20 yard line, he was able to complete two straight passes for a combined 27 yards. On each of these completions, the secondary allowed the Cleveland receivers to get out of bounds. Campbell would manuever the Browns into long FG range, from 56 yards out. But fortunately, Cleveland kicker Billy Condiff's attempt fell about five yards short: GRADE: D;
III. SPECIAL TEAMS: The season long outstanding play of this unit continued yesterday, as Stephen Ghostkowski hit two more FGs, including a 50 yarder...and executed a successful onside kick in the final minute of play, giving Tom Brady the chance he needed to win the game. Ryan Allen continues to make BB's decision to release punter Zoltan Mesko appear to be a stroke of genious, with a solid punting performance. Neither team did damage in the return game: GRADE: A-;
IV. COACHING: Over their last four games, the Patriots have been outscored 57-10 in the first half. To quote the late, great Vince Lombardi, "What the hell is going on out there!!" This first half futility is past the point now of being ridiculous, and must be dealt with! These slow starts appear to be a combination of injuries catching up with the team, a less talented overall group of skilled players than the Pats have had since 2007, weak OL play, and poor focus. Especially without Gronk, this team has little margin for error, and must play at it's best for 60 minutes. The Gronk injury was awful, and, though legal, was a bit of a cheap shot. In baseball, if an pitcher throws at an opposing star player to intimidate, you can bet that retaliation will be swift and forthcoming. The Pats' can't allow their receivers to be physically abused the way they were by the Browns' secondary. Perhaps it's time for the Patriots' DBs to start hitting opposing star WRs like Josh Morgan and the like low as well, as a method of intimidation. The head shot is gone...so let's start sending messages to opposing teams that if they hit out receivers low, retaliation will be swift and sure. God knows what Roger Goodell and the NFL Rules Committee will do next. But, rest assured, the game as we now know it is coming to an end. The current rules, especially on PI and illiegal hits, are far too broad, giving the referrees far too much discretion, and the ability to decide the outcome of games. Getting off my soap box now, credit BB and Josh McDaniels for exploiting the Shane Vereen mismatch to the hilt...and for finally getting rookie Josh Boyce involved in the offense. As for the defense, something needs to be done to improve the pass rush. Though it's frustrating seeing the Patriots struggle, we must keep in mind the long list of players that the Pats have lost this season: Aaron Hernadez, Wes Welker, Gronk, Sebastien Vollmer, Vince Wilfolk, Tommy Kelly, Jerod Mayo, Alfonzo Dennard. Despite it all, credit BB for continuing to find ways to get it done: GRADE: B-;
V. PLAY OF THE GAME: The on-side kick recovery turned the tide;
V. PLAYER OF THE GAME: bowl caliber year, nailing a 50 yard FG in the cold, and flawlessly executing the aforementioned onside kick.
Here are the game stats: http://scores.espn.go.com/nfl/boxscore?gameId=331208017.
As always, your comments and opinions are welcome. Have a great day!