The Patriots had their best wire-to-wire effort against the Rams in London, and the trick now will be keeping that momentum through the bye week and into next Sunday’s home game with Buffalo.
Getting healthy may help, and to that end, the Patriots are enjoying some much-needed time for rest and recovery. And since the bye comes at exactly the midway point of the season, it seems only natural to do some first-half superlatives.
Some of these are obvious, but thanks to some suggestions from Twitter followers, some are a bit more fun, too.
Offensive MVP (not named Tom Brady): Stevan Ridley — It would be easy to give this to Brady any time such an occasion arises. Despite the apparent claims by some that his play is declining, he mostly has been as good as ever. Taking him out of the running, we’ll give the nod to Ridley. The second-year back has topped 100 yards in four of the Patriots’ five wins, and is averaging 115 yards per victory at an impressive 5.6 yards per carry. In losses? Just 47 yards per game. Some of that is because of game-planning and play calling, but when he is being fed the ball, Ridley finds the holes and has explosion to get yards after contact. His 47 first downs lead the league among running backs.
Defensive MVP: Chandler Jones — Strong consideration goes to Rob Ninkovich on this one, but Ninkovich, by his own admission, struggled the first three weeks of the season even though he has been very good over the last five. Jones gets the nod because of consistency: He has at least one quarterback hit in six of eight games (11 total), six sacks, and three forced fumbles. Plus, he has been on the field far more than anticipated. Drafted to be a pass-rusher, he has shown himself to be a three-down player, playing in 92 percent of the defensive snaps.
Best Kodak Moment: Brandon Lloyd — The receiver went belly-to-the-turf to pull in his first touchdown as a Patriot in Buffalo, and even in midair, a huge grin could be seen on the veteran’s face as he stretched for the catch. New England’s team photographer caught the moment; Lloyd called it his “try hard” face.
Best win: 45-7 vs. St. Louis — The Rams may not have been the most formidable opponent, entering the game at 3-4, but they did sport a top-10 defense (in terms of yards allowed and sacks per pass play). The Patriots offense racked up 473 yards, Brady wasn’t sacked or even hit, and the defense overcame an early stumble to shut out St. Louis for 57 ½ minutes. It was the best 60-minute offense the team has put together.
Worst loss: 24-23 at Seattle — Really, any of the three losses could go here, but the one against the Seahawks was brutal for the offense’s inability to move the ball in the fourth quarter plus the number of huge plays the defense allowed against one of the worst-ranked offenses in the NFL.
Troy Brown Award: Devin McCourty — This is for the player who fills a number of roles, doing what is best for the team. McCourty has started at two spots in the secondary (though safety is probably his better position), and he plays more special teams snaps than any starter, including serving as the primary kickoff returner. And through all of the ups and downs for him and wins and losses for the team, he has always been accountable, setting a good example for his teammates.
Half-season goat: Josh Boyer, cornerbacks coach — The Patriots still have one of the worst defenses against the pass, and while that doesn’t all go on Boyer’s players, none of the corners who have been with New England during his time have improved. By and large, they have regressed. He doesn’t communicate well and still seems unsure how best to coach them. The fact that he was once in charge of both corners and safeties and had his duties split could be an indication that he doesn’t get high grades for job performance.
Best celebratory dance: Chandler Jones — The rookie has unveiled a number of post-sack dances, but his best might have been his Pee-Wee Herman impression after sacking Russell Wilson in Seattle. Jones clearly has a great time on the field. Here’s hoping he never changes — and that he breaks out a J.J. Walker “Dy-no-mite!” dance before the season ends. Honorable mention to Rob Gronkowski for his Buckingham Palace guard touchdown celebration in London.
Making the Best of it Award: Dante Scarnecchia, offensive line coach — He had Matt Light retire in May, then found out during training camp that Brian Waters wasn’t showing up. He also has had to deal with injuries to Logan Mankins and Sebastian Vollmer. The line’s poor performance in the preseason has been all but forgotten as the run game has been stellar and Brady has been sacked only 14 times through eight games, which is in line with an average season.
Quote of the first half: Rob Gronkowski — Really, who else could it be? The man who brought us “Yo soy fiesta” uncorked a doozy after the Patriots capped their time in London with the victory over the Rams. Asked about the origins of the slightly awkward marching movements that preceded his traditional spike after his first touchdown, Gronkowski said, “You know the little Nutcracker dude that is guarding the house? Yeah, the Palace. I like how he sits there and stays still. It’s pretty cool.” As Brady has said many a time, no one has more fun than Gronk.