Gresh's Grades: High marks for wild turnaround
SECOND HALF/OT GRADES
Now that the best comeback in franchise history is complete, and we’ve all thawed out, it's time to put Sunday night's incredible win in perspective. I came away with three things: 1) TEAM football is back; the Patriots are no longer relying on just one phase of the game. 2) Never give up on the Pats in any situation. 3) This is the best-coached team in the league. An amazing performance. These will be just second-half and overtime grades because everyone got an F- in the first two quarters. So we can call this the Pats/Broncos second-half-and-overtime report card.
Down 24-0 and throwing into the wind in the third quarter was no easy task, yet this group made it look easy. Attacking in the passing game at all levels. Running the ball when called upon. Giving Tom Brady plenty of room to operate. A tale of two halves, because in the first they couldn’t get out of their own way.
A masterful performance by Brady going into the wind in the third quarter, with three touchdown passes and showing some genuine emotion to lead his team. They hit two big plays: The 33-yarder to Rob Gronkowski on the first drive, and the 40-plus-yarder to Julian Edelman on the third drive. TB12 was as accurate as he’s been, which was remarkable under the conditions. Fifty throws overall is too many for my liking, but that’s the position you're put in when you play badly in the first half.
RUNNING BACKS: B+
I know that Stevan Ridley is being ripped into as the worst RB of all time, but LeGarrette Blount fumbled, too, and has done it more times in the NFL than Ridley. Everyone relax; this problem is coachable and I do believe it will be fixed. Brandon Bolden got more playing time as a result of Ridley's and Blount's fumbles and ripped it for 58 yards and a score. Shane Vereen keeps getting better and better; I’d love to see him get 20 carries.
WIDE RECEIVERS: B
This group is carried by Edelman and his nine catches for two touchdowns. I thought he did a great job of giving TB12 room to throw, especially on the play where he made the one-handed TD grab. Great throw, better catch. His production rivals Wes Welker's at one-fifth the price. Danny Amendola wasn’t a factor and didn’t get into routes well. Kenbrell Thompkins re-emerged with some nice plays in the play-action game.
TIGHT ENDS: A
Matt Mulligan stepped in for 25-plus plays and did a nice job along the line of scrimmage. Gronk was a beast. He performed with reckless abandon, diving for passes and playing physically. He looks healthy. Let’s hope it stays that way.
OFFENSIVE LINE: A
They did a nice job against a group of pass rushers who knew that, with a 24-0 lead, they could pin their ears back and try to get to TB12. Will Svitek replaced Marcus Cannon in the F- half and played 75 great plays. Well-coached unit that clicked when it counted. They asserted themselves in the run game as well.
This group was counted on to defend first in overtime against Peyton Manning and a powerful Broncos offense that was running on them at will. That decision -- to kick off in o.t. and rely on the defense to make a stop -- is something we would never have seen from Bill Belichick under any circumstances the past three seasons; it was a major show of trust. Some of the kids really stepped up, especially Duron Harmon, and overall they just "did their job" and didn't make big mistakes. Logan Ryan is an ascending player who will demand more playing time as we move closer to the playoffs. They need more from Dont'a Hightower and Joe Vellano, but I thought Chris Jones played at a high level given the expectations.
DEFENSIVE LINE: C
Too much being pushed around, which was the case in first half, too. I thought they did a better job in some rush situations and critical situations to raise this grade. Chris Jones is a keeper for me. Love his push and play with his hands. Chandler Jones is sneaky good. Just focus in on his pass rush set and you’ll enjoy how hard he works at getting to the QB.
Brandon Spikes played a solid game in the middle. He was pushed around at times in the run game but does a nice job with 60 minutes of physicality. Dane Fletcher, who I blasted a few weeks ago, did a nice job picking up for a lost Hightower. Excellent work in all phases for him. Hightower just needs one job to focus on right now. It may be time to let him rush the passer more.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: A
They held the Denver trio of wide receivers to just 9 catches for 77 yards and 1 touchdown. And Demaryius Thomas had to work hard on Aqib Talib in space for his score. Ryan did a nice job off the Kyle Arrington blitz and making an easy interception because of great instincts and good coaching. Devin McCourty, including special teams, played 115 plays: All of the defensive plays and 64 percent of the special-team plays. Amazing.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A
Given the wind , both Ryan Allen and Stephen Gostkowski were fabulous. No one worries anymore when Gostkowski lines up for a game-winner. The punt and kickoff coverage units did a good job of staying in cover lanes and Trindon Holliday never got going in the return game. Good work.
IT AIN'T BROKE...
1) Stevan Ridley. Time for the Kevin Faulk elbow sleeves. 2) Tom Brady's arm strength. Great into the wind. 3) TEAM. All three phases contribute.
...BUT IT NEEDS FIXING
1) Ball security. 2) Dont’a Hightower. Give him one job and go from there. 3) Tackling. Still a little sloppy. | Andy Gresh is a talkshow host on 98.5 The Sports Hub and for nine years has worked pre- and postgame analysis on the Patriots Radio Network. He is also co-author of the recently released book "The Great Book of Boston Sports Lists." Follow him on twitter @greshandzo.