The season is halfway over and the Patriots are on their bye week, so what better time for midseason superlatives? In the second of a three-part series, Phil Perry and Tom E. Curran and Mike Giardi hand out some half-year hardware.
PART ONE: Best and worst on-field happenings| PART THREE: What's worked . . . and what hasn't
Tom Brady If you're arguably the league's MVP through eight games, you're necessarily your own team's MVP through the same span, correct? Brady's 2,541 passing yards are more than anyone else's. He's tied for third in the league in yards per attempt and touchdown passes, and he's second in quarterback rating. This is a no-doubter.
TOM E. CURRAN:
Tom Brady. Kinda easy. He’s got 16 touchdowns and two picks. He played out of his mind against New Orleans, did all he could in the loss against Carolina and snatched victory from defeat against the Texans. The thrashing he took for the first five games would have left any other quarterback on the sidelines.
Stephon Gilmore. The early season breakdowns in the Patriots secondary oftentimes had multiple offenders involved. The highest-paid corner on the team was consistently among them. That he's now missed the last three weeks may not be his fault, but it hasn't made his first half-season with the Patriots any less disappointing.
TOM E. CURRAN:
Stephon Gilmore. So much goes into a 60-minute game that it’s hard to lay blame at any one player’s feet for a loss, but Gilmore’s hands-to-the-face drive extender against Carolina -- and his play at other junctures in that game -- make him an exception. He’ll be better. But he’s been bad.
For a team that’s 6-2, there are more candidates than you would expect. Malcolm Butler hasn’t been himself for a better part of the year, Dont’a Hightower barely played before a season-ending surgery, Alan Branch was sloth-like prior to his benching . . . and remember Kony Ealy? But for me, it’s obvious. It’s Stephon Gilmore. He looked like a dominant player in training camp. When he got his hands on a receiver, forgettaboutit. But for the first four weeks of the season, the $31 million dollar man was in the middle of one bad breakdown after another. And just when he gets the opportunity to go head-to-head with a wideout (Mike Evans, Tampa), an injury pops up and we haven’t seen the 27-year-old for weeks. This is -- at the very least -- a two year commitment to Gilmore. It has to work. It still can. But to this point, disappointing is exactly what this relationship/performance has been.
Trey Flowers. He's out there for almost every snap (91 percent). He's been hobbled at times. Without him, the pass rush would be decimated. The numbers aren't great (3.5 sacks), but the effort is. He's probably the front seven's most indispensable player at the moment.
TOM E. CURRAN:
James White. He’s caught 43 of the 53 passes that have come his way and he’s carried 98 times. He -- along with Danny Amendola -- is Brady's security blanket since Julian Edelman’s gone down. Nineteen of his catches have gone for first downs, and nine of those catches were on third down.
Johnson Bademosi. Who the hell saw this coming? He’s a special-teams guy. That’s really all he’s ever been. But not here, not now. Bademosi has filled in for the injured Stephon Gilmore and performed at a good, solid level. Is it a coincidence that his insertion into the lineup has helped stabilize a group that had been gashed for one big play after another through the first month of the season? Perhaps, but Bademosi deserves credit for being a good communicator, a sound technician and good tackler. Bademosi likes to remind us that he played corner last year for Detroit. It was 253 snaps and it apparently wasn’t good enough to convince the Lions to keep him. Instead, they swapped him for a late-round pick and it’s one of the best moves Bill Belichick has made this year.
Kyle Van Noy. What a difference a year makes. After coming in from Detroit, he had to learn a new language and two different roles since he'd be coming off the edge and playing off the line if he could handle it. He's since turned himself into a full-time player who has taken on Dont'a Hightower's hybrid role, and teammates call him a leader of the defense.
TOM E. CURRAN:
Rob Gronkowski. He looks faster. He looks more agile. He remains a potent blocker even though he’s altered his training. He was already great production-wise, but the fluid way he’s moving as opposed to the bound-up, robotic Gronk we’d seen is worth noting.
I struggled with this one. I’m not sure any player has made a quality leap from last season to this season. In fact, you could argue a bunch a guys have underperformed. I did a deep roster dig and decided LaAdrian Waddle is my choice. The swing tackle got praise from Belichick during the preseason even though it didn’t appear as if he was having a good camp. But when pressed into duty this season, Waddle hasn’t been embarrassed. In fact, his work iN the second half of Sunday’s game against the Chargers was not talked about enough. Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa didn’t ruin the game and Waddle played a part in that.