A winning, if worrisome, performance for Pats vs. Jets
Perry's Report Card: Patriots vs. Jets
It still doesn't look quite right. There are breakdowns in the secondary. There are turnovers. There are penalties.
For the second consecutive week, it was a "yeah, but" kind of win for the Patriots. Yet when Bill Belichick addressed his team in the visitor's locker room at MetLife Stadium, he accentuated the positive.
"That's the way," he said, "to come down here and push through it, fellas."
Belichick knows how difficult it has been for his team to win in Jersey. And he knows what's going on around the league.
Just look at what happened to the Falcons against the Dolphins last weekend. Or what happened to the Broncos at home against a hobbled Giants offense. Or what happened to the Chiefs at home against a Steelers group that feels like it's in disarray. Teams -- sometimes several teams -- are losing games they shouldn't on a weekly basis.
That's one explanation for why Belichick's attitude was what it was late Sunday afternoon. Take the wins when you can get them. Celebrate for a while. Move on to the next one.
Make no mistake, though. Before they move on, there will be plenty to correct going into next weekend's Super Bowl rematch with Atlanta.
As we do every week, we've highlighted those areas, contrasted them with the positive, and come up with a position-by-position list of grades in this week's Report Card.
It's worth wondering if Tom Brady's left shoulder injury is impacting his accuracy. For someone who is such a staunch believer in balance, what is happening on his front side may limit the pinpoint control he usually exhibits. He threw behind Chris Hogan twice, one of which resulted in Hogan taking a big shot to his ribs. He overthrew Hogan on multiple occasions down the field. He was picked once, lobbing one risk-reward throw into double coverage, but he should have been picked again when Buster Skrine jumped a Rob Gronkowski out-route. He also skipped one pass to a wide-open Danny Amendola in the second quarter. Still, his throw to Brandin Cooks deep down the right sideline was a dime, and he showed good mobility in the pocket -- his 33-yard touchdown to Gronkowski came after he decisively stepped up in the pocket, reset and threw a strike -- in order to help the Patriots put the points on the board that they did.
RUNNING BACK: B+
This was Dion Lewis' coming-out party for 2017, it seemed. He wasn't a workhorse back by any means, but he carried a season-high 11 times and played a season-high 29 snaps. He picked up 52 yards and forced a whopping number of missed tackles, giving him an average of one missed tackle every three carries this season -- one of the best rates in the league. Mike Gillislee doesn't have a history of fumbling issues, but when he lost his second career fumble Sunday in Jets territory, he sat out almost two full quartersy. With a deep reserve of running backs -- a group that will get deeper whenever Rex Burkhead recovers from his ribs injury -- Gillislee has to know that he can't afford to put the ball on the turf. James White had 45 yards total (22 receiving on four catches), and continues to show he's improved as a runner even if the team doesn't want to use him extensively in that role. He averaged 7.7 yards on his three carries and picked up 12 yards after contact on those plays.
WIDE RECEIVER: C+
Brandin Cooks' 42-yard reception was eye-popping as he dragged his feet inbounds to help set up Rob Gronkowski's two-yard score. He finished with a team-high 93 yards on six grabs. And Danny Amendola was clutch again with two third-down conversions on the team's two second-quarter touchdown drives. But this group's impact on the game was a mixed bag. Chris Hogan had one catch, a drop, and was hit with an offensive pass-interference penalty (as well as a holding call that was declined). As a group they had three drops, and Cooks picked up an offensive pass-interference call of his own. Usually it's Rob Gronkowski being hit with those flags, but receivers have had an issue selling pick plays. There's a fine line between getting in the way and running directly into a defender . . . Phillip Dorsett was held without a catch on three targets, and he admitted on Monday that he should have been able to do a better job of breaking up the pass that Buster Skrine picked off deep down the middle of the field.
TIGHT END: A-
What a difference a healthy Rob Gronkowski makes. One week after the Pats had trouble converting drives into touchdowns (1-for-3 in the red zone against Tampa Bay), Gronk caught six passes for 83 yards and scored twice. His got some help in the form of a Chris Hogan pick on his 33-yard score, but his speed to the end zone showed there were few if any lingering issues with his injured thigh. Mix in a long defensive pass-interference call that put the Patriots at the goal line for Dion Lewis' touchdown, and a catch where Gronkowski "Mossed" Darron Lee for 25 yards, and you had the makings of a strong overall day. Plus, his run blocking was excellent at times, like when he opened up a lane for a nine-yard draw for James White late in the second quarter. Dwayne Allen played six snaps offensively. Jacob Hollister played one. Allen played 50 in Gronkowski's absence in Week 5 and struggled. He still does not have a catch, and he hasn't seen a target in two weeks. There were times on Sunday when the Patriots opted to bring in backup tackle LaAdrian Waddle in running situations, kicking Nate Solder to tight end, and leaving Allen on the sidelines.
OFFENSIVE LINE: A-
Even after a division win on the road, compliments from Bill Belichick can be hard to come by. Yet that's what the offensive line (and tight ends and backs) received on Monday afternoon. "I don’t think," Belichick said, "we had a lot of major issues with pass protection." That's about as good as it gets, which is fitting because this was this unit's best game of the season. Tom Brady was pressured on just 7 of his 38 drop-backs, and he completed passes on four of those. He was hit just four times, and two of those seemed to come as a result of the Jets attacking James White in pass protection. In terms of running the football, Dante Scarnecchia's unit was strong at the point of attack, helping Patriots running backs pick up 118 yards on 25 carries (4.7 yards per carry). It wasn't perfect, of course. Marcus Cannon picked up a holding penalty, and Brady showed off some fancy footwork to avoid Jets defenders at times. But for a group that put its quarterback on pace for a career-high in sacks and hits, holding an opposing defense sackless for one week was a significant step in the right direction.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B+
Bill Belichick said it several times in the 24 hours following his team's victory in Jersey.:The end of the first half didn't exactly go according to plan despite the fact the Patriots scored in the closing seconds. Part of the reason was a missed 47-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski that sliced wide right. He has a natural fade that he favors (when able to place the football where he wants between the hashes for extra points, he aligns on the left hash to give his fade more room to work), but this one slid off the mark. Gostkowski did, however, make three extra points and his only other field-goal attempt. Ryan Allen pinned the Jets deep in their own territory in the first quarter, and his punts generated nothing in the way of returns, helping this group's grade. Jonathan Jones drew a block in the back penalty and finished off another punt return with a belly-to-back suplex that stopped Jeremy Kerley for a loss. More good work in coverage: Brandon Bolden and Brandon King both made strong tackles on kickoffs deep in Jets territory. Joe Cardona was flagged for an early movement before a punt snap -- his second penalty in as many weeks.
DEFENSIVE LINE: B
This is a tough one. On the one hand the Patriots run defense was as good as it has been all year. It allowed just 3.1 yards per carry (including 21 yards on three Josh McCown scrambles) to a Jets team that has relied on the run for much of the season. Even with Bilal Powell out, the assumption was that the Jets would try to rely on their ground attack -- but they couldn't. Malcom Brown was a force in the middle, overpowering blockers one-on-one for three run stuffs and a sack. Lawrence Guy and Adam Butler saw important time inside and held up. Even Alan Branch, who was benched in Week 5, contributed 22 snaps to the effort, coming up with a tackle for a loss. This group picked up a pair of defensive holding calls, but otherwise it was a clean and near-dominant day on the interior. On the edge? Different story. Trey Flowers was solid once again with a quarterback hit and a batted pass, but Patriots rushers had a hard time getting to McCown for most of the day. Credit McCown for using his legs effectively -- Deatrich Wise took the blame after the game for a a 16-yard McCown scramble when Wise got too far up the field on third down -- but moving forward this group will have to do better of forcing athletic quarterbacks to win from the pocket. On a few long Jets completions, the secondary was given the near-impossible task of covering for extended periods of time.
Kyle Van Noy and Dont'a Hightower were closers in this one. Each recorded a sack on the final Jets drive to help secure the win. For Hightower, it was his second clutch late-game sack in the last three weeks. He played a season-high 69 snaps in this one, and his effectiveness late indicated that he's rounding into form after missing most of training camp and two weeks of the regular season with a knee issue. Van Noy had his best game of the year with two sacks -- one came on third down late in the first half, leading to New England's first (failed) hurry-up drill before the break -- and five total pressures. He was also in on a run-stuff with Malcom Brown that forced a punt in the second quarter. This group's grade gets docked thanks to Elandon Roberts' aggressive dive toward the line of scrimmage that left Austin Seferian-Jenkins wide open for the first touchdown of the game, but overall this was a good day for this group.
This one's more difficult than you may think. On the one hand, Patriots defensive backs made game-changing plays in this one: Malcolm Butler's strip of Austin Seferian-Jenkins at the goal line; Butler's interception before the end of the first half that set up the Patriots for their game-tying score; Devin McCourty's interception on fourth down in the third quarter. On the other hand, it was ugly at times in the secondary: Josh McCown threw for 354 yards on 31-of-47 passing; the Jets went 4-for-4 on third down on their first drive of the game, highlighted by explosive gains given up by Butler (23 yards) and Jonathan Jones (30 yards); Butler made an ill-advised gamble in the second that led to a 31-yard touchdown by Jeremy Kerley; Butler lost Jermaine Kearse on a 44-yard gain during which it looked like Kearse ran into Butler's zone while Butler chased a different receiver to the deep middle of the field; the Patriots allowed a 32-yard pickup when McCown beat a fourth-down corner blitz late in the fourth. Forcing three turnovers, getting 73 snaps from Johnson Bademosi in emergency duty, and getting some pressure by blitzing Butler (one quarterback hit, one hurry) from his corner spot was enough for the good to outweigh the bad for this group.