Gresh’s Grades: Evaluating more than one bad call
A game marred in controversy because of the way it ended. The defense played as well as it could have, given the personnel on the field, and the offense proved it can run the ball and score some points even when the opposition plays keepaway. The Pats were robbed of a chance to finish their fourth-quarter comeback; pass interference should’ve been called in the end zone, and the Pats should have gotten one last play from the 1-yard line. No guarantee they would’ve scored, but to have the opportunity taken away is embarrassing to the NFL.
There were three main plays that lowered this grade: 1) The unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty on Logan Mankins in the second quarter that forced the Pats to settle for three instead of seven; 2) the Stevan Ridley fumble, which really hurt because they got no points out of a very nice drive, and 3) the decision in the fourth quarter to throw the ball and go for a touchdown on third-and-1 with 6:42 left, instead of running a play to get the first down and THEN trying for the TD. They only had seven drives all night and still scored 20 points. They ran the ball well against a front four that was supposed to stifle them. And the timing is coming back to the play-action game.
Going 29-for-40 against that defense is very impressive. It was also evident that having a box full of toys to play with will make a massive difference in Tom Brady's efficiency. His game operation was flawless and he did a nice job of using everyone at his disposal. He also did a nice job of blasting the referee after the non-call. The non-call is also why I didn’t deduct for the interception.
RUNNING BACKS: B
This grade is lowered because of Ridley’s fumble. Other than that, both Ridley and LeGarrette Blount ran hard and decisively. Shane Vereen has the potential to be a Matt Forte-type back if he could only see consistent, No. 1-type playing time. His route running is excellent, though he needed to make that catch on the wheel route in the fourth quarter. James Develin was good, not great, in a limited role.
WIDE RECEIVERS: B+
Kenbrell Thompkins ran some great routes in the play-action game in limited duty. Julian Edelman’s role has really been reduced since everyone has come back. Danny Amendola was banged on at times by the Panthers' 'D', but ran crisp routes and looks healthy. Aaron Dobson has some issues getting off contact. but his communication with TB12 is spot on and he's now the every-week starter.
TIGHT ENDS: A
Rob Gronkowski is looking more and more like the Gronk of old. The touchdown just shows how much of a physical beast he is. I would’ve like to have seen more "acting" on the final play to get the call from the officials, but the guy is a planet player. There’s only one of him walkin' the earth.
OFFENSIVE LINE: B
This grade should be better, but the Mankins penalty and the two sacks marred a really nice performance. They ran the ball right at the Carolina defense -- no draws, no gimmicks -- and ran it well. And the protection was good overall, even in the final few minutes when Carolina knew it was a passing situation. When it comes to aggression, Mankins needs to walk to the line and not step over it. It’s a part of his game and we love the guy, so we take the good with the bad. And Marcus Cannon needs to remember to move his feet, and not leg-whip guys when he doesn’t.
What really made a difference in this game was Cam Newton’s ability to get out of the pocket on third down and make plays with his legs, whether it was from a scramble or a designed play. That’s what really killed them on third downs, as he converted four of their eight for the night. Tackling is becoming an issue as more starters get hurt. A padded practice may be in order to sharpen the tackling knives, so to speak. Given the circumstances, I thought this was a good night for them in a tough, physical game.
DEFENSIVE LINE: B
Fabulous against the run; they didn't let DeAngelo Williams, Mike Tolbert or Jonathan Stewart dictate the game to them. The issue was losing contain on Newton. In situations against quarterbacks like Cam, who aren’t pinpoint passes, you don’t always need to sack him. Keep him in the pocket and force him to stay patient, and eventually he’ll panic. At times they were too overzealous to get to Newton, as the ends came too far up field and gave him a run lane. But still, good work overall.
Brandon Spikes played his best game of the season both against the run and in the rare coverage situation. This was his kind of rough game and he thrived. Dont'a Hightower struggled in space and was below his normal self. Note to Dane Fletcher, whom I blasted last week: Nice job working with Nate Ebner in specialized situations covering Greg Olsen.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: D
Two of the three Carolina WR’s had touchdown catches and one was because of a terrible tackling angle by Kyle Arrington. Not having Aqib Talib in the fourth quarter, and Alfonzo Dennard’s unavailability, really hurt Monday night. Talib looked good but his emotions got the best of him and it hurt the team. I loved, loved, loved, his competitiveness and would rather dial a player back then light the fire. Devin McCourty had some coverage issues with Olsen on his TD. This group needs health now.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A
Wasn’t a massive part of this game. Ryan Allen hit his only punt nicely and did a good job holding for Stephen Gostkowski, who is having a great season. Kickoffs weren’t an issue, even with Ted Ginn returning for the Panthers. Pretty close to a perfect night.
IT AIN'T BROKE...
1) The play-action game. Timing is getting way better. 2) The pass rush. Just needs a fine tuning. 3) The run game. Stop saying they can’t run the ball against teams.
...BUT IT NEEDS FIXING
1) Trusting the run. Run it on third-and-1 in the fourth quarter, Josh. 2) Bodies in the secondary. 3) Controlling emotion. | 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.