Gresh's Grades: Another wild comeback win
CAN'T COUNT 'EM OUT
I don't know how they did it, but they did it. Plain and simple, they played like crap and found a way to pull it out. The slow starts are killing the Patriots and shrinking their margin for error, but -- thanks to some late offensive execution and an onside kick -- they were able to come back and beat the Browns. With these injuries -- and the wounds they continually inflict upon themselves -- 10-3 is an amazing record. You just can't ever give up on this group.
They didn't wake up until Rob Gronkowski was knocked out of the game, and then it was the Shane Vereen show. Usually in this space you will hear me complain about the lack of a run game, but this week they had no choice; trailing the entire game, they had to huck it 52 times to win. The O-line was inconsistent, the QB turned it over, and they were average at best on third down. But when it counted, they came through.
If my math is right, Tom Brady was 21-for-27 (minus the spike to stop the clock) after his fumble on the play after Gronk was injured. He used Vereen in the matchup game beautifully and got much better protection in the fourth quarter, allowing him to throw with zip on the ball. His interception in the first half was inexcusable for a player of his caliber, a rare mortal moment. Right now you just want the ball in his hands last if the game is close. Grade may be considered harsh, since his ability to close out games is amazing.
RUNNING BACKS: A
While the run game wasn't magnificent by any stretch, LeGarrette Blount ran with conviction on limited attempts. To me, Stevan Ridley was visibly worried about carrying the ball by the attention he paid it, instead of just ripping it up in there like he usually does. Put two hands on the ball early: We need the natural running Ridley. Vereen has a chance to be Matt Forte if he would get 60 snaps, but that's not going to happen in New England. Still, he displays good, hard goal-line running, and his ability to run routes and catch the ball is better than Kevin Faulk's. That's saying something.
WIDE RECEIVERS: C
This group made two touchdown catches in the final minutes to elevate this grade, but to me they were average. Julian Edelman is on his way to a 100-catch season, which is as amazing as it is improbable. He did a nice job rubbing out the cover man who had Danny Amendola on the game-winning touchdown. Amendola just doesn't seem right for some reason. I don't see the burst in his game that were used to. Josh Boyce faired well, but is just green. Time for them to all step up.
TIGHT ENDS: I
Gronk played well but not great in the first half. The injury emphasizes how the NFL has taken hitting out of the game and it leads to people torpedoeing guys instead of tackling guys. Unfortunate. Hopefully, Michael Hoomanawanui gets back soon.
OFFENSIVE LINE: C-
Too much pressure the last three weeks. They came through in the clutch, but over the course of the game they were just too leaky. They struggled in the run game against the good Browns front. I know they threw it 52 times and that puts a ton of pressure on these guys, but they have to be more stout in the interior asap.
391 yards of Jason Campbell just isn't acceptable, and I don't care how many injuries you have. He was only sacked once. The Pats were respectable against the run because the reverse to Josh Gordon doesn't bother me and that was a massive chunk of their rushing yards. But they couldn't handle the tight end consistently and forced no turnovers. They have to figure out how to get pressure consistently to win in the postseason.
DEFENSIVE LINE: B-
It was the lack of consistent pressure on Campbell that lowers this grade. I thought they did a good job in the non-Gordon/Campbell run game. Sealver Siliga was more than competitive at NG and Chandler Jones is drawing more and more attention each week, which the rest of the group can play off. I liked this group's effort as well.
Average is the word that comes to mind. Brandon Spikes was good in the run game but didn't do anything spectacular. Dont'a Hightower played better in both run and pass and was physical in the passing game, but there were some times in play action that I thought he could've been better with feet and recognition. Waiting for one of them to step up with something special. Jaime Collins is coming on in a big way and is playing well for a rookie. The game seems to be slowing down for him.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: F
Aqib Talib got beat too often and the 80-yarder showed he doesn't have high end speed if beaten by a step or two. And the safeties played their part in not covering Jordan Cameron, including twice in the same drive that led to the late fourth-quarter touchdown we all thought sealed the game away. This group needs some health quickly.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A+
Stephen Gostkowski is proving to be a great draft pick because he is an All-Pro player who hit a masterful onside kick. And no one is complaining anymore about Ryan Allen. Boyce provides some spark in the kick return game. No more Blount, please.
IT AIN'T BROKE...
1) Special teams. The third phase has been this team's best phase the last two weeks. | 2) Close and late. This team has massive guts. | 3) Coaching. But now it's on Bill Belichick to will this team as far as he can.
...BUT IT NEEDS FIXING
1) Slow starts. I think I wrote this last week as well . . . | 2) O-Line. They can be and have to be better. | 3) Better tackling angles. Watch the Gary Barnidge TD and check out Devin McCourty. | 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.