Gresh's Grades: Never saw it coming
NEVER SAW IT COMING
I picked the Patriots to win, but I never thought we'd see what we saw. From the opening kickoff, the Pats dominated in all three phases of the game. Credit goes to an aggressive defense that produced turnovers and points, and it makes for a GREAT win. Now hold serve against Buffalo and you can get healthy and allow the genius that is Bill Belichick to have extra time in the lab to cook something up for a home divisional round game.
Better balance throughout the game was a key in this one, with LeGarrette Blount starting the game and running north-south with authority and power. Same for Stevan Ridley late in the game. The passing game took advantage of some good field position, and a revamped offensive line did an outstanding job of keeping Tom Brady clean. It also moved bodies in the run game. Most importantly, they took care of the ball all day long. Credit to Josh McDaniels for staying with the running game for four quarters. Twenty-seven points (which is what the offense delivered) gets you a win most weeks and that's what this group scored. Good job.
The numbers look pedestrian but TB12 was anything but. He managed the game nicely in the second half with a three-possession lead and kept them out of the disastrous play. I also thought, minus the sack by Terrell Suggs where Logan Mankins got whipped, that he showed good trust in the pocket with a new OL around him. He has good chemistry right now with Julian Edelman, who's having a career year. With all the injuries around him it was a nice performance, even though he only threw for 172 yards.
RUNNING BACKS: A
Blount and Ridley ran with purpose, toughness, and they took care of the ball, combining for 120 yards and 2 touchdowns on 31 carries. The pair controlled a drive late in the fourth quarter that delivered a game-clinching touchdown. Shane Vereen still hasn't been turned loose, but did score on great play design with James Develin. Brandon Bolden chipped in as well, making it a great day for this position group.
WIDE RECEIVERS: B+
At the beginning of the year we thought this group would revolve around Danny Amendola, but it's revolving instead around Edelman. If the Pats don't re-sign him, a team like Houston would do well to throw him between Andre Johnson and De'Andre Hopkins. His assignment knowledge is evident, as he has rarely misread a coverage this season. Amendola had the big catch over the middle but wasn't heard from very much after that. Aaron Dobson looked like he hadn't played in a few weeks and I expect he'll be better next week.
TIGHT END: B
Michael Hoomanawanui had a catch. And Matthew Mulligan played. They both faired well in the running game. Not much more to say. They didn't screw up much. Good job.
OFFENSIVE LINE: A-
An outstanding job of moving people off the line of scrimmage all day long. I thought Josh Kline played great at Mankins' spot, and Mankins played very well subbing for the concussed Nate Solder. McDaniels's faith in them was rewarded for four quarters, and the final offensive touchdown drive -- with nine straight runs -- was awesome to watch. They did about as good as one can ask in pass protection given that Mankins was playing in space. Good job, Dante Scarnecchia, in getting 'em ready to play.
An awesome performance from this group, which played aggressively, soundly and opportunistically. The defensive line had consistent push and great rush integrity. The linebackers did a much better job in coverage and tackled very well. And a beat-up secondary rose up, led by Aqib Talib (who wasn't covering tight ends like he was last week). They also produced more points (14) that they gave up (7).
DEFENSIVE LINE: A
Consistent pass rush all night long from the front four. And, yes, the Pats went with a four-man look, rotating interior lineman around both Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones. Tyrod Taylor came in and got some garbage-time rushing yards at the very end of the game, but this group did a great job of not allowing many rush lanes and was better with not allowing yards after contact. They stepped up in a big way.
No complaints this week about Dont'a Hightower. His tip on Baltimore's second possession led to the first Logan Ryan interception, as he did a nice job of reading the route in space and helping out. Brandon Spikes was stout at the point of attack and his run blitzes were effective as he got in the backfield numerous times. I also thought Jaime Collins played well when he was out there and they used him a bunch in coverage. Collins is an ascending player who they will use more and more.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: A
They battled through injury before and during the game as Steve Gregory and Devin McCourty were hurt. Duron Harmon came in and played well in limited snaps, and Ryan played exceptionally well with two interceptions. There's something to be said for being around the ball when thrown his way. They didn't want to use Alfonzo Dennard, but had to when others got injured. This group rallied around each other and did the job, holding the Baltimore WR's to zero touchdowns and under 150 yards.
IT AIN'T BROKE . . .
1) The running game. Even with OL playing out of position. | 2) Turnover ratio. They win it, they usually win the game. | 3) Mental toughness.
. . . BUT IT NEEDS FIXING
1) Third-down offense. Not a good night. | 2) Need more than Edelman. Someone has to step up in the passing game. | 3) Health. If Cincy & Indy lose before the Pats kick off, I’d consider sitting Talib Sunday against Buffalo. | 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.