Perry's Report Card: Brady's brilliance carries Patriots over Jets
Brady's brilliance carries Patriots over Jets
The Jets came to Gillette Stadium with a brand new team. They had a new coach, a new quarterback, a new No. 1 wide receiver and a new secondary. But what transpired on Sunday was incredibly familiar for anyone who has paid attention to this rivalry. It was a close game. It was a "dog fight" as the Patriots called it after their 30-23 win. But it was a contest that, in the end, came down to one thing. One team had Tom Brady. The other didn't.
When the Patriots knew that running back Dion Lewis was going to be out for the game due to an abdominal injury, they started to scramble. Though they had a dependable backup for that role in James White, they added offensive packages to their game plan that would allow them to spread out the blitz-happy Jets defense without Lewis, who has had success lined up was a wide receiver over the course of this season. The result of their last-minute preparations was what the world saw when offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels trotted out four receivers and one tight end 11 times during their two fourth-quarter touchown drives. Despite dealing with a plethora of injuries on their offensive line, and despite all but ignoring their running game, the Patriots put up 30 points on the top scoring defense in the league thanks to their ability to adapt at a moment's notice.
Brady earns the highest of marks after going 14-for-17 for 150 yards and two touchdowns in the final 15 minutes, giving the Patriots their first fourth-quarter comeback win of the season. It was the 36th such win of Brady's career. Though his receivers dealt with drops throughout the course of the day, Brady still threw for 355 yards against one of the best passing defenses in the league, giving him 68 career 300-yard games. (Only Peyton Manning and Drew Brees have more.) That he led the team in rushing -- 15 yards, one touchdown -- for the first time in his career was merely icing on top to what was a brilliant performance.
TIGHT END: A-
Any time Rob Gronkowski has a career day, it's going to raise a few eyebrows. His 11 catches were a career-high, and his fourth quarter score sealed the team's sixth win of the season. Though he had only stayed in to pass block 20 times in five games before Sunday, he did it 11 times against the Jets stout front and was solid, allowing one quarterback hurry. Scott Chandler played in only seven snaps, but he caught both passes thrown his way for 34 yards, including a 26-yard jump ball down the sideline. Michael Williams, who saw 15 snaps, actually ran more routes than Chandler did (nine) and had one catch over the middle for four yards.
Danny Amendola's performance helped keep this grade as a passable one. For the second consecutive game, he was Brady's most dependable receiver, making eight catches for 86 yards and a touchdown. He was at his best late, when he snared the go-ahead touchdown pass in the tightest of windows and then kept the chains moving with a third-and-10 catch in Jets territory just before the two-minute warning to help set up Gronkowski's score. Julian Edelman's fourth-quarter catch on a third-and-17 play also can't be ignored as his crisp route and sliding grab kept alive the Patriots go-ahead drive. The drops were plentiful, though. Brandon LaFell had six of his own in his rusty return to the field off of PUP, and Edelman let a third-quarter touchdown -- with Darrelle Revis in coverage -- bounce off of his hands. Patriots coach Bill Belichick often says receivers have two jobs: Get open and catch the ball. They'll surely be working on the second part before taking on the Dolphins this Thursday.
RUNNING BACK: C
This was nearly a grade of "incomplete," but the two active Patriots running backs -- White (43 of 67 snaps) and LeGarrette Blount (8 snaps) -- got just enough work to make their day relevant. They had five carries for a total of one yard, but White also saw five targets in the passing game, catching three for 26 yards. White also had a drop and a goal-line carry where he appeared to have enough daylight on the outside to score but was caught from behind. Where White was most effective was as a pass-protector. He stayed in to block 15 times and did not allow a single pressure, according to Pro Football Focus.
OFFENSIVE LINE: B+
The Patriots went into the game with just six offensive linemen, activating captain Ryan Wendell for the first time all season as a backup. Sebastian Vollmer got his first start at left tackle since 2009 and while he gave up a sack, he performed solidly in that role. Cameron Fleming had his difficulties at the right tackle spot, giving up a sack himself, but the Patriots gave him help when he needed it and got by. Left guard Josh Kline, center David Andrews and right guard Tre' Jackson all allowed multiple hurries, but that's to be expected against a line that includes three former first-round picks in Muhammad Wilkerson, Sheldon Richardson and rookie Leonard Williams. Wendell saw one snap as a fullback as Sunday's starting five went wire-to-wire.
The Patriots accomplished their goals of limiting their opponent's best offensive weapons. They slowed running back Chris Ivory (who appeared to be dealing with a hamstring injury) and kept top wideout Brandon Marshall from making any game-breaking plays. There was the occasional breakdown in the secondary when tracking Eric Decker, and Matt Patricia's group had some trouble getting off the field on third down, but it was an all-around solid performance against a much improved Jets offense.
DEFENSIVE LINE: B+
The Patriots loaded box and went heavy along their defensive front with the aim of keeping Ivory in check. With Malcom Brown leading the interior linemen in defensive snaps (35) as well as a solid performance from Alan Branch (32 snaps), they did just that. Ivory finished the game averaging just 2.4 yards per carry. Brown has made significant strides in terms of his ability to play in the Patriots two-gap scheme after playing primarily one-gap techniques at Texas. That he was as trusted as he was against the Jets sturdy offensive line bodes well for the rookie first-rounder's role going forward. The Patriots got 10 quarterback hurries from their linemen -- including three each from Chandler Jones, who had an early strip sack, and Dominique Easley. They also got for pass breakups from Rob Ninkovich, who did an excellent job of reading routes out of the backfield and anticipating quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick's throws to swat them down.
Dont'a Hightower missed New England's Week 6 game against the Colts due to a ribs injury he suffered the week prior, but he showed absolutely no limitations versus the Jets. In one of his best games as a pro, Hightower appeared nearly unblockable. He made 10 tackles and had seven quarterback hurries -- a career high. Jamie Collins was a force as well, playing every defensive snap and notching his fifth sack of the season. Jerod Mayo saw one snap in the game, a false start by the Jets.
The Patriots game plan in coverage was a similar one to what they featured last year when Revis was in the mix: Take away an opponent's No. 1 option with two players, and cover the No. 2 option with a No. 1 corner. That's exactly what they did. Logan Ryan and Devin McCourty combined to hold Marshall to four catches for 67 yards. Malcolm Butler, the team's clear No. 1 cover man, got Eric Decker and had a relatively tough time with Decker's size and savvy. He finished with six grabs for 94 yards. Otherwise, the Patriots were solid in the secondary. Patrick Chung made his usual contributions in the running game and easily handled his duties on tight end Jeff Cumberland. Undrafted rookie Justin Coleman saw a season-high 53 snaps, and Belichick credited him with making one of the biggest defensive plays of the game when he broke up a long third-down attempt to rookie wideout Devin Smith down the left sideline in the fourth quarter.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B+
Stephen Gostkowski was solid yet again, blasting a 46-yard field goal and making all three of his tries. He also had five touchbacks when kicking off. All three of Ryan Allen's punts landed inside the Jets 20, helping the Patriots in the field-position battle. Perhaps one of the best signs for the Patriots in the kicking game this week was that special teams captain Matthew Slater played and played well. He left the Colts game with what appeared to be a serious knee injury.