Up and down plays make grading this one a bear

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Up and down plays make grading this one a bear

CHICAGO -- There was good. There was bad. There was ugly. There was spectacular. There was more ugly. 

Yup. This game was a grader's worst nightmare. 

Take what the Patriots did against the Bears in the kicking game as an example. 

On the one hand, there was Cordarrelle Patterson's 95-yard return for a touchdown and Dont'a Hightower's punt block. Those are "A" grades in anyone's system. 

On the other hand, there was Patterson's fumble, Julian Edelman's muffed punt, a delay of game on a kickoff, a facemask penalty on the opening kick of the second half and a botched punt late in the fourth quarter. 

Woof. So where does the grade end up? What about offensively and defensively, where a multitude of plays fell on both ends of the grading spectrum? Let's find out.

Tom Brady and the Patriots offense received a boost from the kicking game, limiting their time on the field. They scored four times on 10 drives. Brady, as Brock Osweiler did one week prior against the Bears, made heavy use of the short passing game, throwing just two passes that traveled 20 yards or more in the air -- both of which fell incomplete. Twenty-seven of his 34 aimed passes were thrown within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage or behind the line. Brady's back-shoulder throw to Gordon and his slant completion to Gordon at the end of the first quarter were both accurate strikes, but his third-down throw to Gordon (behind his target) and his interception (a floater that was ripped from James Develin) were ones he'd certainly like to have back. On the first drive of the second half, Brady also didn't seem to be aware of a free blitzing Roquan Smith. Neither did the offensive line. That ended the drive. 

On a day when no player seemed exempt from making mistakes, James White continued to be as steady a player as the Patriots have. He torched Leonard Floyd and an injured Khalil Mack, as he should, whenever matched up with them in the passing game. Floyd had no chance on White's first score. And his second touchdown was a well-designed play that had him motion in from a flexed out position. That's something he does all the time, whether Brady is checking from a pass to a run, whether the offense needs additional pass-protection, or whether Brady needs a man-or-zone indicator. On the touchdown play, though, White jogged in and then hit turbo as the ball was being snapped. The Bears, likely assuming White was parking it in the backfield, couldn't catch up and he had an easy path to the end zone. White also was solid as a between-the-tackles runner with Sony Michel out, running a career-high 11 times for 40 yards and protecting the football as he often does (zero career regular-season fumbles). He had one second-half run where he made a cut that almost made Danny Trevathan fall down as he cut off White's initial hole. White did have one drop and he bobbled a direct snap near the goal line. Kenjon Barner chipped in with 10 carries, almost taking on a "big-back" type of role, for 36 yards to give White a blow. Michel ran well before his injury on the first play of the second quarter. Hard to dock this grade too much for his fumble, but have to dock it a tick. Still, he appeared to drop the ball out of sheer pain. 

Josh Gordon's back-shoulder grab and 55-yard catch-and-run were highlights for this group, with Gordon continuing to prove that he can make contested catches (as he did on the fourth-down, back-shoulder play) and give consistent effort after the catch (as he did to break a tackle on the 55-yarder). Gordon may find himself on the hill behind the Patriots practice fields to up his conditioning level after he ran out of gas on the long catch-and-run, though. Gordon also had a pair of drops that didn't help this grade. Chris Hogan came alive in the second half and finished with six grabs on seven targets for 63 yards, fighting through a face mask penalty for additional yardage on one grab. Julian Edelman had five catches for 36 yards and a score on eight targets and was held without a catch in the second half on one target. His ability to run hard after the catch, following the block of Hogan, on his touchdown helped bump this grade to where it ended up. 

Dwayne Allen was used extensively (55 snaps) as the only available tight end Sunday, but he made little-to-no impact. It's hard for the Patriots to have Allen on the field in passing situations because he's more of a blocking option, but the Patriots still ran him on routes on 25 different occasions. He did not see a target. In the running game, there wasn't much that jumped off the screen in terms of Allen's ability to clear space for backs. He helped a Michel run get blown up for no gain at the end of the first quarter. The Patriots could use Rob Gronkowski, their best receiving and blocking tight end, back in the fold as soon as possible. James Develin is included in this group and was unable to haul in what became Brady's fourth-quarter interception. Adrian Amos knocked it loose from Develin's grasp before it fell into the arms of Kyle Fuller. 

It wasn't a perfect day, but it was very good against a defense whose strength was up front. Going up against Mack at less than 100 percent because of an ankle injury helped, but there were other talented players to deal with in the trenches and the Patriots limited the Bears to six hurries, two hits and a sack. The hit was a result of the Patriots not getting the football out quickly enough -- on a screen, David Andrews was supposed to let the Bears tackle get up the field, but he got there more quickly than the Patriots anticipated. The sack seemed to be a result of a lack of awareness by both Brady and LaAdrian Waddle, allowing Roquan Smith to get into the backfield unimpeded. 

This is what you call riding the fence, friends. Hard to do much else in this situation. They had two explosive, game-changing plays. Joe Judge's unit left its mark on the game in a positive way, as Matthew Slater explained afterward. But there were still far too many mistakes here to raise the grade above this level. Delay of game on a kickoff? Even if we give Bill Belichick the benefit of the doubt -- did he ask for that flag in order to give his specialists a rest? -- there were other gaffes that have no excuse. The facemask penalty from Nate Ebner was a killer. Edelman's muff was a near disaster. Patterson's fumble was a disaster. Keion Crossen was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct not getting back in bounds quickly enough on a punt coverage snap. As strong as the two scoring plays were for the Patriots in the kicking game, plenty to clean up here.

The Patriots generated all kinds of pressure Sunday, knowing they could force Mitchell Trubisky into some bad decisions if they made him uncomfortable and Trey Flowers led the way. He finished with six pressures and a pass breakup and Danny Shelton wasn't far behind with four pressures. Adrian Clayborn notched his first sack of the season, and Deatrich Wise picked up another sack despite playing through knee and ankle issues that made him a game-time decision. He played just 10 snaps overall. The issues here were when the Patriots got pressure, they didn't always have every gap covered. That was an issue for the entire front seven, but a fair amount of the blame falls on the big bodies up front. Trubisky ended up scrambling for 81 yards and a touchdown on six carries. We detailed the Patriots failures there in this story.

This unit was part of the pass-rush on Sunday as well, with Dont'a Hightower (one pressure, one PBU), Kyle Van Noy (four pressures) and Elandon Roberts (one hit) all contributing to bothering Trubisky. Van Noy showed up against the run with one of the better edge-sets of the season on Chicago's second drive of the game, stuffing Tarik Cohen for a loss of three. Van Noy also served as an effective spy late in the first half, which caused one to wonder why the Patriots weren't willing to sacrifice a body in coverage or on the rush simply to try to limit what Trubisky could do with his legs. Hightower and Roberts each had a run-game stuff as well. Roberts dropped a pick in the end zone that would've wiped points off the board for the Bears, helping dock this grade to where it ended up. 

Like the special-teams unit, though not quite as extreme as what happened there, there was some very good and some very ugly here. Stephon Gilmore continues to be a lock-down man-to-man corner and should in all likelihood be discussed as one of the best in football at the moment. Allen Robinson wasn't 100 percent after dealing with a groin injury all week, but Gilmore held him to no catches on four targets (Allen dropped one). On five targets in the game, Gilmore allowed one catch for eight yards and just two yards after the catch. He also made an aggressive tackle in the run game on third down early in the second quarter. Gilmore also dropped a pick in the game, which was the source of some frustration for him afterward. Patrick Chung had one pass-breakup and both Jonathan Jones and JC Jackson chipped in with big-time interceptions. It was fascinating to see the easy picks the Patriots couldn't come up with -- Trubisky was asking for turnovers on a handful of plays -- and then Jones and Jackson ended up with two high degree of difficulty picks in critical spots. The ugly? Jackson was flagged for pass interference and twice on hands-to-the-face calls -- one of which came on a fourth down to extend a Bears drive. Duron Harmon and Jason McCourty also picked up holding penalties. Jones was effective as a blitzer, getting a hit on Trubisky at one point, but secondary blitzes (like Eric Rowe's early in the third quarter) helped open up big running lanes for Trubisky when there was no contain. The secondary helped maintain its middle-of-the-pack grade by keeping Kevin White out of the end zone on the game's last play, with Harmon and both McCourty brothers dragging him down with time expired. 

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Here's why a lot of Patriots recent draft picks have Senior Bowl experience

Here's why a lot of Patriots recent draft picks have Senior Bowl experience

Bill Belichick was there. Josh McDaniels was there. The Patriots had a large contingent down in Mobile, Ala. for this week's Senior Bowl practices (the game will air Saturday on NFL Network at 2:30 p.m.), which should come as no surprise.

Just look at how the Patriots have drafted of late. 

In 2019, they selected Jarrett Stidham, Byron Cowart and Jake Bailey -- all of whom participated in the Senior Bowl. They also signed undrafted rookie Jakobi Meyers, who played in the game. 

In 2018, they grabbed Isaiah Wynn in the first round, Duke Dawson, Ja'Whaun Bentley and Braxton Berrios after they'd competed in the Senior Bowl.

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Three of their four draft picks from 2017, plus two undrafted rookies, were in the Senior Bowl. 

From 2013-16, they brought aboard 20 Senior Bowl participants as rookies.

"The great thing about the Senior Bowl is that you're seeing some of the best players," Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio said last spring. 

"There have actually been some underclassmen who have been incorporated into that mix. So you're seeing them against good competition and it's a different dynamic or different situation that they've been placed in. You're kind of taking them out of their environment that they've been in and kind of giving them something new and seeing how they handle it against good people."

The small-school players -- or the players who are asked to do something they didn't do much as collegians -- are the ones who have an opportunity to really land on radars during Senior Bowl work. For the Patriots, who constantly harp on the benefit of having seen players work against great competition on a regular basis when they hail from an SEC program, seeing some of the best in the country work against one another matters.

"It’s one thing if they do it against a lower-level team," Caserio said back in 2016, when asked about the Senior Bowl. "I mean, look, not all teams are created equal. Not all conferences are created equal. That’s just a fact. We can’t control that. So when you can see them actually play against really good players or good players that are at a comparable level of competition that they’re going to see every Sunday, that has to be a part of [the evaluation], no question."

The next year, the Patriots took two Senior Bowlers from smaller programs: Youngstown State's Derek Rivers and Troy's Antonio Garcia. 

"Where [the Senior Bowl] probably helps a little bit is players on a lower level that maybe haven’t competed against the same level of competition," Caserio said back in 2017. "Obviously, they’re making a big jump. . . Garcia was down there. That’s going to be a big jump in competition because this is what they’re going to be playing against. 

"With all due respect to whatever conference Youngstown State is in, there’s not a lot of NFL players in that conference. I mean, that’s just the way that it is. You’re going to have to see him against NFL competition, which the Senior Bowl is usually a pretty good indication of that because you’re talking about the top seniors in the country. It’s a part of the process. You’re not making a decision based off of that, but maybe a player who doesn’t have as much experience against that level, you’re going to see how he fares, and then you just kind of continue to move forward."

Some small-school prospects who may have caught Belichick's eye this week? 

Dayton tight end Adam Trautman was already considered one of the better tight ends in the draft class and seemed to only help his stock.

Safety Kyle Dugger -- who hails from Division II Lenoir-Rhyne University -- impressed. Ditto for Division III offensive lineman Ben Bartch out of Saint John's, who saw rushers from Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, Ole Miss and other high-end programs and reportedly held his own.

Perhaps the most recent success story out of Senior Bowl week for the Patriots wasn't with a small-school prospect, though. It might've been with Shaq Mason, a guard coming out of a run-heavy system at Georgia Tech. The Patriots simply hadn't seen him do much in the way of pass protection for the Yellow Jackets.

But Mason got to the Senior Bowl, took to the coaching he received, and the Patriots took notice. 

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"The thing I’ll say about Shaq," Belichick said after drafting Mason in 2015, "is just watching him at the Senior Bowl, I mean it was only one week, but he made a huge improvement just in those, whatever it was, four or five practices, whatever it was down there. His stance is different. You could see each day progressively how he was taking to the coaching down there and his footwork and his hand placement and his body position. I know it was basic. It wasn’t like it was a big scheme thing at the Senior Bowl, but just doing things on a daily basis better than the day before, looking more comfortable doing them. And it was different than what they did at Georgia Tech."

Big school. Small school. Everyone had something to gain in Mobile this week. And that includes the Patriots. That's why -- with more time off this year than recent years -- they were well represented down there.


NFL Rumors: Patriots hiring ex-Rams assistant offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch

NFL Rumors: Patriots hiring ex-Rams assistant offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch

The New England Patriots reportedly have made an addition to their coaching staff.

According to Jim McBride of The Boston Globe, they've hired ex-Los Angeles Rams assistant offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch.

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Fisch's official role with the Patriots offense is to be determined. But now that there's an opening at wide receivers coach with Joe Judge joining the New York Giants, Fisch could be a candidate for the job.

He brings plenty of experience to the table having coached Denver Broncos wide receivers in 2008 and Michigan receivers from 2015-16. Fisch also coached Seattle Seahawks quarterbacks in 2010 and was the Jacksonville Jaguars' offensive coordinator from 2013-14.