Patriots

Patriots midseason awards: Part Two

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Patriots midseason awards: Part Two

The season is halfway over and the Patriots are on their bye week, so what better time for midseason superlatives? In the second of a three-part series, Phil Perry and Tom E. Curran and Mike Giardi hand out some half-year hardware.

PART ONE: Best and worst on-field happenings| PART THREE: What's worked . . . and what hasn't

MVP

PHIL PERRY: Tom Brady If you're arguably the league's MVP through eight games, you're necessarily your own team's MVP through the same span, correct? Brady's 2,541 passing yards are more than anyone else's. He's tied for third in the league in yards per attempt and touchdown passes, and he's second in quarterback rating. This is a no-doubter.  

 

TOM E. CURRAN: Tom Brady. Kinda easy. He’s got 16 touchdowns and two picks. He played out of his mind against New Orleans, did all he could in the loss against Carolina and snatched victory from defeat against the Texans. The thrashing he took for the first five games would have left any other quarterback on the sidelines.

 


BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

PHIL PERRY:  Stephon Gilmore. The early season breakdowns in the Patriots secondary oftentimes had multiple offenders involved. The highest-paid corner on the team was consistently among them. That he's now missed the last three weeks may not be his fault, but it hasn't made his first half-season with the Patriots any less disappointing.

 

TOM E. CURRAN: Stephon Gilmore. So much goes into a 60-minute game that it’s hard to lay blame at any one player’s feet for a loss, but Gilmore’s hands-to-the-face drive extender against Carolina -- and his play at other junctures in that game -- make him an exception. He’ll be better. But he’s been bad.

 

MIKE GIARDI: For a team that’s 6-2, there are more candidates than you would expect. Malcolm Butler hasn’t been himself for a better part of the year, Dont’a Hightower barely played before a season-ending surgery, Alan Branch was sloth-like prior to his benching  . . . and remember Kony Ealy? But for me, it’s obvious. It’s Stephon Gilmore. He looked like a dominant player in training camp. When he got his hands on a receiver, forgettaboutit. But for the first four weeks of the season, the $31 million dollar man was in the middle of one bad breakdown after another. And just when he gets the opportunity to go head-to-head with a wideout (Mike Evans, Tampa), an injury pops up and we haven’t seen the 27-year-old for weeks. This is -- at the very least -- a two year commitment to Gilmore. It has to work. It still can. But to this point, disappointing is exactly what this relationship/performance has been.


UNSUNG HERO

PHIL PERRY: Trey Flowers. He's out there for almost every snap (91 percent). He's been hobbled at times. Without him, the pass rush would be decimated. The numbers aren't great (3.5 sacks), but the effort is. He's probably the front seven's most indispensable player at the moment.

 

TOM E. CURRAN: James White. He’s caught 43 of the 53 passes that have come his way and he’s carried 98 times. He -- along with Danny Amendola -- is Brady's security blanket since Julian Edelman’s gone down. Nineteen of his catches have gone for first downs, and nine of those catches were on third down.

 

MIKE GIARDI: Johnson Bademosi. Who the hell saw this coming? He’s a special-teams guy. That’s really all he’s ever been. But not here, not now. Bademosi has filled in for the injured Stephon Gilmore and performed at a good, solid level. Is it a coincidence that his insertion into the lineup has helped stabilize a group that had been gashed for one big play after another through the first month of the season? Perhaps, but Bademosi deserves credit for being a good communicator, a sound technician and good tackler.  Bademosi likes to remind us that he played corner last year for Detroit. It was 253 snaps and it apparently wasn’t good enough to convince the Lions to keep him. Instead, they swapped him for a late-round pick and it’s one of the best moves Bill Belichick has made this year. 


MOST IMPROVED

PHIL PERRY: Kyle Van Noy. What a difference a year makes. After coming in from Detroit, he had to learn a new language and two different roles since he'd be coming off the edge and playing off the line if he could handle it. He's since turned himself into a full-time player who has taken on Dont'a Hightower's hybrid role, and teammates call him a leader of the defense.

 

TOM E. CURRAN: Rob Gronkowski. He looks faster. He looks more agile. He remains a potent blocker even though he’s altered his training. He was already great production-wise, but the fluid way he’s moving as opposed to the bound-up, robotic Gronk we’d seen is worth noting.

 

MIKE GIARDI: I struggled with this one. I’m not sure any player has made a quality leap from last season to this season. In fact, you could argue a bunch a guys have underperformed. I did a deep roster dig and decided LaAdrian Waddle is my choice. The swing tackle got praise from Belichick during the preseason even though it didn’t appear as if he was having a good camp. But when pressed into duty this season, Waddle hasn’t been embarrassed. In fact, his work iN the second half of Sunday’s game against the Chargers was not talked about enough. Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa didn’t ruin the game and Waddle played a part in that.

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Preseason action "always beneficial for Rob Gronkowski, but will he play Friday?

Preseason action "always beneficial for Rob Gronkowski, but will he play Friday?

FOXBORO -- When there was an obsession over Patriots workloads earlier in camp, it felt for some reason like a new phenomenon. And maybe it was as it related to Tom Brady. But he's 41 now. He took more time off in the spring than he's used to. His reps in certain practices were obviously scaled back. 

The reaction was predictable.  

But when it comes to dissecting workloads and overanalyzing snap counts, that's par for the course when it comes to Rob Gronkowski. The game's top tight end has also long been one of its most injury-prone, making his summertime participation in Patriots practices and preseason games one of the most intriguing parts of camp on a year-in, year-out basis. 

Though Gronkowski finished last season contemplating retirement, he also finished it relatively healthy. That means there's no reading into how well he's cutting or planting or making mid-air adjustments to back-shoulder throws in practice in July and August. 

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Gronkowski's preseason game snap counts can always generate discussion, however. And he helped contribute to the chatter on Sunday when he met with reporters at Gillette Stadium and was asked if he found it to be beneficial when he saw playing time in exhibition games No. 2 and 3 last year.

"I mean, it’s always beneficial whenever you go out there in the preseason," he said. "You want to go out there, get the timing down, get some live reps. So, just going to prepare like a normal game this week like I’m playing, and then it’s up to the coaches."

That Gronkowski played at all last preseason was a veer from the norm for him. The 46 snaps he saw (14 against the Texans, 32 against the Lions) were his first preseason plays since 2012. He ended up being named a First Team All-Pro and helping his team to the Super Bowl. His argument, then, that "it's always beneficial" to play in preseason games may have some merit. 

But in reality, his preseason workload has been a less-than-stellar gauge for how his season will play out. Consider this. Gronkowski didn't see time in any preseason games in 2013, 2014, 2015 or 2016. Those seasons ended in a torn ACL, a Super Bowl title and an All-Pro nod, an AFC Championship appearance and an All-Pro nod, and back surgery.

Had it not been for hellacious hits from TJ Ward and Earl Thomas, Gronkowski might've been a four-time All-Pro in that four-year stretch of no preseason work. 

Good with preseason snaps. Good without them. 

The Patriots will account for myriad inputs when determining how much Gronkowski should play this preseason, or if he should play at all. The number of snaps he played last season -- his 1,078, including playoffs, were more than any tight end last season -- are part of the equation. How he's responded to the work given in camp thus far could play a role as well. 

If he's going to see any time, odds are it would be this week against the Panthers. But because he played as much as he did last season, because he's not returning from an injury and there's not as much "rust" to shake off as there might've been last summer, it'd come as no surprise if Gronkowski remained on the sidelines Friday night in Charlotte. 

Even if Gronkowski wants to go, the risk and reward of playing him just doesn't seem to add up for the Patriots. If timing is the big benefit . . . well, even Gronkowski admitted his timing with Brady was pretty good if not perfect.

"I mean, I would say we’ve got some good chemistry over the years, but we’re always working on it," he said. "We’re always looking to improve, and we’re always looking to get better."

But does improvement require preseason game action? History would suggest it does not.

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