Patriots Report Card: Tom Brady, secondary come up short vs. Dolphins
Every game matters. You don’t need me to tell you that. But there are certain games where the stakes are higher than others. And when those come up, the grades need to reflect the weight of the moments in which the players being graded performed.
That’s why some of these grades are as ugly as they are. Because of the stakes. The quarterback hasn’t seen a grade as low as the one he received this week since I started the Report Card in 2015. The secondary, the strength of the team all season, took home its lowest grade after failing to get a stop with a bye week on the line.
There were a handful of successes sprinkled in, but just a heads up: You might want to hold your nose as you flip through these.
Tom Brady insists he's not hurt. But that might make what the Patriots saw from their quarterback on Sunday an even greater concern. We're simply not accustomed to seeing that kind of inaccuracy from Brady when healthy. I noted 11 misfires on his 33 attempts, including throws that were wiped out due to penalties.
His pick-six was the worst offender and a back-breaker, but two red-zone targets — back-to-back throws to N'Keal Harry and Mohamed Sanu — that sailed well out of bounds were killers as well. Brady was sacked once and had plenty of time to throw throughout the afternoon. He simply was off the mark too often.
His best throw was a 50-yarder to Phillip Dorsett he completed down the field with pressure on top of him that helped set up a touchdown. He also made a good short toss under heavy pressure to start the fourth-quarter go-ahead drive. He hit Sanu over the middle for 22 yards a few plays later that set up James White's screen-pass touchdown.
RUNNING BACK: B+
Hard to quibble with anything this group provided, outside of one pressure allowed by Sony Michel — and perhaps a bad route by Michel that led to some crowding with Julian Edelman on Brady's pick-six.
Michel finished with 4.1 yards per carry and had 49 yards after contact, forcing four missed tackles. Rex Burkhead forced three missed tackles of his own, including two on a 14-yard run, and averaged eight yards per attempt. James White caught all three of his targets for 33 yards and a score.
They didn't always have opportunities to capitalize on targets that were poorly placed, but Mohamed Sanu continues to have issues with his hands as he dropped a pass. Sanu, who has not been able to get back on track after an ankle injury in Week 11 against the Eagles, had three catches for 35 yards on five targets.
The Patriots clearly appeared to be limiting Julian Edelman, despite the fact that he played the majority of the snaps. He didn't start and caught three of six targets for 26 yards. Phillip Dorsett had his hands on one Brady pass — a pass that looked like he could've worked back toward more aggressively — that fell incomplete. N'Keal Harry appeared to stop running on a long ball sent in his direction on the game's final desperation drive. He caught three of seven targets, and nearly caught a fourth, but could not get a second foot down in bounds inside the end zone.
TIGHT END: B-
Elandon Roberts is included in this group as a fullback, and his touchdown catch was one of the best individual offensive efforts on the day. He made a lunging catch on an inaccurate Brady pass that allowed a defender to get into the play. Then he made that defender miss by breaking a tackle.
The run blocking from Ben Watson and Matt LaCosse was fairly solid, but they were silent in the passing game. They played 78 snaps combined and Watson finished with the only catch between them for four yards. Watson was also penalized twice, knocking this grade down.
OFFENSIVE LINE: A-
Can't say the Patriots couldn't run it. They averaged 5.0 yards per carry.
And you can't say Tom Brady wasn't protected. Former Patriots pass-rusher Trent Harris worked around Marcus Cannon for a sack, but the other four Patriots linemen feasted against the league's worst pass-rush unit. They were responsible for two pressures in the game. Shaq Mason threw a textbook block on the screen that resulted in a James White touchdown.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A-
Matthew Slater was right where he needed to be — how many times have we said that over the last decade? — in order to down a beauty of a punt by Jake Bailey down inside the 5-yard line.
Bailey was tremendous yet again, knocking three of his four punts inside the 20 and allowing only seven return yards on his punts. Bailey also had four touchbacks on his five kicks. Nick Folk made all three of his kicks, and Brandon Bolden showed some life as a kick returner with a 38-yarder that led to a fourth-quarter go-ahead touchdown drive.
DEFENSIVE LINE: B
Lawrence Guy, Danny Shelton and Adam Butler were once again stout against the run. The Dolphins and their meager rushing attack picked up just 2.9 yards per carry — and that's including an 11-yard scramble by receiver Isaiah Ford, who was actually looking to throw.
The reason this grade isn't higher, though, is because on the first Dolphins drive, Ryan Fitzpatrick killed the Patriots with two scrambles made possible by poor rush-lane integrity. Fitzpatrick's short touchdown run was particularly sloppy, with both Lawrence Guy and Deatrich Wise rushing past the quarterback. Guy did have one of the two sacks the Patriots recorded on the day.
The linebackers were guilty of rush-lane gaffes as well. On Fitzpatrick's score, Ja'Whaun Bentley was caught in no-man's land and reacted too late to be able to make a stop. On a long scramble a few plays before the touchdown, Dont'a Hightower let Fitzpatrick out of his grasp.
The Dolphins schemed things up to get the football out of Fitzpatrick's hands quickly, rendering rushes by Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Chase Winovich and Jamie Collins mostly useless. Credit Fitzpatrick for making a few strong throws under duress — the Patriots recorded 19 pressures — but the ball was out quickly enough that he was sacked just twice. Collins did record a key sack to knock the Dolphins out of field-goal range on a third-quarter sack. This group was also key in limiting the run game.
With the run clearly not a viable option for Miami, and with the pass-rush neutered by Ryan Fitzpatrick's 2.33-second average-time-to-attempt figure, this game fell on the secondary. (Per Pro Football Focus, only two quarterbacks got the football out more quickly than Fitzpatrick did this week.) As the Patriots secondary acknowledged after the game, when it needed a stop, it couldn't get one.
Stephon Gilmore had plenty of difficulty against DeVante Parker — especially when the Patriots went Cover-0 — and he allowed a crippling 24-yard grab to Parker on the game-winning drive. Also on the game-winning drive, Patrick Chung and Jonathan Jones were both beat on quick-hitters when they couldn't get on different levels with their teammates to stop Dolphins rub routes. Aside from the trickery he deployed (a throwback pass caught J.C. Jackson napping and went for 20 yards on the first Miami touchdown drive), offensive coordinator Chad O'Shea clearly wanted to test the Patriots secondary's ability to defend the quick game with shallow crossers, slants and quick-outs, and he succeeded.