Phil Perry's Patriots-Jets report card
Matt Patricia has done plenty over the course of his tenure as Patriots defensive coordinator to earn head coaching consideration. And by the time Sunday's game with the Jets ended, he served up a couple extra reminders that he's deserving of a shot.
First, there's what he was able to do with newly acquired linebacker James Harrison. After less than a week with the team, the 39-year-old saw 27 snaps and provided the Patriots with a little bit of everything. There was plenty of work behind the scenes to get Harrison up to speed, and though he ended up seeing significant snaps he was worked in at a very reasonable pace. Harrison gets the credit for having himself ready, but Patricia and his staff deserve a nod as well. As they often do with new players, they didn't ask too much of Harrison, but when they felt he was deserving of more, they added more to his plate.
Then there was the scoreboard. By allowing just six points to the Jets, the Patriots finished fifth in the league in points allowed. There's a massive discrepancy between that number and where the team slotted in when it comes to yards allowed (29th), but Patricia and the Patriots defensive coaches emphasized execution in critical situations -- red zone, in particular -- and their performance in that area this season allowed them to finish among the league's best in the game's most important statistic.
The Patriots may have had the luxury of going against a Jets offense led by Bryce Petty. And the frigid temperatures weren't doing anything to help either offense Sunday. But for Patricia and his defense, it was a nice way to put a period on 2017. It's no surprise that he's getting sniffs for head-coaching gigs this week after three solid months of honors-worthy work.
Click through for the final set of grades for the regular season.
This was a chicken-or-the-egg sort of game for the Patriots offense. Tom Brady looked off at times, but many of those uncharacteristically sloppy plays were due to miscommunication . . . and upon whose shoulders does the blame fall for those? Is it on Brady to make sure his receivers see what he sees? Or do the receivers deserve the heat? When Brandin Cooks stops running on what might've been a touchdown pass or can't get both feet in bounds, who's that on? When Danny Amendola isn't where Brady's expecting more than once (one of which led to intentional grounding), who screwed up? When pass-catchers drop four . . . ? Those aren't all on the guy making the throws. That's not to say Brady's day was perfect. He both underthrew and overthrew Cooks on deep balls. There was an over route to Cooks midway through the second quarter that was off-target but was wiped due to a holding call on the Jets. Brady had a sack in the fourth that was partially his own doing -- why hold onto it, up 24-6? -- wiped off the board because of a hands-to-the-face call on the Jets. His day was highlighted by a pinpoint pass to Phillip Dorsett late in the second quarter, and another accurate ball to Dorsett in the third on an over route. He also found his rhythm with Cooks late in the third and early in the fourth on a pair of long completions -- the second of which was on the money despite David Andrews being walked back into his personal space. Brady also threw a quasi-block to help Cooks find the edge on an end-around for a first down. It wasn't a picture-perfect day by any means, but not an outright disaster. He needs some help.
RUNNING BACK: A-
Hard to take away another clear-cut 'A' from this group based on what it got from it's fifth running back, but that's exactly what happened here. Dion Lewis was a workhorse yet again, and it's worth wondering where this offense would be without him. Remember the Stephen Jackson days? Lewis checked in with 133 total yards on 32 touches, and at times he showed Le'Veon Bell-type patience, particularly late in the third quarter. He had two runs where he ran into jams behind tight end Dwayne Allen, waited, and burst through openings for big gains. Lewis told me recently he likes to watch film of Bell, but he doesn't try to run with that same kind of style because it's so hard to replicate. It looked like late in the last regular-season game of the year he said, "You know what . . . why not?" He forced five missed tackles in all and showed equal parts toughness and elusiveness. The one negative play I had him down for was on the team's first drive, when it looked like he was almost too patient, didn't press a hole as well as he could've, and was stopped for a loss of three on what should've been a run behind pulling guard Shaq Mason. Brandon Bolden saw 34 snaps and was overpowered in pass-protection twice by Demario Davis. He also had one bad drop. On the positive end, Bolden ran for 5.1 yards per carry -- including a long one on New England's second-to-last drive to keep the clock moving -- and caught one pass for a first down, showing some elusiveness after the catch.
WIDE RECEIVER: C
Tom Brady got help from his wideouts both early and late in this one, but the consistency simply wasn't there. Brady's frustration was noticeable, and you can't really blame him. At this point in the year, players like Danny Amendola and Brandin Cooks shouldn't be in the middle of communication breakdowns. But they were. There was a point in the first quarter where Brady might've been close to losing his mind when Cooks stopped running for a deep ball and then dropped a pass that hit him in the chest on the very . . . next . . . snap. Cooks also inexplicably didn't get both feet down on second down during the team's second fourth-quarter drive. We're not docking him for failed end-arounds because there wasn't much Cooks could do on those, but there were points in this one where Cooks seemed out of it. Phillip Dorsett also had a drop in the second quarter. This grade was salvaged in some respects by Cooks' work down the field in the third and fourth quarters and the two penalties he drew, including a long pass-interference call in the second quarter. It also got a boost from Amendola's work on Juston Burris during the first drive (of the hurry-up variety), as he finished the series with four key grabs. Amendola and Cooks also combined nicely for Cooks' second-quarter score when Amendola stacked his defender ever so slightly on a crossing route, forcing the Jets defensive backs to run into each other, getting Cooks wide open. And stop us if you read this before in the grades: Dorsett had a couple of nice blocks down the field once again. He had a seal on Lewis' touchdown run, and he was working hard to create room for Brandon Bolden's long fourth-quarter scamper.
TIGHT END: C
How about a gentleman's 'C' here? When Rob Gronkowski finishes a game with a whopping 58 snaps but not a single target, you know it was an unusual game plan and therefore a tough one to grade. But even though he was invisible in the passing game, he did some good work in the running game. On the game's first play from scrimmage, he combined with James Develin and Cam Fleming to spring Dion Lewis for nine yards. He also helped get Lewis into position for his three-yard touchdown run with another strong play at the point of attack. When Lewis did cross the goal line at the end of that drive, Dwayne Allen was on the scene. Allen had plenty of effective blocks in this one, including one on the first play of the second half for the Patriots, working with Shaq Mason to create a hole for Lewis to pick up seven. Nice as some of those moments in the trenches were, to only be targeted twice and come away with no catches . . . it's hard to give a grade any higher than this one.
OFFENSIVE LINE: C+
Tom Brady was pressured on a third of his drop-backs -- less than ideal -- and Dion Lewis had 12 runs go for two yards or fewer. Five of the quarterback pressures resulted in hits, which had to be one of the last things Bill Belichick and his staff wanted going into the final regular-season game of the year, but only a percentage of those fell on the line in my view. Brady was probably responsible for one of those himself, a fourth-quarter hit when he seemed intent on holding the football longer than need be. Brandon Bolden allowed another hit when he couldn't stop Demario Davis' pressure. Cam Fleming was beaten twice -- once on a clean swipe by David Bass and once by Jordan Jenkins -- to thud Brady. Shaq Mason gave up another when Leonard Williams got through the line to force an incompletion. Mason did have his typical strong game as a run blocker, and there were plenty of pass attempts -- like on the first play of New England's second drive of the game and the first play of the fourth quarter, both completions to Cooks -- when Brady had an inordinate amount of time. But they'll have things to clean up before the Divisional Round.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A-
Ryan Allen certainly picked a good time of year to be hitting his stride. Sunday was probably his best game of the season as he had five punts land inside the 20-yard line and three were downed inside the 5. He twice got help from Matthew Slater, downing footballs within a few feet of the Jets goal line, and one was coffin-cornered at the 3 all on his own. Stephen Gostkowski (who hit three extra points and one field goal in the cold) also had a series of well-placed kicks, as four of his five were returned. The Patriots also got some of their seldom-used return teams into the mix in this one. Patrick Chung caught a free kick following Eric Lee's late-game safety, and Devin McCourty returned one as part of Joe Judge's hands team when the Patriots thought there was a possibility for an onsides kick following a Chandler Catanzaro field goal. Not bad to get those groups some game action before the postseason just in case.
DEFENSIVE LINE: A-
Poor Dakota Dozier may go into this offseason with nightmares of Lawrence Guy lined up across from him at the point of attack. The Jets guard had a heckuva time trying to stop the Patriots defensive tackle, who was in on a whopping six first-half run-stuffs. Midway through the second quarter, Guy came off the field for a third-and-long flexing his muscles because he had just stopped another run and he knew there was very little the Jets could do about it. Malcom Brown had an equally dominant day on the interior. Despite going without Alan Branch in recent weeks, and with both Brown and Guy seeing an increased workload over the last few weeks going into the Jets game, they looked fresh as ever. Trey Flowers had a hit and two hurries on two pass-rush snaps, and Eric Lee continued to show up with flash plays as he picked up a hustling safety that even forced Matt Patricia's game-day perma-scowl to curl into a bit of a smile on the sidelines.
James Harrison set the edge, he reacted quickly in coverage, and he put his strength on display as a pass-rusher. For the Patriots, there probably wasn't much more they could ask of the 39-year-old. Though he didn't have myriad opportunities to make plays off the back side early, he did cave in the Jets line on their second drive, allowing Elandon Roberts to shoot a gap and catch Elijah McGuire in the backfield for a loss. Late in the game, his power showed as he ripped through his block and dipped underneath for one sack. He used a long-arm move to pick up the other . . . not a bad show of leverage for a six-footer who doesn't have very long levers. Just goes to show how savvy he is when it comes to chasing quarterbacks. Marquis Flowers showed up with a handful of athletic plays yet again. The coaching staff trusts him, it seems, and they've been rewarded with big plays. He picked up yet another sack after notching 2.5 the previous week. Elandon Roberts had trouble wading through the trash on a Bilal Powell run in the first quarter -- he could've been helped by a better edge from Eric Lee -- and Kyle Van Noy still didn't look quite right in his first 12 snaps back after missing a couple of games with a calf injury. But with Harrison and Flowers making contributions here, this group appears to have decent depth heading into the postseason.
This is the kind of performance Patriots corners should be putting together against sub-standard receiving groups. After a down day against Buffalo in Week 16, Stephon Gilmore and Malcolm Butler combined to allow just two catches on six targets for 12 yards. Gilmore came up with one of the better plays of the day in coverage when he broke up a third-and-nine pass on third down to help shut out the Jets on third-down conversions (0-for-12) on the afternoon. Eric Rowe also held his own, allowing just one catch on four targets for 12 yards . . . and the catch came on an extended drop-back from Bryce Petty when the Patriots had trouble creating any kind of pressure. Duron Harmon had a near-pick, and Devin McCourty had a would-be pick-six -- could he not feel his fingers in the frigid temps? -- in another strong game for Patriots safeties. Jonathan Jones allowed one long completion, a 46-yarder to rookie ArDarius Stewart, when Matt Patricia opted for a Cover Zero look with no safety help, but otherwise this was a pretty solid overall performance against a meager passing game that really was never going to provide much of an end-of-the-year test.