Phil Perry's Patriots Report Card: Hello, bye...on to the playoffs
Let's get this out of the way: The Jets put on a miserable display Sunday. Their coach was on his way out. Their highly-paid corner checked out a week early. They had little to play for and acted like it.
But the Patriots did what they should've done when faced with an opponent who took their matchup less than seriously. They dominated in almost every phase.
When the Jets stacked the box, the Patriots shredded them through the air. When they tried to establish a running game, the Patriots didn't let them. When Sam Darnold tried to sustain his positive momentum from the previous few weeks to take with him something happy into the offseason, the Patriots batted away his attempts and turned him over.
It wasn't perfect, as the grades will show. It never is. But there wasn't a whole lot more the Patriots could've done to make themselves feel any better about where they stood heading into the postseason.
If Tom Brady hit Chris Hogan in the end zone for a second-quarter touchdown, this grade may be an “A.” It was his best game, in my opinion, since beating up on a battered Colts defense early in the season. Yes, he put up 40 on the Chiefs, but he also had an atrocious turnover in that one that led to Kansas City points. Brady took care of the football against the Jets, threw accurately and with a steady base when he had time, and when he didn't he climbed the pocket and moved confidently. His throw for 18 yards to Julian Edelman at the end of the first quarter was one of his best of the season when he had Shaq Mason nearly in his lap. His scramble-drill touchdown to Phillip Dorsett was also a thing of beauty.
RUNNING BACK: B
If the Patriots can continue to throw as successfully as they did Sunday out of their two-back sets, expect to see more of that in the postseason. Going against base personnel, Brady hit James White and Rex Burkhead on mismatches against linebackers for touchdowns. With depth thin at tight end and receiver, that pair could loom large for the Patriots offense moving forward. The team didn't have overwhelming success running the football -- short-yardage runs continue to be an issue -- but White and Sony Michel combined to force four missed tackles out of the backfield. And both runners worked wonders after contact. Thirty-eight of Michel's 50 yards came after first contact, and White picked up 31 yards after contact though he gained only 30 yards from the line of scrimmage. White did have a drop on third down early on which hurt this grade.
Not the best day from this group, but a productive one nonetheless. Both Edelman and Chris Hogan picked up penalties in this one, and Hogan dropped what would've been a long gainer on one of Brady's more impressive throws of the day. But Dorsett continued to catch everything thrown his way (five catches on five targets), Edelman freed himself from Buster Skrine consistently (69 yards on five catches), and Hogan was consistently involved (10 targets). Dorsett also chipped in with a first-down run on a "missile motion" play -- something he's been comfortable with the last two weeks with Cordarrelle Patterson missing time.
TIGHT END: C+
Unfortunately for Rob Gronkowski his best catch-and-run in some time was negated by a more-than-questionable pass interference call on Dwayne Allen. The flag was so ticky-tack that it didn't hurt this grade. There just wasn't much from this group -- aside from a nice bent-over grab from Gronkowski -- that graded out positively. Even with James Develin on the field, the running game had trouble executing consistently against a defense that was focused on stopping the run. Gronkowski had issues holding blocks consistently in the run game, with one getting a Burkhead toss blown up for a tackle for a loss and another resulting in a turnover on downs at the end of the first half.
OFFENSIVE LINE: C+
The Patriots were solid in pass protection. As we referenced in the quarterback grade description, even if the pockets Brady had to throw from were small . . . they were pockets nonetheless. The interior of the line did a nice job of holding up and allowing Brady lanes to step up into, and the edges were solid enough that Brady was sacked just once when Leonard Williams beat Marcus Cannon. Trent Brown and Joe Thuney did a nice job getting out in space to lead the way on White's "missile motion" fake run that went for 20 yards, but otherwise, this group had its issues in the run game. Trent Brown was called for a hold, and short-yardage spots nagged at the unit for another week. At the end of the first half, White was stuffed on third-and-two and then again on fourth-and-one. They may have to start giving it to Develin in those spots because there isn't an obvious choice for the Patriots in those scenarios because the line has had trouble clearing space and as a result, no one has found consistent success in that role.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B
The Patriots were clearly set on keeping the ball away from Pro Bowl return man Andre Roberts, and they found some success in so doing. Ryan Allen had just one punt returned for zero yards, landing two inside the 20 for another solid day. (He continues to stack them up.) Stephen Gostkowski kicked a couple of shorties -- one squib, one pooch -- to keep it away from Roberts, and he added two touchbacks. There seemed to be some miscommunication on the part of the kick coverage unit on one return that Roberts took back for 32 yards. On the Patriots end of things, Edelman returned four punts for 28 yards. Might've been a good day for him to fair catch a few and avoid the extra hits, but he seemed to make it out of the game no worse for the wear.
DEFENSIVE LINE: A-
This grade might actually be a little harsh. The Jets had a series in which Sam Darnold broke contain and picked up 28 yards, which was followed up by a 17-yard run by Elijah McGuire . . . but other than that? This was about as flawless a performance as Brendan Daly's group could've hoped for. They helped stuff 12 runs for two yards or fewer, with Trey Flowers, Deatrich Wise, Derek Rivers, Malcom Brown, Lawrence Guy and Danny Shelton all putting together strong run-game reps. They also got after the quarterback -- Flowers had a dominant day with a forced fumble, five hurries and a sack that gave him 7.5 for the season (a career-high) -- with 17 hurries, a couple hits and four sacks. Adam Butler's strip-sack was the kind of explosive play defensively the Patriots may need if they have trouble repeating what they did Sunday offensively in the postseason. Derek Rivers (first of his career) and Lawrence Guy (first of the season) also had sacks in this one. The fact that Ufomba Kamalu and Rivers saw playing time over Adrian Clayborn, who was inactive, is not a good sign for the veteran who signed a two-year deal with the Patriots last offseason. Maybe the Patriots are looking to motivate him in the same way they tried to motivate Jabaal Sheard back in 2016 when he was a healthy scratch for two weeks.
Any time a linebacker finds his way into the end zone, the grade has to be good. For the second time this season -- the first came on a punt block in Chicago -- Dont'a Hightower helped escort teammate Kyle Van Noy across the goal line for a game-changing score. This group did more than just scoop-and-score, though, they helped hold lead rusher Elijah McGuire to fewer than three yards per carry -- thanks in large part to Elandon Roberts having one of his best games of the season. They also created pressure, with Van Noy and Hightower combining for four quarterback disruptions.
Stephon Gilmore might've locked up a First-Team All-Pro nod with his day on Sunday. Stuck tightly to Robby Anderson for the majority of the day, he broke up three passes, including one that resulted in a turnover on downs in the end zone. He was targeted seven times and allowed just three catches for 14 yards. JC Jackson saw a great deal of action once again though didn't have his best day, allowing four grabs for 49 yards. Rookie corner Keion Crossen had a tough time with targets thrown his way, allowing three grabs for 60 yards, including a 25-yarder to Deontay Burnett. Patrick Chung did nothing to hurt this grade, as he was consistently in the right place at the right time in coverage, and he picked up a hurry.