Merry Christmas, y'all!
For the second game in a row, the Patriots came out flat, and had a terrible opening quarter. The lowly Jacksonville Jaguars gained nearly half of their total yards for the game in the quarter, and jumped out to a 10-0 lead. They did so by playing Patriots' style offense of spreading the field, and operating out of a no-huddle formation. Fortunately, the Patriots made some adjustments, and ended up doing just barely enough to escape with a 23-16 win. Folks, a win is a win. But, Tom Brady said it best, the Patriots' stunk. Here are my grades:
I. OFFENSE: What has happened to the Patriots' running game? What has happened to the one lethal passing game? It all begins or ends with OL line play. Playing against a team that is 31st overall against the run, and 24th overall against the pass, one would expect far more than this unit produced.
1.) QB: Certainly, not one of Tom's best games. Brady completed 24 of 41 passes for just 267 yards, two TD, and two interceptions. But, any QB is going to put up numbers no better than these when he's under constant pressure, and when his running game is ineffective. Tom was sacked three times, and was hit on nine occasions. Much of that pressure came up through the middle, and several of the hits were of the punishing variety. Of his two picks, the first came on what appeared to be a fairly well thrown deep sideline pass, that seemed to clang off the hands of RB Stevan Ridley...and into the arms of a Jaguar defender. The second of the two was the result of a poor decision, when a pressured Brady tried to force a mid-range pass over the middle to a very well covered Aaron Hernandez. But, not too bad an effort, considering the Pats' tepid run game, and consistent pressure he was facing: GRADE: C;
2.) RBs: The Pats' run game produced only in spurts. The Pats had 10 running plays that produced a grand total of 10 yards, throughout the game. But, there were far too many running plays which netted sparse, or negative yardage. Though Stevan Ridley had respectable stats (18 carries for 84 yards, a 4.7 run per attempt average), he gained 32 of his 84 yards gained on 3 first quarter carries, during a drive which netted the Pats a FG. Next came that catchable Brady heave, that bounced off Ridley's hands. To Ridley's credit, he bounced back with 4 carries for 34 yards, in a drive which cumulated in a chip shot FG. But, he wasn't really heard from again until the 3rd quarter, when he contributed 36 yards on 7 carries on two drives, which ended up netting the Pats 10 points, and a 23-13 lead. RBs Brandon Bolden and Danny Woodhead combined for just 10 more yards on 8 fruitless carries. Woodhead would make a huge contribution in the passing attack, with 2 catch and runs for 38 yards. These included a 14 yard catch and run TD, and a 24 yard catch and run, in the second quarter...in scoring drives that resulted in 10 points: GRADE: C+;
3.) OL: Very disappointing performance by this group...particularly by the middle of the line. They were unable to dominate the 31st overall run defense team to establish the run, and allowed the Jaguars' front seven open season on their QB. As I stated above, all offense begins or ends with offensive line play. Perhaps injuries have taken their toll on this group: GRADE: D;
4.) TEs and WRs: TE Aaron Hernandez was taken out of the game by the Jags, who held him to just one catch for 13 yards. Michael Hoomanawanui chipped in with two catches for 46 yards, including a 32 yard catch and run first half play. Credit Mike with a big play in the 4th quarter. With the Pats producing their 23-16 lead with 2:51 to play in the game, they faced a 3rd and 4 from their own 20. Brady found Mike in the left flat for first down yardage. After making the catch, Mike managed to evade a Jags' tackler to stay in bounds, eating up valuable seconds off the clock. As for the WRs, the Pats were saved by Wes Welker. The diminuitive one had 10 catches for 88 yards, including a 25 yard reception from Brady, which set up the Pats' game winning TD, early in the 4th quarter. Welker also finished off that TD drive with a 2 yard reception, on a 3rd and goal situation. Brandon Lloyd also contributed with 6 catches for 62 yards: GRADE: C+;
II. DEFENSE: This unit got off to another slow start, as they were seemingly taken by surprise by the Jags' spread 'em out, no huddle approach. Jacksonville netted over 200 total first quarter yards...which was nearly half of what they gained over the entire game. The Pats' tepid pass rush led to the bend but don't break style of "D", returning. Though Jacksonville had the ball inside the Pats' 25 yard line on 7 occasions, they could only come away with 16 points;
1.) DL: Save for a couple of Chandler Jones' charges, this group was able to but little pressure on Jags' QB, Chad Henne. When pressure was applied, Henne played like a guy running an offense of a 2-12 team, and threw three interceptions. One of the above mentioned Jones' rushed was directly responsible for a redzone pick by Patrick Chung. Jones hit Henne as he released the ball, and it floated into the waiting arms of Chung. There was no inside pressure whatsoever from the DTs, or the front 7, in general. The Jags' running game was not a factor. But, with Maurice Jones Drew out, that was to be expected: GRADE: C;
2.) LBs: Dont'a Hightower had one of his better games, finishing with 6 tackles (4 solos), the Pats' lone sack, and a pass deflection. Jarod Mayo also had 6 tackles (5 solos), and Tracy White also added 6 tackles, including 4 solos, and a pass deflection. Someone missed a coverage assignment big time, when Jags' RB Montell Owens took a flat pass 53 yards. Decent job done in slowing TE Marcedes Lewis (4 catches for 27 yards). The Pats' didn't seem to blitz much. When they did, the pressure generated was generally disappointing: GRADE: C+;
3.) SECONDARY: Got little help from the front seven via a consistent pass rush. But, took advantage on those occasions when the rush caused Henne to hurry. Patrick Chung had one of his better games in quite a while, finishing with 4 tackles (3 solos), two pass deflections, and two huge red zone interceptions. On his first of two 4th quarter picks, he had a great, zig-zaggy 27 yard return nullified by Wilfolk personal foul penalty. Chung would be penalized on the Jags' final drive, after a huge hit over the middle on Jags' WR Cecil Shorts. Replay showed it to be a clean, lead with the shoulder hit. Though Kyle Arrington led the team in tackles with seven, he had some issues in coverage, again. Mauquis Cole also had some coverage issues, but finished with 6 tackles, a pass deflection, and a 3rd quarter interception. Over, considering the lack of pass rush pressure from the front seven, this group did a reasonably good job...though they had some trouble with slot receiver Jordan Shipley (5 catches for 82 yards, including one 36 yard play), and WR Justin Blackmon (7 catches for 79 yards): GRADE: B-;
III. SPECIAL TEAMS: Credit Stephen Gostkowski for a solid FG kicking game, hitting 3 for 3, including a huge 49 yarder, to close the deficit a the time to 13-6, in the second quarter. But, his kickoffs could be longer. The Pats' coverage teams still had some issues covering punts, and kickoffs: GRADE: B;
IV. COACHING: It's disturbing that, for the second week in a row, the team came out flat. It's also disturbing that the Pats' "D" was caught off guard by the Jags going no huddle, and spreading the field. It would seem that when the Pats knew that Maurice Jones Drew was unavailable, that they should have been better prepared to stop the pass. Considering that the coaching staff was familiar with Chad Henne, should the fact that the Jags came out throwing been such a huge surprise? As many of you surely will recall, Henne had previously had some biug games against the Pats, while in Miami. That said, what's even more disturbing was the play calling, and poor execution overall by the offense. Tom Brady was right when he said that, "we were lucky to win". They were lucky indeed, considering how poorly overall the team played: GRADE: C-;
V. PLAYER OF THE GAME: Candidates are Patrick Chung, and Wes Welker. I'm going with Welker. At the beginning of the season, I was one calling for the Pats not to resign Welker at the end of this season. But, one has to wonder where this team would be without him.
VI. PLAY OF THE GAME: The Chung interception to ice the win.
As always, your opinions and comments are welcome. Here is the box score: http://scores.espn.go.com/nfl/boxscore?gameId=321223030