The New England Patriots made another impossible comeback this past Sunday, this time scoring two touchdowns in the last 61 seconds, which was helped by recovering their first onside kick in 20 years.
As what has become the norm over the last few weeks, the Patriots started slow, and then nearly gave their fans a heart attack in the waning moments of the game. There was plenty of good and bad in this contest, so let’s get right down to the review.
Here are the game grades.
Passing Offense: B
The first 44 minutes of play from this group was just awful. The offensive line couldn’t protect Brady, and even when he did have time, his throws were either off target, or his receivers failed to get open against man coverage. But a late 50 yard completion to running back Shane Vereen seemed to get the offense going, and that propelled them to a solid fourth quarter. Led by Vereen and his monster day (12 catches, 153 yards) the Pats racked up 397 passing yards on the day, most of which coming in the late stages of the game. Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman were key contributors to New England’s final two touchdown drives, both accounting for Brady’s only two touchdowns of the day. Being without Gronkowski during the playoffs will definitely hurt this offense, but they proved late in this game against one of the top defenses in football, that they have the necessary tools to move the ball come January. I have no doubt that the combination of Vereen, Edelman, and Amendola will continue to produce, and hopefully they can help the Patriots make a deep playoff run.
Rushing Offense: C+
The Patriots only gained 87 yards on the ground in this one, although they did only attempt 21 rushes. Both LeGarrette Blount and Stevan Ridley ran hard in the few attempts they received, particularly Blount, who has proved to be one of the most underrated offseason acquisitions for New England.
Pass Defense: D
The performance that this unit put forth on Sunday wasn’t pretty. James Cameron and Josh Gordon did most of the damage, combining for 272 of the 386 Browns passing yards. Aqib Talib was dominated throughout the contest, although Gordon did make quite a few catches when the Pats were playing a soft zone coverage. I know that the Patriots still have confidence in Talib, and he is not the type of guy to get down on himself after a tough game, but playing cornerback is one of the hardest jobs in the NFL, and Talib will have to be ready to play this January. Like Gordon, Cameron made a lot of tough catches, but he also found himself wide open at critical moments in the game, especially on the Browns second to last drive (the seemingly “game winning” one).
Devin McCourty, who has been great all season long, had another sub-par performance, highlighted by Josh Gordon’s 80 yard touchdown. Obviously it wasn’t his responsibility to cover Gordon, but it is his job to keep everything in front of him, which he did not do on that play.
The pass rush was spotty yet again, managing only one sack on the day. This is no excuse for the play of the secondary, but getting some pressure on the quarterback is a must for championship caliber teams.
Rush Defense: A
Easily the weakest link of this Patriots team in 2013, has been the run defense. Ever since defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, and linebacker Jerod Mayo went down, the middle of this defensive line has allowed a ridiculous amount of yards to opposing running backs. However they finally put together a solid overall game on Sunday, as aside from a 34 yard reverse to Josh Gordon, and a 21 yard scramble by Jason Campbell, the Browns ran for 53 yards on 23 carries (a 2.3 average). Dont’a Hightower bounced back from a couple game slump, and Brandon Spikes had a very Spikes-esque game (great against the run, bad against the pass). Joe Vellano and Chris Jones played well, although their playing “well” has not exactly translated into results this season. The biggest difference from the last few games to this game, was the presence of Sealver Siliga. Many have noted how well he played on Sunday, and I definitely concur with all those that have lauded his play. He is the closest thing to Vince Wilfork that the Patriots have on their current roster, and his ability to take on blockers and control the line of scrimmage was on full display this past week. Bill Belichick has been known to reward unknown players with more time on the field for a well played game (or vice versa), and I fully expect Siliga to be on the field much more, in the coming weeks.
Special Teams: A
Stephen Gostkowski continues what has been an all time great year, hitting two big field goals, one of them coming from 50 yards out. He also kicked what ended up being the first onside kick recovered by New England, in 20 years. This allowed Brady and company to come back onto the field for one last drive, which resulted in the game winning touchdown. Ryan Allen also continued his good rookie campaign, punting five times in this one, dropping three of them inside the 20 yard line.