Nov 3, 2013; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) celebrates a touchdown during the second quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
It’s been a very tumultuous season so far for the New England Patriots. Every game, save for this last one, has been a nail biter, injuries have killed seemingly any chance for at a Super Bowl for them, at least coming from the national media, and we’ve even had some brutal breaks bounce the other way, something other NFL fans have been absolutely revelling in. But through this all, the Patriots are a hearty 7-2, good for not only first place in the race for the AFC East crown, but also a current bye in the Wild Card round of the NFL playoffs as well. While this season has seemed like nothing but doom and gloom, and trust me, I’ve been pretty heavy on the doom numerous times on my twitter account, things actually seem to look somewhat bright as the Patriots look forward to week 11. In this article, I’m going to give you my top five takeaways from the New England Patriots regular season, thus far.
5. Stevan Ridley Has Re-Gained the Majority of the Carries
Remember how this season started for Mister Ridley? That ugly two fumble performance against the Buffalo Bills in week one? Yeah, that seems to be a very distant memory at this point, because Stevan Ridley has done everything in his power to prove that the Patriots coaching staff can trust him once again. He seems to have managed to recapture some of that glory of last year’s 1000+ yard season, where he proved to the Patriots organization and its fan base, that he can be the bellcow running back, the Patriots have been missing since Corey Dillon. The last four games, Ridley has run for 340 yards on 71 carries, good for a 5.1 YPC, and six touchdowns, and only one fumble. This is compared to just 154 yards on 47 carries, good for only 3.3 YPC, and no touchdowns with two fumble. The Patriots have finally realized that it’s hurting the team by benching Ridley, and that fumbling, while inexcusable, a part of the game, and something that running backs will do. The Patriots running game has been revitalized with Ridley at the helm, and his dominance has provided serious balance that was missing for most of the season. Earlier on the offseason, I stated that the Patriots would go back to what won them Super Bowls, balance and a somewhat boring, slug ’em out style of football. That was missing the first five games this year. They were too cute with play calling, and this severely hurt them, and put too much pressure on their stalwart defense. Stevan Ridley’s midseason revival, has helped breath life into this team, and at a good time too, not only for the Patriots, going up against the Panthers and Broncos in back-to-back weeks, but Shane Vereen is returning next week, and Ridley had to show his worth to the team.
4. Next Man Up Has Never Been More True
While nothing can compare to a season ending injury to your superstar quarterback, the Patriots have suffered their worst injury season in the Belichick-Brady era. But despite losing starters Adrian Wilson, Sebastian Vollmer, Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo and Tommy Kelly to season ending injuries, and players like Aqib Talib, Shane Vereen, Rob Gronkowski, and Danny Amendola all missing extended periods of time, the Patriots coaching staff has done a marvellous job of plugging these holes, and making things work somehow. Whether it’s been the stepping up of waiver acquisition and undrafted free agent DT tandem, of Chris Jones and Joe Vellano, or the use of Jamie Collins and Dane Fletcher at linebacker in place of Jerod Mayo. Even guys like LeGarrette Blount, Marcus Cannon and Duron Harmon have managed to step up in big ways. The New England Patriots have always been known as a team that values its system and good fits, over big name players. This year the Patriots have lost a who’s who list of players, but have still managed very well so far. If I told you that we wouldn’t have Talib, Mayo, Gronk, Wilfork and Amendola for a long time this season, Patriots fans and critics from around the NFL would probably be happy with an above .500 record. I’ve become very satisfied with 7-2.
3. Given Some Time, the New Receivers Have Produced
Outside of injuries, we all know the biggest problem the Patriots had faced this season, production from wide receivers. New guys like Danny Amendola, Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson were brought in and were expected to produce immediately. This obviously did not happen as many problems like drops and not knowing the playbook very well and just all around incompetence from the position. But now that they’ve been given some time to gel with each other and get to know Brady better, they’ve been fantastic. Danny Amendola exploded last week for over 150 yards and a touchdown, and probably the biggest surprise, Aaron Dobson has been on fire, giving the Patriots their first deep threat since Randy Moss departed. It was a struggle for these guys, but they are all so talented, it was just a matter of time before they figured things out, and began to contribute, and help the Patriots win ball games. Part of the reason they’ve had this success, is because Gronkowski finally came back, and has managed to open up the underneath, over the middle, and even deep. He’s made all the difference for them.
2. This Defense is a Revelation, Even Despite the Injuries
This defense has been so great this year, I still find it hard to believe it’s the Patriots, after we have struggled for so many years. The only thing that I’m disappointed with, is because even though they’re playing great, they’re still missing so many key players! But focusing on the guys who are playing, they have been phenomenal. Players like Chandler Jones, Donta Hightower, Devin McCourty, Rob Ninkovich and Alfonzo Dennard have all stepped up, and played huge roles in taking this defense to a whole other level. The there is that Talib guy. The best cornerback in football, before he went down with a hip injury against the New Orleans Saints. But he’s going to be making a comeback soon, either this week against the Panthers, or next week against the Denver Broncos. His presence will once again make this a top notch team. The New England Patriots have managed to recapture some of that glory from their run of dominance in the early 2000s, a tough gritty team, who’s defense can actually keep them in games, unlike the past few years.
1. Tom Brady is Still Tom Brady
I think it’s safe to say that Tom Brady’s fall from dominance, was a bit over exaggerated. All we had heard this year from the national media is that Tom Brady had lost “it”, all the while stroking Peyton Manning’s ego every second of the day. Brady lost nearly all of his production from last year, with Welker jumping ship to the Broncos, Hernandez’s amazing talent rotting away in prison, and Rob Gronkowski hurt for most of the year. Rookie receivers, an offensive line that had failed him for a long stretch, and some awful play calling, had Brady on pace for one of his very worst seasons in his career. But people had ignored the fact that this man had the Patriots on pace for a very nice record and another AFC East crown. He had some big comeback wins, including that miracle game against the Saints, and a big second half against the Dolphins. Then he finally blew up, and showed everyone that he can still make all the throws. He killed the Steelers for over 400 yards and four touchdowns. His running game is rolling again, he’s finally getting on page with his receivers, and the play calling has finally improved. Tom Brady isn’t going away anytime soon, and the Patriots are still a Super Bowl contender in this wild NFL season with no clear cut number one team.
What did you guys think of the New England Patriots first half of the season? Have they lived up to expectations, and will they live up to your expectations by the end of the season? What are your biggest takeaways so far? Let me know down in the comments below.