Dec 8, 2013; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich (50) and defensive end Andre Carter (96) react after a play against the Cleveland Browns in the second half at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots defeated the Cleveland Browns 27-26. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
Yesterday, shortly after the New England Patriots completed their ridiculous comeback over the Cleveland Browns, I posted four initial thoughts I took away from that win. You can never have enough analysis of Patriots football, so here are four additional thoughts I had from what was one of Tom Brady’s most unlikely comebacks yet.
1. Josh Boyce Takes Advantage Of Playing Time
Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson were both absent from this game, both currently dealing with injuries that New England hopes can heal in time for the playoffs. This opened up some playing time for rookie Josh Boyce, and he was very impressive. Coming into the draft, Boyce was highly touted for his ability to produce explosive plays for whichever offense he was on. This definitely drew the Patriots in, because at the time, they had no receivers that could play well outside of the numbers. Yesterday Boyce finally got the opportunity to show some of these skills, and I liked what I saw. He only had three receptions for 49 yards, but he made what turned out to be one of the biggest plays of the game, late in the fourth quarter. The Pats were driving with under a minute left, and from the Browns 30 yard line, Boyce found himself with one on one coverage with defensive back Leon McFadden. Boyce flashed his terrific speed, as he beat him cleanly off of the ball, and eventually drew a critical pass interference penalty, which set up Danny Amendola’s game winning touchdown. It is this speed and explosiveness (not to mention some insane after the catch skills) that makes me think that Boyce will find himself with a lot more playing time as the playoffs near, especially now that Rob Gronkowski is likely out for the remainder of the season.
2. Edelman, Amendola Productive Yet Again
Lost in the injury to Gronkowski, and the emergence of Boyce and Vereen in the passing game, was the effectiveness of Julian Edelman, and Danny Amendola, specifically late in the game. They combined to catch 10 balls for 100 yards, and both of the Patriots late touchdowns. When Tom Brady needed a play to be made, he went to one of these two, and they responded by getting open against man coverage, and making a play. The perfect example of this was on Edelman’s two yard touchdown reception with 1:01 left in the game. Edelman ran a little post pattern, and he created some separation, which resulted in a big touchdown. But on that same play, Amendola ran a quick two yard out route, and he was just as open , if not more open than Edelman. These two will cause problems for opposing teams as we head towards the playoffs, and Brady will need them to continue their productive play, now that he has lost his best weapon in Gronkowski.
3. Josh Gordon vs. Aqib Talib
Coming into this game, the matchup of Gordon and Talib was going to be one of the best one on one matchups we would get all season long. Gordon has quickly emerged as one of the best big play threats in the NFL, and he would be matched up with arguably the best cover corner in the AFC. I think it is safe to say that Gordon dominated Talib yesterday, catching seven balls for 150 yards, including an 80 yard touchdown. Obviously we weren’t expecting Talib to completely shut down Gordon, but nobody expected Gordon to pad his already impressive stats that he has compiled throughout this 2013 season. Talib probably won’t have to cover receivers that have the talent of Gordon this playoff season, but he will have to amp up his level of play, if New England wants to win a few games this January.
4. Return Of The Dominant Tight End
Early in the season, opposing tight ends really racked up the statistics when they faced off with the Patriot linebackers, most notably in weeks four and five when New England played the Falcons, and the Bengals. The tight ends in those two games combined to catch 22 balls, which went for 230 yards and two touchdowns. Dont’a Hightower and Brandon Spikes are solid run stuffing backers, but they really struggle when it comes to defending the pass (the Pats did have Jerod Mayo in those two games). It appeared that they had clamped down on opposing tight ends in the weeks following those two games, but yesterday it all fell apart again, as Jordan Cameron went off, catching nine balls for 121 yards, and a touchdown. This even came with Jamie Collins and Dane Fletcher playing for a decent portion of this game, both Collins and Fletcher are much better pass defenders than Hightower and Spikes. Nevertheless, it wasn’t very fun watching Cameron dominate the middle of the New England defense, as he added more negativity to what was an already bad day of football for the Patriots secondary. Although I will point out that the run defense of the Pats played extremely well. Excluding Josh Gordon’s 34 yard run, and Jason Campbell’s 21 yard scramble, the Browns ran for a mere 53 yards on 23 carries. The much maligned defensive front of New England had a very nice outing, even if it was against one of the worst rushing teams in the league (came into this contest ranked 28th, at 82.3 yards per game).