FOXBORO — As all the time, the Patriots’ season will probably be judged solely on what occurs in January and February.
“Our story’s still being written,” quarterback Tom Brady stated Thursday, “and fortunately, we have an opportunity to write it.”
And as standard in New England, the first week of January provides us the alternative to mirror. A turbulent regular season, at the very least by Patriots’ requirements, is in the books. The Pats misplaced 5 street video games to non-playoff groups, however managed to safe a first-round bye for an unimaginable ninth consecutive season. They await both the Texans, Ravens or Chargers in the divisional spherical.
Earlier than we dive into the playoffs, we’ll have a look again and grade a wild 2018 regular season:
Why we shouldn’t get too hung up on the numbers: Tom Brady was thought-about a authentic MVP candidate for all of the 2014 season. He completed with a 97.four passer score that yr.
This season, as speak of Brady’s demise has swirled, he ended with a 97.7 passer score.
However as passing numbers throughout the league soared, Brady’s took a slight dip. That’s largely as a result of what Brady had round him. It’s additionally as a result of some uncharacteristic struggles from Brady.
He endured a tough stretch from the second half of the Miami recreation by way of Week 16 versus Buffalo, as he typically tucked the ball at the menace of strain and misplaced his composure in the pocket. Maybe a knee damage suffered in Week 10 had a lingering impact.
Brady’s detractors will level to the fourth quarter at Pittsburgh as proof of his decline. His interception to Joe Haden was certainly one of the worst performs of his profession. The three straight incompletions to finish the recreation, together with the remaining throw during which he pale away from nobody particularly, have been puzzling.
Brady’s supporters have loads of ammunition, too. His 37-yard laser to Cordarrelle Patterson in Week 14 at Miami was as spectacular a throw as he’s made in years. There have been definitely no points with velocity in the regular-season finale; Brady let it rip on an 18-yard completion to Julian Edelman in the first quarter.
The reality with Brady is someplace in the center. He’s not as dominant as he as soon as was. He’s not washed up, both. And I’d be prepared to guess this: For any protection in the playoffs, giving the ball again to Brady late in the fourth quarter continues to be a terrifying prospect.
RUNNING BACK: B
James White was the undisputed offensive MVP of the first half. He almost doubled his yards from scrimmage from the 2017 season (600 to 1,176) whereas filling the very same position. At the danger of sounding too cliché, White isn’t the largest or quickest participant, however he has unimaginable intuition and really feel for the place.
Sony Michel’s rookie marketing campaign was good, not nice. You need nice once you spent a first-round decide on a operating again.
Michel’s physicality between the tackles was a pleasing shock. He’s a troublesome runner who doesn’t draw back from contact. However he wasn’t notably elusive, and in some video games didn’t create many yards that weren’t already obtainable. He ranked in the center of the league in yards after contact. There was hope that Michel would generate extra massive performs. Of the 14 NFL operating backs with 200+ carries, just one — Arizona’s David Johnson — had fewer runs of 20 yards than Michel’s 4.
An eight-game stint on injured reserve disrupted Rex Burkhead’s season.
We’d be remiss to not point out James Develin right here. He was superior.
WIDE RECEIVER: C-plus
When the Patriots determined to commerce Brandin Cooks, they have been taking a calculated danger at this place.
The guess was that Julian Edelman can be OK coming off an ACL tear, and that some mixture of gamers from this group would emerge: Chris Hogan, Phillip Dorsett, Kenny Britt, Jordan Matthews, Malcolm Mitchell and Cordarrelle Patterson.
They have been proper on the first half, at the very least. Edelman truly improved on his numbers from a career-best 2016 season, averaging 70.eight receiving yards per contest since coming back from a four-game suspension.
The remaining was a multitude. Britt, Matthews and Mitchell obtained harm. Hogan was a non-factor early, main the staff to make a deal for Josh Gordon after Week 2. That commerce labored out amazingly properly…till it didn’t. Now the Pats are short-handed.
Dorsett has been insanely environment friendly, catching 16 consecutive targets since Week 5. He simply hasn’t performed a lot (principally due to Gordon).
The Patriots maximized Patterson’s potential, using him as a operating again.
TIGHT END: C
After dominating the Texans in the season opener, Rob Gronkowski’s ninth NFL season shortly spiraled.
Gronk was by no means a fluid runner, even at his peak, so it’s exhausting to say he seems to be radically totally different from final yr. It’s not as if he was shifting like Terrell Owens in 2017.
However the outcomes converse for themselves. Gronk simply isn’t getting open.
Probably the most telling stat is the proportion of Gronkowski’s yards that got here after the catch…
2014: 37.7 %
2015: 48 %
2016: Missed most of the yr on account of damage
2017: 33.three %
2018: 27.6 %
Gronkowski isn’t destroying defenses on seam routes, bouncing off linebackers and stiff-arming safeties like he had for therefore a few years. He’s nonetheless a reliable tight finish, simply not an unstoppable drive of nature.
OFFENSIVE LINE: A-minus
This group emerged as a real power of the staff. Trent Brown stepped in for Nate Solder at left deal with and excelled.
The inside trio of Joe Thuney, David Andrews, and Shaq Mason was the key to this unit. The Patriots not often allowed strain up the intestine, which is the place Tom Brady is most weak. And the Pats appreciated to make use of an influence operating scheme that depends on pulling guards to both kick out or throw blocks in the gap. That’s the place Mason and Thuney shine.
Mason, particularly, loved a superb season. His uncooked power was an element; he pancaked Jets defensive lineman Steve McClendon at the line of scrimmage, subsequently collapsing the complete proper aspect of the defensive position, on James White’s 27-yard run in Week 12. On Sony Michel’s 34-yard landing run towards the Colts, Mason flashed his athleticism, pulling and delivering the key block on linebacker Najee Goode.
Thuney didn’t miss a single snap and completed the season robust.
DEFENSIVE LINE: C
Trey Flowers was by far the most dear participant right here. The group was in shambles with out him in early-season losses to the Jaguars and Lions.
In video games dominated by the Patriots defensive entrance, Flowers was throughout the subject. He signed a lease in the Inexperienced Bay backfield for Week 9, wrecking Aaron Rodgers’ night time. He transferred that lease over to the Meadowlands for a Week 12 recreation at the Jets.
Flowers ranked 23rd in the NFL in quarterback hits (20), however typically utilized strain, funneled the quarterback to different rushers, and made performs that didn’t present up in the field rating.
Lawrence Man was strong all yr on the inside. He didn’t have a lot assist. The Patriots allowed four.9 yards per carry, the most in the Invoice Belichick period. Danny Shelton wasn’t the run-stuffer the Patriots hoped they have been getting (though he made some performs in current weeks).
Adrian Clayborn delivered some massive video games — notably towards the Colts and Packers — however struggled with containment towards athletic quarterbacks.
Adam Butler, an inside dashing specialist, made a pleasant bounce in his second season.
Kyle Van Noy flourished in his third yr with the franchise.
Towards opponents with athletic quarterbacks (like Houston and Kansas Metropolis), the Patriots used Van Noy near the line of scrimmage in a rush/include position. In different video games, he performed as a standard off-the-ball linebacker.
Van Noy led the staff with 92 tackles.
Dont’a Hightower got here by way of with few large performs — a blocked punt towards Chicago (returned for a landing by Van Noy), an interception towards Kansas Metropolis, a strain to drive one other Patrick Mahomes interception. General, although, he was inconsistent.
Third-year professional Elandon Roberts performed properly down the stretch. An enormous-time hitter, Roberts has improved as an all-around linebacker.
Ja’Whaun Bentley appeared like a fifth-round steal, however he was misplaced for the season in September.
DEFENSIVE BACK: B-plus
Stephon Gilmore established himself as a real star cornerback.
He allowed a 49.5 % completion price whereas shadowing a few of the league’s prime receivers. Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown, Inexperienced Bay’s Davante Adams, Chicago’s Allen Robinson, Minnesota’s Stefon Diggs, and Kansas Metropolis’s Sammy Watkins struggled to get away from Gilmore.
Reverse Gilmore, undrafted rookie J.C. Jackson emerged in time for the playoffs. Jackson is a bodily nook with pure ball expertise. He’s been enjoying the majority of snaps since the Week 13 win over the Vikings (and just lately took Jason McCourty’s spot in the workforce’s base protection).
McCourty, who appeared to be on the roster bubble in the summer time, was strong.
As a unit, the Pats didn’t hand over many huge performs via the air, save for that wild Kansas Metropolis recreation.
The group struggled to cowl tight ends at occasions, particularly Chicagos’ Trey Burton and Indianapolis’ duo of Eric Ebron and Eric Swoope. That’s a duty that falls on Patrick Chung or Devin McCourty.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B-minus
From 2011-2017, the Patriots ranked no worse than sixth in the league in kickoff protection. They ranked in the prime three in 2012, 2015, 2016, and 2017.
Totally different story this yr.
They’re seventh-worst in the NFL, permitting 24.6 yards per return. A couple of lengthy returns, together with a 58-yarder to open the recreation towards Tennessee, burned them. At the least they’ve confirmed progress down the stretch.
Cordarrelle Patterson is the league’s greatest kick returner. His 95-yard landing at Chicago was an unlimited play in the Patriots’ season.
Stephen Gostkowski transformed 27-of-32 subject objectives, a slight dip in effectivity. Three of these misses got here from 50+ yards.
The Patriots’ three blocked/deflected punts late in the season have been an added bonus.
The Pats left a win on the desk at Miami partially as a result of Rob Gronkowski was on the area as the deep security. In the event that they acquired a cease there, they’re the No. 1 seed in the AFC.
The reverse move to Tom Brady in Week 10 got here again to harm the Pats, too.
However general, the teaching employees maximized the expertise on the roster. Invoice Belichick and Brian Flores acquired artistic with their defensive fronts, typically utilizing one down lineman and a gaggle of roaming linebackers and defensive backs close to the line of scrimmage. They disguised their pressures and coverages this manner.
Josh McDaniels included plenty of jet movement, discovered artistic methods to contain Cordarrelle Patterson, and did a wonderful job whereas continually needing to regulate on the fly because of in-season personnel modifications.
HEAD OF THE CLASS
Stephon Gilmore: The Stephon Gilmore-Malcolm Butler debate has been settled. Invoice Belichick paid the proper man.
Trey Flowers: The Pats have to do no matter is important to maintain Flowers subsequent season.
Julian Edelman: Coming off an ACL tear, Edelman’s manufacturing has been best-case state of affairs (minus the PED suspension, in fact).
BACK OF THE PACK
Chris Hogan: Had the alternative, however was typically a non-factor.
Danny Shelton: A primary-round decide in 2015, Shelton made little influence in the regular season.
Jacob Hollister: A star in the spring and summer time, Hollister’s season was derailed by nagging accidents.