For all the whining, second guessing by armchair experts and half-truths pointed at the Patriots by some media and some fans this season, alls they did in response was win at least 11 games, bettering last season’s record and win their fourth consecutive AFC East title. Some of the fans around here have been spoiled. Still others are just miserable in general and translate that over to all their interests. A lot in the media spend most of their time trying to boost their own profiles, so cherry picking real or imagined weaknesses in the hopes a blind squirell may actually find a nut and they look prescient. That has become pretty much the norm from the Boston sports media and lead to attempts to find negatives in almost everything that happened to an 11-4 team.
And for that miserable section of fans who actually are more negative about the Patriots than idiots like Glenn Ordway, who at least has a perverse incentive of ratings and, consequently, money to provide him motivation for his schtick, well, I think those fans are probably just pretty unhappy about most things, not just the Patriots. Because, really, this team is on an unprecedented run of success. Or at least rarely matched. You don’t always have to win championships to be well run, though they still just may well do that. And you don’t have to be unobjective to see what an excellent system and successful organization they have become that makes the right decision the vast majority of the time.
So lets take a look at how each unit played for the once and present (and probably future) AFC East champs in beating a good Jacksonville team at their home 24-21 Sunday.
QUARTERBACK: A great game by Tom Brady. With the Patriots game plan focused on the pass, he was able to hit a very high percentage of passes on mostly three step drops. He wasn’t perfect, as he missed several open receivers. But he was mostly on target and also found room to scramble for several first downs. Overall, Brady has been much better and consistent and more like himself the second half of the season and that is good news heading into the playoffs.
RUNNING BACK: As I said, the Patriots weren’t focused as much on the run. But Corey Dillon had a couple good, tough runs and a touchdown. And Laurence Maroney made an effective return to the lineup, including a pretty long touchdown run. He showed little rust or injury effects and ran hard and with power. The blitz pickup was good.
WIDE RECEIVER: A fairly effective day. Troy Brown got himself open a number of times and had a few catches, as well as being missed by Brady a couple times despite being open. Jabar Gaffney chipped in some catches and the downfield blocking was good all around.
TIGHTEND: Great day for Dave Thomas. Not only did he show up in the passing game, including a spectacular diving touchdown catch, he blocked extremely well and could be seen involved in some of the big runs the Patriots had as a blocker. Daniel Graham also had a big game as a blocker and with a couple catches. I feel Graham should be the number one priority to get re-signed in the offseason. He is the most complete tightend on the roster.
OFFENSIVE LINE: Very good day overall. The short drops helped in pass protection, but they generally held up well. They did a good job in run blocking in limited opportunities. Nick Kaczur easily had his best day of the year and showed a lot in both the passing and run games at right tackle, rarely getting beat and often times dominating the guys he matched up with. Overall, there were very few breakdowns on the line Sunday.
DEFENSIVE LINE: Good job here. Mike Wright held up well again at nose tackle filling in for the injured Vince Wilfork. Jarvis Green had a good game, including causing the game ending fumble. Ty Warren again was stout and effective.
LINEBACKER: Very encouraging day. Tully Banta-Cain was again outstanding in both the run game and generating some pressure in the pass game. He did have the one glitch where he let Maurice Jones-Drew out of his sights, leading to a 74 yard touchdown run. But that was a fluke play and clearly Banta-Cain just thought Jones-Drew was down. A mistake to be sure, but the rest of the day he was good, particularly against the run. Tedy Bruschi also had a very nice day and seems to have improved his level of play recently. The entire crew was pretty good Sunday and only had the one long run against it.
SECONDARY: Rodney Harrison was back and seemingly didn’t miss a beat. He was active and showed up a lot in run support. Another good day for Artrell Hawkins as well and he has shown himself to be a very good tackler and solid player all year. Ellis Hobbs had a bad moment when he let Jacksonville receiver Matt Jones slip away from him. But Jones is a big, physical, fast receiver and that was a bit of a mismatch to let Hobbs handle him alone on that play. Asante Samuel had one of those moments too, losing a Jacksonville receiver in coverage where it appears Samuel bit on a fake and that led to a long gain. Besides those two plays the coverage was fairly solid.
SPECIAL TEAMS: Good coverage and pretty good returns. Stephen Gostkowski was a little shaky working with new holder Matt Cassell. He missed a kick. And new punter Todd Sauerbraun did his best Ken Walter imitation and had a bad first game. Lets hope he gets into the flow of the things and kicks like he has in the past by the playoffs.
On to Tennessee. It’ll be interesting to see how the Patriots play this. But based on last year, its likely they will play a lot of backups and not see it as a critical difference trying to improve from the #4 seed to the #3 seed. We shall see. Tennessee is an up and coming opponent and it would be great to see these two teams play while both going all out to win. But I just am not sure you’ll see that from the Patriots this week and instead will see them rest a lot of players for most of the game. Until then.