By Jeremy Gottlieb, Patriots Daily Staff
So who wants to complain? Anyone, class, anyone?
The snow is gone, the sun is shining and spirits are high here at Patriots Daily University, one day after one of the most stunning beatdowns our illustrious staff has ever witnessed, the final outcome being a 59-0 Pats win over the gutless Tennessee Titans. In fact, this may well be the easiest report card anyone who’s ever walked the hallowed halls of PDU has ever had the great fortune to compile. Offense? Tremendous. Defense? Great. Special Teams? Other than a missed field goal in the first quarter, just fine. Coaching? As big (and surprising) a mismatch as it gets. And to top it all off, one record tied or broken after another. So let’s quit wasting time and get right to this week’s report card, now 59 percent more fun!
OFFENSE: Overall Grade: A
Let’s see here… 619 total yards, eight touchdowns (301 and five in the second quarter, respectively), 426 yards passing, 193 yards rushing, a time of possession advantage of 18 minutes (39-21) and basically the ability to just sit back, relax, crack another beer and do whatever they wanted within the realm of all possibility. Yep, it was that kind of a day for the O, hearkening back to the most glorious afternoons and evenings of the 2007 season. And while we readily admit and accept the fact that the Titans completely and totally gave up about five seconds into that second quarter, someone still needed to take advantage of the opportunities presented. Those someones were every single guy who played offense for the Pats regardless of position. It was that much of a rout – the sixth biggest in league history.
Tom Brady will finally get a week of peace. It would be hard to imagine anyone wondering if he’s still the same guy as he was pre-knee surgery, regardless of how pathetic the opposition was. Brady passed for 380 yards and six touchdowns. He completed 29 of 34 passes. He became the first player to ever thrown five TD passes in a quarter. And he did all of this in a little over two full quarters. It is sort of worth noting that the Titans played without three of their four starting defensive backs and played two rookies against the likes of Randy Moss and Wes Welker. But Brady still made all the throws, pretty much all of them – deep, intermediate or short – perfectly. Rookie backup Brian Hoyer, the undrafted guy out of Michigan State who was chosen to be Brady’s understudy over the likes of Kevin O’Connell and Andrew Walter, got his first taste of regular season play and also took advantage of the woeful Titans as well, leading a scoring drive that ended in a one-yard TD plunge and going 9-for-11 for 52 yards.
Running Backs: A
Sobering as it was to see Sammy Morris go down early in the game with an apparent knee injury (though it was hardly surprising given his history of getting hurt), all was forgotten the minute Laurence Maroney, aka my favorite player, came in. Maroney shredded the porous Tennessee defense by doing less dancing than usual and more grinding and plowing forward. he was helped immensely by the virtuoso performance of the offensive line, which we’ll get to in a bit, but with his ascension to the top of the depth chart, at least for the day, Maroney showed a purpose and an attitude that he hasn’t always been able to display. He finished with 123 yards on 16 carries, the coup de grace being his 45-yard dash through a disinterested Titans’ front seven. BenJarvus Green-Ellis (called “Law Firm” by some of his teammates), didn’t disappoint either, racking up 67 yards on just seven carries and making the case for more reps, regardless of Morris’s health. And Kevin Faulk was Kevin Faulk, turning a little screen into a 38-yard score smack in the middle of the second-quarter thrashing. Couldn’t have asked for anything more from these three.
Wide Receivers: A
I wonder how many times Moss and Welker reminded Brady that there were a couple of rookies trying to stay with them. Moss had his biggest game in two years with eight catches for 129 yards and three TDs, none prettier than the flea flicker, a play on which he got three steps behind the three Titans DBs helplessly chasing after him. He was so wide open on the second long scoring catch (28 yards) that he was practically skipping across the back line of the end zone. And Welker, who probably had the most conventional, shrug of the shoulders, 150-yard day humanly possible, pitched in with two TDs, both of which he made without a defender anywhere in sight. Julian Edelman continued his development with six more catches, all of the middle-of-the-field, possession variety. And even Sam Aiken, the special teamer pressed into third receiver duty thanks to the inability of Joey Galloway to understand the offense, made four grabs, a couple of them very nice. These guys won’t have the kind of room to operate every week that the sorry Titans gave them. But it was a lot of fun to watch them do their thing with such ease.
Tight Ends: B+
It’s hard to grade these guys given their lack of numbers. Chris Baker had one catch for two yards and Ben Watson and Michael Matthews were shut out. But it must be noted that a) all three figured prominently in the 193-yard rushing effort, and b) there were so many opportunities to throw deep given the total lack fight put up by both Tennessee’s pass rushers and secondary, that Brady was able to wing it to the outside guys whenever he wanted. I was tempted to give this group an incomplete, but that felt too negative. This is pretty much a lovefest after all, so enjoy the B+ for barely having to show up, boys!
Offensive Line: A
A complete and total domination on the part of the guys up front. No Matt Light was not even close to a problem thanks to gargantuan rookie Sebastian Vollmer. Vollmer played a huge role on two touchdowns, wiping out two former All-Pros (Tony Brown and Keith Bulluck) on Maroney’s long run, and sealing off supposed pass rushing specialist Kyle Vanden Bosch (who Vollmer owned all day) on the screen to Faulk. Logan Mankins made up for his crap game last week with a typical masterpiece, his work on Maroney’s TD the high point. Brady was sacked a couple times early but for the most part, he had all day and then some to survey which scrub defensive back he would pick on on a play-to-play basis. Even the backups (Kendall Simmons, Dan Connelly) got in on the act in the second half with Hoyer under center and since the Titans had long since given up, no one missed a beat. It was a banner day for the O-line, as it controlled to line of scrimmage from the first moments of the game to the last.
DEFENSE: Overall Grade: A
Does it really matter that the Titans somehow were able to run for 193 yards? Not when they passed for minus-7, which is only the lowest gross total since the AFL-NFL merger. Or when they had five turnovers plus two more fumbles that they were able to recover. Or when all of their receivers dropped one pass after another, several of which were placed right between the numbers. Other than running back Chris Johnson, not a single offensive player for Tennessee looked even remotely interested in even being out in the snow on Sunday, which made the Pats defense’s job that much easier. It didn’t even matter that Adalius Thomas, easily the most disappointing player on the roster, was a healthy scratch, or that once again, Derrick Burgess did absolutely nothing and at this rate should probably start getting scratched as well. Maybe Junior Seau’s return was that inspiring. Or maybe the Titans just totally suck something fierce. Even CBS’s Jim Nantz, likely the least edgy broadcaster in sports television history, called it a debacle. Whatever the reason, the Pats D took advantage in a major way.
Defensive Line: B+
It was pretty much base 3-4 time again, which has been the bread and butter defensive look for the Pats throughout the Bill Belichick era, likely as a result of the pasting they took on all those short and intermediate throws last week in Denver. So with less bulk up front, Johnson ran wild on the D-line, though by the second half with the score 45-0, the passion may have been waning a bit. Ty Warren rolled up six tackles and rookie Myron Pryor, getting some more extensive time thanks to the blowout, was around the ball quite a bit. Vince Wilfork had a bit of an off-day but he got himself the entire second half off so individually, he likely would get an incomplete. Mike Wright made his way onto the stat sheet again with a first half fumble recovery by the awful LenDale White on Tennessee’s first play after the flea flicker, and Jarvis Green in limited time was solid once again. Not the this group’s greatest day, but who cares – they won 59-0!
No Thomas, no problem. As stunning as it was to see his name on the pregame list of inactives, he’s been such a non-factor all year that it made sense with just a bare minimum of thought. So with the Pats highest paid defensive player watching the game at home, they liberally rotated everyone else, even Seau, who announced his return with authority by recovering the Titans final fumble of the afternoon and chipping in a couple of tackles. Mayo and Guyton had their typical strong games and Pierre Woods provided his best all-around effort of the season so far. But special mention must be made of Rob Ninkovich, who now must be recognized for more than just wearing Mike Vrabel’s No. 50. Only on the field for about a third of the defensive snaps, Ninkovich tied Mayo and Warren as the Pats third leading tackler with six, including one for a loss. That’s nearly half the amount of tackles Thomas has recorded all year. Big props to Ninkovich, who deserves more playing time, especially if it’s at the expense of zombified Burgess, who in going yet another week without registering a single, solitary statistic, is the sole reason this group didn’t ace it’s test.
Belichick and defensive coordinator Dean Pees shuffled the deck a bit with this group, starting youngsters Darius Butler and Jonathan Wilhite at the two corners and relegating veteran free agents Leigh Bodden and Shawn Springs to spot duty. It worked. Both Butler and Wilhite claimed one of the Titans five turnovers and were each on the field for pretty much the entire game. Brandon Meriweather bounced back fairly nicely from his torching last week in Denver, though his aggressiveness worked against him on a couple of Johnson’s long runs. Brandon McGowan continued to impress, leading the team in tackles and forcing a fumble. And even Patrick Chung, the first guy drafted by the Pats last spring who has been unable to get much playing time beyond special teams, intercepted a dead duck thrown by Vince Young in the late stages. Again, it helped quite a bit that the Titans two QBs had such awful games and that all of their receivers were afraid to catch the ball/get hit/of the snow. But it would be hard to imagine a more productive day for the DBs as a collective than they had on Sunday.
Special Teams: A-
Things were looking awfully bleak early on when Stephen Gostkowski missed that 37-yarder – his second in a row dating back to last week’s 40-yard shank – weren’t they? Anyway, that’s all a distant memory. He made his next one, a 33-yarder, and added in your basic, garden variety 8-for-8 on extra points. Edelman threw in a sweet, 35-yard punt return to set up the Pats deep in Titans territory in the first quarter. And the kickoff team held Tennessee to a middling 19.4 yard average on eight tries. Hey, everyone else had a great week, why not these guys, too?
About the only thing in question regarding this category was when Belichick would call off the dogs and put the backups in the game. The answer was one series into the third quarter, with a 52-point lead. There really was no contest between Belichick and Jeff Fisher here; Fisher, who has been losing his team more and more each week, has completely lost them now. The Titans had officially called it a day well before halftime and the fact that they didn’t show one iota of pride by at least slightly stemming the tide in the third quarter is not only reflective of the sorry, no-account players, all of whom should be ashamed of themselves for such a putrid performance, but of the coach, who is clearly not getting through. Meanwhile, Belichick, who will never have to worry about such things, saw everything he and his coaches try work perfectly. The Titans were utterly outclassed on Sunday in every which way, including on the sidelines.