September 29, 2016

The Three Most Important Patriots for the Remainder of the 2011-12 Season

By George Cain,
Patriots Daily Contributor

#1 Tom Brady – There is nothing new or novel I could write about TB12 that hasn’t been covered by every sportswriter in the country.  This team goes as far as Tom Brady can take them.  That has not always been the case. During their Super Bowl appearances from 2001 thru 2007, Brady’s phenomenal play was offset by a professional, intelligent play-making defense. It’s easy to forget Brady throwing an interception in the end zone in the 2003 AFC Championship game against the Colts and later in the 2003 Super Bowl against the Panthers.  In both cases, the defense did enough to cancel out those key turnovers.  Today those mistakes would cripple this team.  Last year against the Jets, Brady threw a pick on the first drive and Alge Crumpler dropped a sure touchdown pass on the second drive.   Those two miscues lost the game because the defense was unable to make stops when they needed it.  The next five weeks are really going to clarify the picture with this Patriots team.  They play three very good teams on the road, (Steelers, Jets, Eagles), a good Giants team at home and an improving Kansas City team who let’s just say, knows this offense.  If the Patriots come out of the next five games at 3-2 they are looking strong at 8-3, with some very winnable games down the stretch.  The number one or two seed will most likely be in their grasp, but Brady will have to play similar to his 2010 form, with low turnovers and an offense that can score 30 every week.

#2 Jerod Mayo – This is a big season for Mayo.  He’s coming off an All-Pro year in which he led the league in tackles.  He was supposed to be the anchor on a new attacking 4-3 defense.  He is coming close to the end of his rookie contract.   Given all that, my question still, is this, who is Jerod Mayo?  He’s not Ray Lewis, he’s not Patrick Willis, and he’s not Brian Urlacher.  He has yet to prove he is the type of playmaker on defense that teams game plan against. Actually, the player he most reminds me of is Pepper Johnson, a solid middle linebacker who always did his job, but was never known for being a big play linebacker.  That worked well for Pepper, but he had Carl Banks and Lawrence Taylor alongside him.  Mayo has Rob Ninkovich and Brandon Spikes.  What the Patriots really need is another Tedy Bruschi. They don’t need a guy who just makes tackles. They need a linebacker who can change a game. Just off the top of my head I can think of three Bruschi’s interceptions that won games. There was a 4th quarter pick of Donovan McNabb in the Super Bowl, one against Detroit on Thanksgiving for a touchdown and of course, who can forget his interception against the Dolphins in a 12-0 win that led to an explosion of fireworks made from fallen snow. There were also two plays in the divisional round in 2004 against the Colts, where he ripped the ball out of Dominic Rhodes’ arms and later pounced on a Reggie Wayne fumble. Mayo doesn’t have any of these type of plays on his resume.  He’s injured his MCL for the 2nd time in four years. He’s going to have come back stronger from this injury than he did in 2009, and the Patriots will need him to be a presence on the defense.

#3 Ras-I Dowling – Ras-I Dowling? The guy who has played in two games?  He’s been a complete non-factor all season, and that’s why I list him. Dowling can impact a secondary that has really struggled the past 3 seasons. Inconsistency has forced the Patriots to play a lot of zone coverage and give up a ton of yards. Belichick looked at the 2011 draft class and declared it to have as much depth at defensive line as any draft in recent memory. The Patriots had 3 picks in the first 33. There was no doubt going into the draft the needs were offensive and defensive line. The team was in dire need of a pass rusher. Belichick for reasons we’ll never know, chose not to move up for studs like JJ Watt, Nick Fairley and Ryan Kerrigan. He drafted Nate Solder at #17 and that pick, with the injury to Sebastian Vollmer, has looked good so far.

Could the Patriots have traded up and drafted an impact defensive lineman and then backfilled Solder’s spot later? That answer would most likely be yes. Instead they have a tackle that could be a major component of this offensive line for the next 5 years, minimum. It was a solid selection.

Then with the Patriots #28 selection, Belichick decided he didn’t like the value on the board for that spot. So he traded it to New Orleans for their #1 pick next year and the 2011 #56 overall selection.  The Patriots drafted Shane Vereen out of California with that pick. If you’re not familiar with him, it’s because he hasn’t really played all season. He hurt his hamstring in camp, and has been inactive in most weeks. He seems to be a redundant player behind Danny Woodhead and maybe Kevin Faulk.

So with the first pick in the second round the Patriots selected Ras-I Dowling. Dowling has the physique, the tools and the skill to be a top corner in the NFL.  Unfortunately, he has never proven that he can stay healthy and that trend continues to follow him into his rookie season. Belichick could have drafted defensive lineman Jabaal Sheard or outside linebacker Brooks Reed. Both are making an impact as rookies with Cleveland and Houston this season.  Belichick, however, felt another shut down corner alongside Devin McCourty was necessary. I can’t argue with that logic in what has become a passing league. I do question Belichick ignoring Dowling’s medical history.  This wasn’t picking Marcus Cannon in the 5th round despite a non-Hodgkins lymphoma diagnosis or Brandon Tate in the 3rd round coming off an ACL tear to run back kicks. This essentially was a first round pick for the Patriots, and they needed to hit on it.

Dowling’s injury history dates back to high school. He’s had hamstring, ankle, knee and now hip problems in his young football career. Hip injuries are NEVER a good sign at the pro level regardless of position. He only played in 5 of Virginia’s games last year. This year he has one preseason and two regular season games under his belt. Coming off a bye week where Dowling had ample time to rest, he STILL is not able to fully practice. He’s basically been hurt most of August, September and October. This is not good news for the Patriots who need him desperately.

If the Patriots plan on playing in the Super Bowl in Indianapolis in February they are going to need this defense to improve as the season goes on.   Dowling offers the most potential;  a big bodied defensive back who can not only play shut down corner but can help out as a Free Safety for a group who lacks play makers.

Belichick chose not to spend big on free agents.  He decided against a young defensive lineman.  He dictated the defensive backfield as an area that needed the most improvement.    If Dowling cannot offer help then the Patriots are depending heavily on average Safeties, an oft-injured Corner in Leigh Bodden, a hard-working but limited Kyle Arrington, and Devin McCourty, who thus far has been in a severe sophomore slump.

Last year despite a 14-2 record the Pats couldn’t get past the Jets. This season, without help, nothing will change. For most of us, it’s more than getting to the playoffs, it about winning it all and Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees will be there waiting.  The Patriots are going to need slow down these offenses. Dowling is going to have to get out of the trainer’s room and start to contribute.

Tonight on Patriots All Access

Patriots All Access airs tonight on WBZ-TV at 7 p.m. and immediately following on Patriots.com.

Among the highlights…

· Bill Belichick discusses getting his team ready to play after a Bye Week and looks at the overall speed of the Steelers on the Belestrator

· Scott Zolak visits with Belichick and one of the coach’s boyhood idols, Heisman Trophy winner and Hall of Fame quarterback Roger Staubach

· Vince Wilfork was mic’d up in the win over the Jets

· Steve Burton sits down with defensive end Andre Carter

· Dan Roche examines a rested Patriots team coming off their Bye Week as they prepare for a formidable opponent in Pittsburgh

· Patriots Football Weekly’s Paul Perillo and ESPNBoston’s Mike Reiss discuss the state of the team and offer analysis

Preview:

Around The League – Week 7

By Jeremy Gottlieb, Patriots Daily Staff

Normally at this time of the season, the San Diego Chargers are 2-4 or so and folks are wondering why a team so loaded with talent can look so incompetent. This year, the Chargers are 4-2 and folks are wondering why a team so loaded with talent can look so incompetent. The Chargers took a 21-10 lead into the fourth quarter at the Jets last week and lost 27-21. The reasons were typical of the most underachieving outfit in the league over the last few years: stupid mistakes, poor clock management, lack of common sense and situational awareness and so on. Most of this can be traced directly to coach Norv Turner, who is a very good offensive coordinator and play caller but has never been much of a head man. His teams routinely (hello!) make stupid mistakes, exercise poor clock management, lack common sense and have lousy situational awareness. It doesn’t help that quarterback Philip Rivers, seemingly on the cusp of true greatness these past three or four years, has seemed to have regressed this season, having thrown nine picks against seven TD passes and losing four fumbles while posting an average 82.3 passer rating. Or that the defense always a strength, is allowing 121.7 yards per game on the ground as well as 22.7 points per game, both in the bottom half of the league rankings. And it can’t be terribly heartening for Chargers fans to know that both times their team has played a good team so far this year, last week against the Jets and in Week 2 against the Patriots, they’ve lost. The AFC West isn’t as weak as it’s been in years past this season, but the Chargers should win it again anyway. Just don’t expect them to do much after that or at any time afterward as long as Turner is in charge.

This Week’s Five Best Teams

1. Green Bay: It’s sort of ridiculous at this point with Aaron Rodgers. Sunday at Minnesota, trailing 17-13 at the half, the soon-to-be MVP came out and led the Packers to 20 straight third quarter points and put away a 33-27 win. He finished the afternoon 24-of-30 for 335 yards and three TDs. With all apologies to Tom Brady, there is no quarterback in the NFL better than Rodgers right now.

2. New England: Coming off the bye, the Pats travel to Pittsburgh, where they routinely trounce the Steelers, including a not-as-close-as-the-score-indicates 39-26 win last November. Brady is 6-1 in his career against the Steelers and the only time Pittsburgh has beaten the Pats in the past eight years was in 2008, when Brady was injured. In other words, advantage Pats.

3. New Orleans: The Saints bounced back from their loss in Tampa by vaporizing the worse-than-hideous Colts 62-7 on Sunday Night Football. Perhaps even more impressive than the final score, though, was Drew Brees’s line: 31-of-35 for 325 yards and five scores. Overall, New Orleans garnered 557 total yards while holding Indy to just 252.

4. Pittsburgh: All comments about their lack of success against the Pats aside, the Steelers are the hottest team outside Wisconsin in the NFL right now. They’ve won three straight after running over Arizona last week and have now caught Baltimore, which destroyed them in Week 1, in the AFC North standings. Ben Roethlisberger is getting healthier and the defense is looking more itself. Watch out.

5. San Francisco: A week off for the Story Of The Year Niners and now, with some injured players coming back and consecutive home games against Cleveland and Washington looming, they look to get even better.

This Week’s Five Worst Teams

1. Miami: You could argue for the Colts or Rams in this spot but I’ll go with the Dolphins, who blew a 15-0 lead at home to the Broncos in four minutes, had their coach openly plead with an official to change a call because if he didn’t “I’ll get fired,” during the game and held a pre-game ceremony honoring the college team their opponent’s QB played for before anything. I wonder what Don Shula and Mercury Morris think of this disgrace?

2 Indianapolis: Asshat team president Bill Polian came out yesterday and said coach Jim Caldwell is doing a “great job,” this year even though the team is 0-7 and basically packed it in the minute Peyton Manning had neck surgery (reminder: that was before the season even started). Time for a full-scale housecleaning in Indy and Polian should be the first to go.

3. St. Louis: It stands to reason that coach Steve Spagnuolo, who turned the Rams from 5-30 over the two-plus years before he arrived into a borderline playoff team last year, only to see them fall to 0-7 this year in a shitstorm of injuries, lose his job at season’s end. It’s soon to be 0-8 after this week’s game against New Orleans.

4. Minnesota: Inserting rookie Christian Ponder at QB for last week’s loss to Green Bay was the right move; the Vikings looked as good on offense as they have all year and nearly pulled off a monumental upset. But the fact of the matter is, this franchise is lost and it has a certain quarterback who’s name is verboten around these parts (hint: he played for them the past two seasons) to blame.

5. Arizona: Can you believe this team was in the Super Bowl three years ago? The Cards are now 1-5 and have to play at Baltimore this week. Arguably the biggest disappointment in the league this year.

What’s Trendy

- The Chiefs: Got to hand it to coach Todd Haley – the Chiefs looked dead after two weeks having lost both their first two games by a combined score of 89-10 and having lost two of their best offensive players and one of their best defensive players for the year. But KC has quietly won three in a row, is on the cusp of first place in the AFC West thanks to the annual underachievement of San Diego and can vault into the top spot with a win over the Chargers at home on Monday night.

- The Jaguars Defense: Jacksonville stinks but they showed a lot of resolve in hanging on to beat the Ravens last Monday night. The Jags held Baltimore to just 146 total yards in their 12-7 win and although that could be seen as another example of the complete ineptitude of the Ravens offense, let’s give Jacksonville some credit too.

- DeMarco Murray, Cowboys: The Cowboys third-stringer, thrust into the starting role thanks to the weekly injury to Felix Jones, ran for a franchise record 253 yards on just 25 carries in a blowout win over the Rams. Naturally, being as incompetent as it usually is, Dallas won’t even name Murray the starter for this week’s game at Philly, even though the always incapacitated Jones is expected to sit out again.

What’s Not

- The Redskins: Things are finally looking more familiar in the nation’s capital now that the Redskins have fallen back to .500, have no idea who will play quarterback, have lost two key members of their offense (Tim Hightower and Santana Moss) to injury and King of the Overrated coaches Mike Shanahan is looking foolish, clueless and defiant. When Washington misses the playoffs again, which will make Shanahan 0-for-the postseason in his last six seasons as a head coach, will people finally start catching on that he’s not that great?

- The Titans: Tennessee’s 3-1 start was a pleasant, early season surprise. But the Titans have now lost their last two by a combined score of 79-24 and look to be fading fast. A date with the Colts on Sunday should reverse their fortunes.

- Josh Freeman, Bucs: I can’t figure it out with this guy. He has a great clutch situation acumen. He’s considered one of the top, up-and-coming QB’s in the league. Yet he’s alternated his last three games as follows: 45-point loss, home win over the Saints, loss to the Bears in which he threw four picks, giving him four more through six games than he had all of last year.

And finally…

So who’s heard of this Tim Tebow guy? His supporters will tell you that all he does is win and they may be on to something. With 4:06 left in last week’s game against the Dolphins, Tebow had 24 yards passing. Not 224. Not 124. 24. He was so horrendous that Deion Sanders said on NFL Network that his passing performance was so ugly, “he wouldn’t even compete in a Punt, Pass and Kick competition.” But then he led three scoring drives over the last 2:44 of regulation and overtime and not only finished with 220 total yards (161 passing), two TDs and the game-tying two-point conversion, he most importantly won the game. It’s hard to say what will happen with Tebow going forward. The Broncos are so lousy, there’s no reason not to play him and if he’s going to pull games out of his ass like last week in Miami, all the better for Denver. Plus, the fans love him. Add all that together and the Broncos may well have a relevant quarterback for the first time since John Elway hung em up.

 

First Impressions – The Pittsburgh Steelers

By Greg Doyle, Patriots Daily Staff

The Steelers have shown an ability to persevere this year and its somewhat surprising. Called old by many experts, ridiculed and dismissed after their 34-7 opening day loss to the Ravens and riddled with injuries, somehow they find themselves at 5-2. And now they play the 5-1 Patriots at home with a chance to take over the number one spot in the AFC, at least in a tie. It should be an excellent game.

Wide Receiver Mike Wallace, #17: Wallace is a threat for 60 minutes every week (bad pun intended). Seriously, Wallace has become one of the top deep threats in the NFL and with the Patriots struggles in pass defense this season, that has to be a top concern heading into this game. The Patriots pass rush looked better last week and that could be a key to not allowing Wallace to get deep on them. Safety James Ihedebo also has offered some stability to the middle of the defense which was a definite problem early on. In any event, the Patriots like to try to take away things offenses do best and in the Steelers case that is throw to Wallace. Easier said than done.

Steeler’s Offensive Line: One of the main reasons for the Steelers struggles in recent years, when they’ve struggled, is continued injuries and poor play among their offensive line. This year is no different. In the opener, they lost Tackle Willie Colon for the season who was their second best lineman after Center Maurkice Pouncey. Pouncey is still there, but the rest of the line has been like a revolving door. Guard Doug Legursky is likely out for the game, while the other Guard Chris Kemoratu has been in and out of the lineup. He will likely play this week, but is still bothered by arthritic knees. Its gotten so bad for the Steelers they re-signed Tackle Max Starks, who they unceremoniously had cut in camp, and he has proceeded to start all three games since returning. At the other tackle spot the Steelers are starting rookie second round pick Marcus Gilbert, who has been inconsistent. With all the lineup changes, aging on the downside players and injuries, if ever there was an opportunity for the Patriots to become the attacking, more aggressive defense this should be it.

Nosetackle Steve McLendon, #90: With Steelers regular and long-time nose tackles Casey Hampton and Chris Hoke out last week, McLendon made his first NFL start. This observer happened to have the chance to view much of that game and McLendon performed quite well. Just 25 years old out of Troy State and having played just 4 games in the NFL before this season, exploiting McLendon seemed to be an area the Cardinals could exploit. But it never really happened and if anything McLendon was disruptive in the run game and a presence in the middle of the Steelers defense. Hampton could return this week, but probably only in a limited role. Hoke is likely still out. So, the Patriots may have better luck against McLendon. It was only one game, but the early results seem to suggest the Steelers found another good lineman thru their player development system.

Linebacker LaMarr Woodley, #56: Woodley may be the best player on either side of the ball for the Steelers. James Harrison (who is almost certainly out this week) has gotten a lot of the accolades in the past, but his play has slipped and Woodley has surpassed him. Originally a second round pick out of Michigan, Woodley racked up 35 sacks the last 3 seasons and has 7 this year 7 games in. A true playmaker, the Patriots have done a decent job against him in 3 games. He only has one sack against them and that came in 2008 when Matt Cassel was quarterbacking for an injured Tom Brady. This week, the Patriots will want to have a good game plan to contain Woodley. If there is any area that has slipped on offense from last year for the Patriots its ball security. They’ve turned it over a bit more often than last year, including two games of four turnovers. If they allow Woodley to create havoc, that issue could rear its head again for New England.

Injuries: As mentioned above Hoke, Harrison and Legursky are all likely out for the game. Also not practicing on Wednesday for the Steelers are Wide Receiver Hines Ward and Linebacker Jason Worilds. Ward would be a big loss as, while not the player he used to be, he is still an effective third down and red zone weapon for the Steelers, as well as being a team leader. One suspects he’d play, however, given his durability and toughness over the years. Worilds is a role player for the Steelers, but a loss given that he is a backup to Harrison and a top special teams player. The Patriots seem to have gotten relatively healthy over the bye. Corner Ras-I Dowling and Tackle Sebastian Vollmer returned to practice on Wednesday. Only Linebacker Dane Fletcher was a surprise absentee for the Patriots. Also, PUPers such as Brandon Deaderick and Ron Brace on the Defensive Line and Running Back Kevin Faulk could make their season debuts this week and have begun practicing. QB Tom Brady recently called Faulk the most clutch player he has ever played with.

Steelers Fans: Despite being 5-2, a review of the Steelers message board Stillers.com has Steelers fans talking very unconfidently:

Pommah says:

“The Pats will send somebody out to tie up Ike, and then dink and dunk in the 5-10 yard range and make our linebackers look like a bunch of sniveling idiots, not allowing Troy to get into the action. When we try to adjust, look for some pinpoint 20-yard outs by Brady and some dumpoffs to the running back and/or sweeps. We are toast.”

Over on steelernation.com Southern Steeler is feeling the same way:

“I’ll believe that we can beat them when I see it. Until then………

Pats-34
Steelers-20″

Well Southern, that has been the trend.

HeinzMustard says the opposite however:

“The Steelers are better than what we think and the Patriots are worse…..

Patriots 27
Steelers 45″

Mustard or Ketchup on your crack Heinz?

Prediction:

The Patriots have basically owned the Steelers during the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady years. They seem to have figured out how to spread out the Steelers normally tough defense and beat it senseless. And its true, the Steelers have no beat a good team this year and lost to the only two winning teams they’ve seen. Yet, somehow, I think this will be a close game. Call it the Steelers are due versus the Patriots feeling. Especially at home. You can’t just spread a team out and expect its always gonna work, no exceptions (though it seems to so far). I think the Steelers should be able to score some points on the Patriots and if the Patriots turn it over as they have at times this year, they’ll lose. I’ll call for a close Pats win on a last second field goal 23-20.

Pats Pregame Points: Game Seven At Steelers

by Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff

After a Sunday without Patriots football (spent rooting against the Jets, to no avail), it’s back to the grind for your Fightin’ Foxboroites. The gang travels to Pittsburgh, where they’ve had some success in recent years.

This and other thoughts before the game…

The Tom Before The Storm: Could be a big day for quarterback Tom Brady, who typically beats the Steelers’ defense like a birthday piñata. With the improved health of tight end Aaron Hernandez and their most robust running game in a while, the Patriots have a chance to put up solid numbers at Heinz Field.

Chad Eat-your-ginko: Maybe receiver Chad Ochocinco is just forgetting his routes and responsibilities. Maybe he needs some brain food to help him remember, like ginko boloba, or salmon, or blueberries. (I don’t know. I just bought a pound of Swedish fish on sale. I’m not exactly a nutritionist.)

At this point, it’s hard to care anymore.

Deaderick On Arrival? Interesting to see whether or not defensive tackles Brandon Deaderick and Ron Brace get summoned off the Player Unable to Perform (PUP) list. Both have made small contributions in the past, each working with the ol’ “potential” label. Will both make the roster this year? Does this have any impact on current defensive linemen?

Speaking of the PUP list…

Faulk In “A” Condition: Running back and Pete-Carroll-era relic Kevin Faulk has said that he’s 100 percent, maybe not the best thing to announce if there’s a chance your team will put you on IR. Danny Woodhead and Shane Vereen have taken on the third-down role; however, Faulk is the most experienced, best pass-blocking back the Patriots have, so that should be worth something.

Marcus Oh Really Yes: All hail the potential return of offensive lineman/monolith Marcus Cannon, in uniform after battling non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma earlier this year. The 358-pounder adds depth to the O-line. He played tackle in college and could rotate at right guard with veteran Brian Waters.

A great story no matter what, but an even better story if we get to see him pound the living dung out of opposing linebackers.

Up Against The Wallace: Pittsburgh receiver Mike Wallace (drafted one spot after the Pats picked Brandon Tate? Oy) can stretch the field for the Steelers and cause New England’s defensive backfield serious problems. Have recent games pointed the way to defensive improvement, or have NE’s DBs just gotten lucky? This will be a good game to find out.

The Side Of Mayo: While many fans have said that the defense seems more dynamic without linebacker Jerod Mayo, it’s hard to ignore his production and his ability to stay on the field every down. If he returns, look for him to partner with Brandon Spikes, allowing Spikes to wreak more havoc.

Really, Mayo returning can’t be a bad thing. Can it?

Malcolm In The Mid-Term: Happy to see rookie Malcolm Williams back in Foxboro on the practice squad halfway through the season. For a closer look at the seventh-rounder, here’s a link to our exclusive PD interview with him back in May.

Email Chris Warner at [email protected]

Patriots/Steelers Preview From AccuScore

PD has partnered with AccuScore this season to bring you data-driven content on the Patriots and their opponents throughout the year. AccuScore Advisor offers professional grade football betting systems that help build sustainable success while betting on NFL football.

AccuScore is forecasting a close game with the New England Patriots winning 49% of simulations, and the Pittsburgh Steelers 51% of simulations. In close games, turnover margin is especially important. The New England Patriots commit fewer turnovers in 32% of simulations and they go on to win 75% when they take care of the ball. The Pittsburgh Steelers wins 63% of the simulations in which they commit fewer turnovers. Tom Brady is averaging 297 passing yards per sim. If he can have a great game with better than average passing yards and at least a 2 to 1 TD to INT ratio (41% chance) then he helps his team win 58%. Ben Roethlisberger is averaging 287 passing yards per sim. If he can have a great game with better than average passing yards and at least a 2 to 1 TD to INT ratio (36% chance) then he helps his team win 58%. SPREADS / TOTALS: Current Point Spread is PIT +3 — Over/Under line is 50.5

‘CURRENT SEASON: We advise relying on these trends after the first 3 weeks of the season.

New England Patriots ATS RECORD Pittsburgh Steelers ATS RECORD ATS EDGE
All Games 4-2-0 All Games 3-4-0 New England Patriots
Road Games 2-1-0 Home Games 2-1-0 No Edge
When Favored 4-2-0 When Underdog 0-2-0 New England Patriots
Non-Division Opp 2-1-0 Non-Division Opp 3-3-0 New England Patriots
Opp .500+ Record 3-2-0 Opp .500+ Record 1-1-0 New England Patriots

LAST SEASON: We advise factoring for these trends for the first 3 to 6 weeks of the Current Season.

New England Patriots ATS RECORD Pittsburgh Steelers ATS RECORD ATS EDGE
All Games 11-6-0 All Games 12-7-0 New England Patriots
Road Games 6-2-0 Home Games 7-3-0 New England Patriots
When Favored 8-6-0 When Underdog 3-2-0 Pittsburgh Steelers
Non-Division Opp 7-3-0 Non-Division Opp 6-6-0 New England Patriots
Opp .500+ Record 5-2-0 Opp .500+ Record 4-5-0 New England Patriots

OVER-UNDER TRENDS

New England Patriots O-U-P RECORD Pittsburgh Steelers O-U-P RECORD O-U EDGE
All Totals (O-U-P) 4-2-0 All Totals (O-U-P) 4-3-0 OVER
On Road 2-1-0 At Home 1-2-0 No Edge
All Totals Last Season 14-3-0 All Totals Last Season 10-9-0 OVER
On Road Last Season 6-2-0 At Home Last Season 5-5-0 OVER

AFC Playoff Odds

Houston made a massive leap in playoff probability this week gaining 20.7 percentage points.  The Texans benefitted in two ways: a blowout win over their closest competition in the Titans, and continued poor performances from both Indianapolis and Jacksonville.  Despite being just 4-3, Houston has an 85.2 percent chance of winning the AFC South.  Tennessee dropped 21 percentage points in playoff probability, the largest drop in the conference.

Baltimore shockingly lost to Jacksonville Monday night gaining just 146 total yards.  Such a poor outing against a bad team in the Jaguars led to the Ravens losing 15.1 percentage points in this week’s projections.  A real pattern has already developed this season with Baltimore playing well at home, and extremely poorly on the road.  Pittsburgh benefitted greatly from the Ravens misfortune becoming the division favorite again at 60.5 percent.  The Bengals continue to play well and made a significant jump of 8.1 percentage points up to 30.9 percent likelihood.

New York continued its revival comeback in a big way against San Diego to win for the second win in a row.  The Jets made the second biggest gain in the projections this week gaining 12.1 percentage points.  New England is still easily the favorite in the AFC and the East.  Buffalo was off on a bye and remained steady at 43.2 percent.

The Chargers were not negatively affected much by the loss in New York.  Despite playing very poorly in the second half, they were on the road and not favored outright anyways.  Oakland’s quarterbacks on the other hand threw six interceptions and showed that all might not be well without Jason Campbell going forward.  The Raiders lost a whopping 17.6 percentage points in playoff probability this week heading into their bye week.  Tim Tebow flashed some of his old magic to win in Miami, but the computer still doesn’t believe in the Broncos.  Denver is only making the playoffs in 0.8 percent of simulations.

AFC WEEK 7 REVIEW PLAYOFF % CHANCE
TEAM WK 7 WK 8 % DIFF WIN DIV
HOUSTON TEXANS 65.5% 86.2% 20.7% 85.2%
NEW YORK JETS 24.2% 36.2% 12.1% 7.5%
CINCINNATI BENGALS 22.7% 30.9% 8.1% 7.1%
PITTSBURGH STEELERS 82.4% 89.6% 7.2% 60.5%
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS 3.4% 9.2% 5.7% 5.6%
BUFFALO BILLS 42.2% 43.2% 1.0% 10.4%
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS 1.4% 2.4% 1.0% 2.3%
DENVER BRONCOS 0.6% 1.4% 0.8% 0.7%
CLEVELAND BROWNS 2.7% 3.4% 0.8% 0.8%
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS 95.1% 95.8% 0.7% 82.1%
MIAMI DOLPHINS 0.0% 0.0% 0.0% 0.0%
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS 1.2% 0.5% -0.6% 0.5%
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS 82.1% 78.4% -3.7% 71.5%
BALTIMORE RAVENS 88.3% 73.3% -15.1% 31.7%
OAKLAND RAIDERS 51.1% 33.4% -17.6% 22.2%
TENNESSEE TITANS 37.3% 16.2% -21.0% 12.0%

Could Bill Belichick Go The Way of Terry Francona?

By Dan Zeigarnik, Patriots Daily Staff

Horrified Boston fans have spent the last couple of weeks watching the disastrous Red Sox collapse in the standings followed by a significantly more despicable fallout. The amount of mud and accusations being slung around is fitting for our politicians but not our beloved sports teams.

If you told me last month that my friends and I would be dressing up as Jon Lester, Josh Beckett, and John Lackey for Halloween with the now requisite buckets of fried chicken and Natty Light as part of the new ‘Red Sox Uniform’ I would tell you that you would have a better chance of firing Tito and letting go of Theo.

So now, the Red Sox debacle has gotten me worried about the Patriots and whether or not the team could ever blow up in Bill Belichick’s face to the point of him getting unceremoniously let go by the Krafts.

The skeptics will point to the inherent differences between the NFL and MLB. They will say:

  • Contracts are not guaranteed in football, so underperforming players or clubhouse cancers can be cut. While in baseball, fans are forced to shovel Lackey’s abysmal performance down their throats and wonder whether he will outlast this Great Recession.
  • There is a salary cap in football, so teams cannot be expected to buy their way into the playoffs. This lowers the expectations for football coaches and gets them a pass from their fans for a bad year hear and there.

The same skeptics will then point to the glaring differences between the Red Sox’s front office whispering and back-stabbing campaigns and the Patriots sense of one-voice camaraderie. They will say:

  • Theo has always had a rocky relationship with the owners. He even left one year.
  • Tito was not a pure numbers guy like both the ownership and Theo would have liked him to be, and therefore there was always a bit of a disconnect.
  • Belichick and Bob Kraft seem to be a team, much like Eddie Van Halen and David Lee Roth or Trey Parker and Matt Stone. They depend on each other for success and it wouldn’t be the same if they were separated.
  • Belichick is a ruthless leader who garners respect by not taking any slack from anyone, while Tito is a ‘players coach’ which is a euphemism for letting them police themselves.

Despite all of this, I am still worried. I’m reminded of one of my favorite political quotes:

In retrospect, all revolutions seem inevitable. Beforehand, all revolutions seem impossible.

Michael McFaul, National Security Council

In the aftermath of a second World Series victory in 2007, no one could imagined that in four short years, Manny Ramirez would be shipped out of town, that Theo Epstein would be described not as a wunderkind, but as a whiny “can’t go out to dinner in public” punk who forced bad free agent acquisitions down the owner’s throats. Could you have dreamed that loyal Tito, who took the team to the promised land twice, would be accused of being an unmotivated and undedicated, painkiller-addicted man whose marital problems got in the way of his job? This is before we even get to the fact that three starting pitchers refused to even watch the games, and instead chose to eat fried chicken, guzzle beer, and play video games in the clubhouse, away from their teammates.

Ever since Bill Belichick benched Drew Bledsoe in favor of Tom Brady, the motto “In Bill we trust” has been the standard cry from fans. However, with no championship rings since 2004 and a golden-boy quarterback in his ‘twilight years’ there is no predicting how the next few years will play out. Brady could have a falling out with his coach, or have another severe injury that will finally spell the demise of the team. Or Belichick’s poor drafting will continue and the team decides to go another route.

Obviously nobody even wants to consider any of these horrible turn of events, but regardless of how it will all go down, it’s important to consider how fragile any state of affairs is and how quickly things can disintegrate into debauchery. Despite this gloomy cloud over the future of the team, it makes me that much more appreciative of the current Patriots’ 5-1 record and enjoy these transient moments of success all the more.

Tonight on Patriots All Access

A must-see Bye Week edition of Patriots All Access airs tonight on WBZ-TV at 7 p.m. and immediately following on Patriots.com.

Among the highlights…

  • Scott Zolak hosts a rare conversation with the three longest-tenured members of the Patriots: Tom Brady, Matt Light and Kevin Faulk. The veterans share thoughts from their years as teammates, including their first impressions of each other, the culture of winning they’ve helped create and which of the three can joke with Coach Belichick.
  • With no opponent this week, Coach Belichick breaks down last week’s win over the Cowboys on The Belestrator, including analysis of a key fourth-quarter defensive stop and tremendous insight into the game-winning drive.
  • All Access takes you behind the bench for game-winning drive and inside a victorious Patriots locker room.
  • Dan Roche takes a look at the Patriots’ position heading into the Bye.
  • Patriots Football Weekly’s Paul Perillo and ESPNBoston’s Mike Reiss share their opinions and analysis.

Around The League – Week 6

By Jeremy Gottlieb, Patriots Daily Staff

If anyone had the San Francisco 49ers at 5-1 through their first six games and firmly in control of the NFC West, I’d like to ask if you’ll join me at the Mega Millions counter or at least for a couple games of Keno.

The Niners have won four straight, are a miraculous Tony Romo overtime pass from being 6-0 and are doing it on both sides of the ball. They allow just 16 points per game, second in the league, and are letting opponents run for just under 75 yards per contest, also good for a No. 2 ranking. Offensively, even though they’re 28th in total yards per game (302.5), they’re seventh in scoring with just under 28 points a week and are running the ball at a more than solid 131.5 yard clip every Sunday.

Quarterback Alex Smith, the No. 1 overall pick in 2005, has lost and regained his starting job numerous times over the course of his time in the Bay Area but finally seems locked in. He’s completing a career-high 63 percent of his passes and has eight TD passes against just two picks and has looked sharp and confident in doing so. And the Niners still have star running back Frank Gore, who has been an absolute beast of late. Gore has 393 yards on just 50 carries in his last three games, good for just under eight yards per attempt. Obviously, having Gore healthy and running like this makes things infinitely easier for Smith.

Balance on both sides of the ball is nice, of course, but if you want to find the biggest reason for the Niners remarkable turnaround (zero winning seasons since 2002, the year of their last playoff appearance), look to the sideline and first-year head coach Jim Harbaugh. A former QB and head coach up the road at Stanford, Harbaugh has instilled a culture in San Francisco that has every one of his players right on down the line looking like they’d run through five walls for him. The Niners upper management, which has been as clueless as it gets since firing the very successful Steve Mariucci after that last playoff season, finally got it right with Harbaugh. Gone is glorified motivational speaker Mike Singletary, who never should have gotten the top job in the first place, and in his place is an actual coach. Harbaugh comes from a line of coaches in his family (his brother John is in Baltimore and has been to the playoffs each of the last three seasons) and clearly has a handle on how to get his players in the best possible position to be successful. It’s been a long time since anyone could say that about a Niners coach and keep a straight face. And, if you saw the postgame meeting between Harbaugh and Detroit coach Jim Schwartz, Harbaugh isn’t afraid to shake his opposite number’s hand a little bit hard.

The Niners are on a bye this week and upon perusing their schedule going forward, they don’t have another really tough looking game until Thanksgiving night when the Harbaugh brothers will meet up in Baltimore. The Niners could be 9-1 headed into that game, hearkening back to the most glorious of glory days in San Francisco. Who knew?

This Week’s Five Best Teams

1. Green Bay: The Packers toyed with the hapless Rams last week at Lambeau, putting up three second quarter TDs on the board to run away before halftime. It’s still relatively early but right now, there’s not too many other people in the MVP conversation besides Aaron Rodgers.

2. New England: Seeing the Pats finally win a game ugly against the Cowboys, with defense and late-game, clutch offense, brought to mind the glory days of 2003-2004. Hallelujah.

3. Baltimore: The Ravens are looking fairly vintage these days as well. In their 29-14 win over the typically fading Houston Texans, they held their guests scoreless for the final quarter and a half, kept star running back Arian Foster under 50 yards rushing and managed to get out allowing fewer than 300 total yards.

4. New Orleans: The Saints did lose last week, dropping a hotly contested affair with the resurgent Bucs, 26-20. But that was after losing head coach Sean Payton to a gruesome knee and leg injury early in the game. But Drew Brees still threw for 350+ yards and young tight end Jimmy Graham had another huge afternoon (seven catches, 124 yards), making New Orleans still look good enough to withstand a bad week on the road and still be right there in the end.

5. San Francisco: See above. Truly one of the best stories of the year thus far.

This Week’s Five Worst Teams

1. Miami: It’s really a toss-up who’s the worst of the three remaining winless teams. But I’ll cast my lot with the Dolphins, who had the ball inside the Jets 10 the first four times they were on offense Monday night, scored six points, gave up a 100-yard INT return for a TD and rolled over for the rest of the night. When they lose at home to the almost as bad Broncos and Tim Tebow this week, that should finally, mercifully be it for coach Tony Sparano.

2. Indianapolis: Now that they’re 0-6 (soon to be 0-7 with New Orleans on this week’s docket), do the Colts really think about getting the No. 1 overall pick and taking Stanford star QB Andrew Luck? And if so, where do they trade Peyton Manning?

3. St. Louis: At least people expected the Dolphins and Colts to suck. The Rams were supposed to win the NFC West. Now, they’ll be lucky to win three games. They get the Cowboys this week and everyone knows, all you need to do against Dallas is show up and there’s as good a chance as any it’ll beat itself. Don’t be afraid to take St. Louis this week.

4. Jacksonville: The Jags played the Steelers really tough, falling 17-13 on the road. And rookie QB Blaine Gabbert looked semi-competent for the first time this year. But they’re still 1-5, the have to play at Baltimore on Monday Night Football this week and Jack Del Rio is still the coach. What a lousy combo.

5. Minnesota: Finally, after six whole games and a humiliating loss to the Bears on Sunday night, the Vikings publicly admitted what pretty much everyone else has known for three years now and that’s that Donovan McNabb is completely washed up and can’t play anymore. Now, they turn to rookie Christian Ponder, who can’t be much worse that McNabb. I wonder if Adrian Peterson wishes he’d waited one more year to sign that huge contract extension?

What’s Trendy

- Michael Turner, Falcons: The Falcons have been waiting for Turner, their workhorse, to get rolling all year and in a 31-17 win over the Panthers, he finally did, piling up 139 yards on 27 carries (5.1 YPA) and two TDs. If Atlanta can get Turner going, maybe struggling QB Matt Ryan and the rest of the offense can get untracked too.

- LeSean McCoy, Eagles: Seemingly the only consistent positive throughout Philly’s nightmare start, McCoy led the way in the Eagles 20-13 win over Washington, its first since Week 1, gaining 126 yards on 28 carries. Look at his stats through his career and you’ll find when knucklehead coach Andy Reid remembers to give him the ball more than 20 times a game, the Eagles usually win. Which is one reason why when he carried it 20 times combined in Philly’s previous two games, they lost both times.

- Fred Jackson, Bills: A running back heavy dose of what’s trendy concludes with the outstanding Jackson, who rolled to 121 yards on just 16 carries, including an 80-yard TD run, against the Giants. Jackson, who’s been platooned in Buffalo for the past several years, finally got the job to himself this year and responded by being second in the NFL in rushing (601 yards), just nine yards behind league leader Darren McFadden.

What’s Not

- Rex Grossman, Redskins: I feel like I may have written in this very space just a few weeks ago that the Redskins are for real and Grossman is an important reason why. Then he completed just nine of 22 passes for 143 yards and four picks against the Eagles and was benched. Grossman has 11 turnovers in five games and I take back everything I said about his that was even slightly good.

- The Browns: Cleveland is 2-3 but after jettisoning Eric Mangini and bringing in Mike Holmgren protegé Pat Shurmer to fix the offense, the Browns probably expected to be better than 28th overall on that side of the ball. A home loss to Seattle this week and it may be time for Browns fans to throw in the towel on yet another year.

- Jason Garrett, Cowboys: Garrett can’t win. When he does well, his domineering boss Jerry Jones takes all the credit. When he looks bad, Jones can hardly wait to tell anyone who will listen just how bad that is (see about five minutes after last week’s brutal loss to the Pats). But the main point is that as long as Jones is in charge, telling the media about all his team’s injuries, strategies, game plans, attendance figures, concession sales and whatever else pops into his head, Garrett instantly has no authority. Jones is the coach of that team and the players all know it. Why do you think the Cowboys are routinely one of the least disciplined, most penalized teams in the league every year? Because why should they listen to anyone who has the title of head coach? They know it’s not real. If Jones isn’t going to sell the Cowboys anytime soon (note: he’s not), he may as well just officially name himself head coach.

And finally…

The Detroit Lions lost a game last week, the first time that’s happened all season. They’re still 5-1 and even though they’re in the same division as the seemingly unstoppable Packers, their prospects for the rest of the season look pretty good, like maybe 11-5 or better kind of good. The key for them is to not get too wrapped up in the fact that they’re not only good for the first time in years, they’re relevant for the first time in years. In 2007, Detroit was 6-2 and seemed to have gotten over the threshold of sucking that had enveloped the franchise since the late ’90s, the last time it made the postseason. Bearing that in mind, the Lions then lost seven out of their next eight games, finished the season 7-9 and out of the playoffs again and followed it up by becoming the first team in history to go 0-for-the season in ’08, ending up 0-16. The point is, the Lions haven’t done anything yet except win five games. If they want to win many more and truly break their cycle of suck, they’d better remember just that.

 

Pats Pregame Points: Week Seven Bye

by Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff

Wait one minute. Did the Patriots win on Sunday because of their defense, and not in spite of it? Did that 20-16 comeback actually happen, or did we imagine it to stay positive during the bye week?

Nope. It really occurred, putting an optimistic spin on much of our thoughts through this point in the season.

Just In The Nick Of Tom: Starting with 2:31 left, Tom Brady shook off a mediocre performance to complete eight of his nine passes for the game-winning touchdown drive. Everything from Wes Welker and Rob Gronkowski’s out routes to Aaron Hernandez’s end zone cross were met with pinpoint accuracy, something the Dallas defense had prevented throughout much of the previous 57:29.

Aaron It Out: We didn’t know what to expect from Hernandez when New England grabbed him in 2010’s fourth round. What a difference this guy makes. We’ll even take his open-up-the-safe-and-make-it-rain-cash touchdown celebration.

Chad On-the-brink-o: It’s worth repeating our analysis of Patriots receivers over the past several years – either they get the offense within weeks, or they never do. Chad Ochocinco got one pass thrown to him and seemed to turn the wrong way (Unless Brady made a mistake. As if!). With the Cowboys demonstrating how to defend the Pats (crush Welker whenever possible, help with the tight ends), New England needs a reliable third receiver who can beat simple man-to-man coverage. With every passing week, Ochocinco looks less and less like that guy.

Don’t be fooled by any upcoming success vs. Pittsburgh. Brady has consistent production against the Steelers, and the team will set Ochocinco up for success there with extra preparation. What he does after the Steelers game will say more about where he fits.

Anyway, enough about Ochocinco…

Taylor Suited? Okay, I lied: Shouldn’t Taylor Price get a shot to play? Wouldn’t he benefit more from the experience than Ochocinco at this point?

We can’t complain about this offense, but we can worry about its individual parts.

Around The Bend But Don’t Break: Has the New England defense figured it out? Have they turned the proverbial corner? Sure, they still have work to do, but holding Dallas to two field goals after some dicey turnovers impressed us. Solid run defense and an avoidance of allowing big plays made a difference.

Dallas coach Jason Garrett’s paralyzing fear of allowing QB Tony Romo to pass probably didn’t hurt, either. But we’ll focus on the positive.

To Err Is Human, To Forgive, D-line: The Patriots defensive front made up for some inconsistency elsewhere, pressuring Romo and stopping early rushing plays dead. It seems as though this veteran group is getting more comfortable with each other, staying in synch and plugging up gaps. Fun to watch when the defense accomplishes what it sets out to do.

What’s not as fun? Well…

Far From Devin: Is something wrong with cornerback Devin McCourty? In terms of his tackling, he’s missed more stops than an over-caffeinated bus driver. He seems to get caught looking into the backfield and freezing, resulting in having to catch up to the guy he’s supposed to be covering. An odd transition from the smooth, effortless appearance of last year’s rookie.

Let’s Talk About Six: As in, six weeks into the season, meaning some players are eligible to get onto the roster from the Player Unable to Perform (PUP) list. We’ll see what running back Kevin Faulk, defensive linemen Ron Brace and Brandon Deaderick, and guard Marcus Cannon can bring. Seems like the Pats may have gotten a little bit better over the bye week. More potential, anyway.

Enjoy the week off. The last 10 should be fun.

Chris Warner can be reached at [email protected]

AFC Playoff Odds From AccuScore

PD has partnered with AccuScore this season to bring you data-driven content on the Patriots and their opponents throughout the year. AccuScore Advisor offers professional grade football betting systems that help build sustainable success while betting on NFL football.

AFC

The Bengals are somehow 4-2 and have won 3 games in a row.  Still, Cincinnati is not quite a contender making the playoffs in 25.7 percent of simulations but it’s getting close.  That number represents a 10.3 percentage point gain from a week ago.  The problem is the in-division competition in the AFC North.  Baltimore is the favorite for the division at 53.7 percent with Pittsburgh trailing at 40.5 percent.  Both teams are well over 80 percent odds to make the postseason.  Cleveland is the one North team already out of the picture.

Oakland suffered the biggest drop in the conference despite winning because of the injury to Jason Campbell.  The Raiders dropped 12.7 percentage points, but the recent acquisition of veteran Carson Palmer could reverse those fortunes.  The Chargers benefitted from the injury despite being off on a bye week gaining 5.7 percentage points to add to their projected AFC West lead.  Kansas City and Denver also benefitted slightly but the two teams combine to win the division just 2.2 percent of simulations.

The Jets got a big win on Monday night to reach .500 at 3-3.  That moved New York up 4.9 percentage points which would have been more had it been over a better team than Miami.  The Dolphins are now the first team to reach 0.0 percent in playoff odds, and they are well on their way to winning the Andrew Luck sweepstakes.  Buffalo suffered a heartbreaker to New York this week, one that could be critical in the standings.  The Bills fell to 44.5 percent playoff odds and would slot in the final Wild Card spot in the AFC for now.  New England continues to roll as the most likely playoff participant in the AFC.

Houston didn’t look great without Andre Johnson and Mario Williams in a loss to the Ravens.  To be fair, Baltimore’s defense shuts down most teams, but Johnson’s injury has to be a bit of a concern given how much Matt Schaub relies on him in the passing game.  The Texans are still the favorite in the AFC South for now at nearly 63 percent for the division.  Tennessee is next at 34.7 percent, and made only minimal gains because of a bye.  Jacksonville and Indianapolis are a combined 1-11 and win the division a combined 2.5 percent of the time.

AFC WEEK 6 REVIEW PLAYOFF % CHANCE
TEAM WK 6 WK 7 % DIFF WIN DIV
CINCINNATI BENGALS 15.4% 25.7% 10.3% 5.3%
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS 83.6% 89.3% 5.7% 82.4%
NEW YORK JETS 21.5% 26.4% 4.9% 5.1%
TENNESSEE TITANS 35.2% 38.9% 3.7% 34.7%
BALTIMORE RAVENS 85.8% 89.0% 3.2% 53.7%
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS 94.1% 95.9% 1.8% 83.1%
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS 3.0% 4.7% 1.6% 1.9%
DENVER BRONCOS 0.8% 1.0% 0.2% 0.3%
MIAMI DOLPHINS 0.2% 0.0% -0.1% 0.0%
JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS 1.7% 1.5% -0.2% 1.5%
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS 1.4% 1.1% -0.4% 1.0%
CLEVELAND BROWNS 5.2% 2.7% -2.5% 0.4%
PITTSBURGH STEELERS 86.6% 83.9% -2.6% 40.5%
HOUSTON TEXANS 68.9% 64.7% -4.2% 62.8%
BUFFALO BILLS 53.2% 44.5% -8.6% 11.9%
OAKLAND RAIDERS 43.4% 30.8% -12.7% 15.4%

Making The Grades – Cowboys at Patriots

By Jeremy Gottlieb, Patriots Daily Staff

20-16. Multiple turnovers. The worst game collectively for the offense since last season’s debacle in Cleveland. Yet the end result is still a win. Outstanding.

The Patriots came out on the high end of that 20-16 final on Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday at Gillette Stadium to move to 5-1 on the year, and they did it ugly. That just might be the best thing about the game, though, the ugliness factor. The Pats were lousy in the area they’re supposed to be best and looked positively doomed right up until the final handful of seconds before the two-minute warning, when Tom Brady, the greatest quarterback in the NFL, shook one of his worst performances in a long time and displayed the kind of mental toughness that has separated him from so many other signal callers throughout his career. Trailing 16-13 with 2:31 remaining, in possession of the ball at his own 20 and shouldering the load of a wholly mediocre, 19-of-32, 211 yard, one TD, two INT performance up to that point, Brady led his team on yet another game-winning march, completing 8-of-9 passes for 78 yards and the clinching score. It helped immensely that the Cowboys are a poorly coached, undisciplined, incredibly dumb team that not only seemed to abandon everything that had worked for them on defense for the entire game on that final drive, but completely botched their final two offensive possessions, thus allowing the Pats enough room to operate and subsequently emerge victorious. And it should be noted ASAP that the Pats defense, despite some glaring problems tackling and still more cushy-soft play from the secondary, played by far its best game of the season as a whole, partnering with Dallas and its inability to get out of its own way to surrender a season low 16 points while holding a second straight opponent under 400 total yards and look as stout as ever in the red zone. Yep, it wasn’t pretty. But the good teams, the truly good ones, find ways to win when things aren’t remotely aesthetically pleasing, while the frauds, like the Dallas Cowboys, never do. So with that, let’s get to this week’s report card,

OFFENSE: C

Quarterbacks: C

It’s sort of hard to justify giving Brady this kind of grade given his late-game heroics but he was positively lost up til that point. Watching him operate, with all the audibles and checkoffs and long snap counts and so forth was fun to observe. But he only really finished one drive prior to the game-winner and both of his interceptions were throws anyone would like to have back (though in his defense, the first one, an in cut over the middle that was behind a well-covered Deion Branch, was tipped at the line). He seemed a bit perplexed all day; he was under a good deal of pressure from the Cowboys front seven (sacked three times, hit eight more) and Dallas’s secondary played well, taking Wes Welker out of a lot of the game while doing a good job on Brady’s other favorite target, Rob Gronkowski, as well. There were even times it appeared Brady saw things that weren’t really there, like on the second pick, an across-the-body heave that wound up in an area populated by four times as many defenders as Pats. But in the end, it didn’t even matter. To say Brady was surgical on that final drive would be an understatement. Read it again: 8-of-9, 78 yards. Pretty much every throw was more perfect than perfect. The TD pass to Aaron Hernandez was threaded right onto A-Herb’s hands, barely an inch outside the defender’s fingertips. It was as vintage as vintage gets and again was further proof that there aren’t many like Brady. To have played the way he did up to that point yet still not only manage that final drive but do it as precisely as he did was amazing yet entirely familiar. We’ve seen it before and you know what? We’ll see it again.

Running Backs: B

Ho-hum. 25 carries for 101 yards total, some of them very well timed. But not nearly the dominant ground effort of last week’s win over the Jets. Again, the Law Firm of BenJarvus Green-Ellis was the big man on campus, rolling up a tidy 58 yards on 14 attempts and one catch for 11 yards. BJGE did his usual thing, running with strength and purpose, hitting holes with power and making himself hard to tackle; as if we didn’t already know this but he’s made himself into a true, No. 1 power back and considering where he came from, that’s a pleasure to type. Stevan Ridley took the handoff on the Pats first offensive snap 16 yards, ran two more times for three more yards and didn’t see the field on O again. Ridley is a real talent, something he proved both in Buffalo and in Oakland. It would be nice to see him get a few more opportunities but with BJGE running so well of late, it’s understandable that he’s been more of a spectator these last two weeks. And Danny Woodhead returned from his week off to play a huge role on the final drive, catching two passes for 22 yards and proving again that he’s a more than capable replacement for Kevin Faulk out of the backfield. Not a banner day for this group but considering the Cowboys entered the game allowing just under 70 yards per game on the ground, the Pats will take it.

Wide Receivers: B-

Less a commentary on the play of Welker and Branch than a commendation of how well they were covered by the Dallas defensive backs. Welker had a TD but caught just six passes all day and three of them were on the final drive (and while we’re here, did anyone else notice how open he was on a couple of those late game grabs? This is what I mean when I say the Cowboys are poorly coached; the fact that they seemed to change the way they were successfully playing the Pats best receiver at the worst possible time and it in part cost them the game is stunning). Naturally, he made plays when it mattered most, looked positively effortless on his TD (another of those in-then-out option routes on which he had to beat a man to the edge and stretch out as far as he could to get the ball inside and around the pylon) and ultimately rendered his final stat line meaningless. Branch caught three passes for 69 yards including a nifty, 45-yard catch and run on which he recognized his man, already playing him soft, leaning the wrong way and took off. He was his usual solid self. This grade feels like it should be higher but it can’t be because of the completely overmatched Chad Ochocinco, who played just seven snaps all day, blew his only targeted thrown because he cut the wrong way (seriously, Chad – it’s been like 10 weeks since training camp started. You still don’t know which way to go?). The Pats brass lined up to defend their $6 million man on Monday. He may only have nine catches in six games but they’ll be damned if they don’t talk up how great he is in practice and how valuable he’ll be down the road. That being said, don’t be surprised if he gets cut during the bye week. What a waste.

Tight Ends: B

You’ve gotta hand it to A-Herb – he sure does have a flair for the dramatic. Last week it’s his slippery fingers that cost the Pats a late first half TD and could have drastically changed the complexion of the win over the Jets. This week, he has a brutal fumble deep in Dallas territory in the third quarter after a 15-play drive but bounces back to catch the game winning score with 22 seconds left on the clock. He finished the game with eight catches for 68 yards including that TD and it’s certainly worth imagining what kind of player A-Herb will be a couple years down the road when he’s a little older and wiser. He’s such a weapon already thanks to his combo of size and wide receiver skill (on one play, FOX analyst Troy Aikman appeared in awe when diagramming a replay on which A-Herb was covered by Orlando Scandrick, the Cowboys best corner yet beat his thoroughly and made an excellent catch). Think about how much better he’ll be with time and maturity. All of the drama that’s followed him from time to time over his first year-plus with the Pats will likely be a memory. And on the other side, there’s Gronk, catching seven more passes (or, all the passes Brady threw his way) for 74 yards, blocking stoutly in the running game and even playing safety on the Cowboys desperation final heave of the game. The Pats had at least two tight ends on the field for 68 of their 74 offensive snaps (Gronk played 73, A-Herb played 70) and why shouldn’t they? No one uses the position better.

Offensive Line: C-

Not the best day for this group as evidenced by all the trouble Brady had staying upright. Logan Mankins was even off his game, getting beaten a handful of times by multiple Cowboys, once for a sack, so you know there were issues up front. No one played particularly well on the O-line, with rookie Nate Solder having a particularly rough day. Matt Light did OK with the Cowboys pass rushing demon DeMarcus Ware (Ware had two sacks but only one was on Light and Ware didn’t get too close to Brady too many other times). The protection was flawless on the final drive (as was everything) but even though that’s especially important, this game marked the second in a row in which Brady was running for his life more often than is comfortable. This bye week will be crucial for the O-line to shore some things up, especially with the Pittsburgh Steelers looming in Week 8.

DEFENSE: B

Defensive Line: B+

Can you believe it? The D-line played really well, bordering on great. Someone please hose me down. And it all starts with Andre Carter, who was immense on Sunday. Never mind the two sacks (though it’s hard to given that it feels like no one on the entire team has had a sack all year up until Sunday) or the five tackles. He also played the run, busted up a screen pass and just basically made things happen. He was in the backfield a lot, racking two tackles for a loss and a couple of more hits on Tony Romo. It was his best game of the year thus far and even though the Cowboys have one of the weaker offensive lines in the league, it’s massively encouraging that a guy like Carter can play such a solid, borderline dominant game. Elsewhere, the Pats got a bit of an impact performance from Albert Haynesworth, who just missed Romo on one pass play and handled some double teams as a pass rusher and opened up some space for guys like Carter to operate. Vince Wilfork just missed another interception and again played almost every down on defense, doing a little bit of pass rushing in addition to his usual role as a plugger/run stopper. Veteran Gerard warren played his best game in his couple of seasons as a Patriot with a couple of big stops a fumble recovery and drawing a holding penalty that wiped out a sizable Dallas gain in the first half. Even Shaun Ellis made a nice play (perhaps his first of the year), hauling down Dallas back Demarco Murray for a loss on one occasion. There were issues with tackling on defense on Sunday but the D-line didn’t have a problem with it. This group hasn’t looked better all year.

Linebackers: B

Before we go any further, that makes two straight weeks without Jerod Mayo and two straight weeks of the Pats defense playing its best game of the season. Just saying… Anyway, how about Gary Guyton? The guy is the de facto Mayo, playing every snap in the middle of everything and even though he can’t tackle or play the run, he is presiding over the awakening of this defense. Guyton must have missed five tackles by himself and was faked out so badly by Dallas receiver Dez Bryant on one play that he literally sat down as if he was skiing and realized he was about to fall. But hey, it’s working with him doing the Mayo thing so why complain, right? Instead, let’s look at Brandon Spikes and Rob Ninkovich, each of whom played a spectacular game on Sunday. Spikes is still something of a liability in pass coverage but he was allowed to blitz a few times in this game (yes, the Pats actually took some chances on defense in this one, you read that right) and got in Romo’s face a couple of times. He also snuffed out a third down shovel pass attempt with the Cowboys inside the Pats 10 in the fourth quarter and caused a loss, forcing a field goal in the process. That play went a long way toward giving the Pats enough breathing room to make Brady’s heroics possible. Good for Spikes, who is looking better the past two weeks than he has since arriving here last year as a big name rookie out of Florida. And Ninkovich, who played every down but one, had the unenviable task of shadowing Dallas star tight end Jason Witten all day and did a more than admirable job. Witten caught four passes for 48 yards and a TD but one of those catches was a 20-yarder with 10 seconds left in the game and on the TD, he motioned all the way across the formation and managed to lose Ninkovich in the process. But for the most part, there he was, No. 50, chipping and hitting Witten at the line of scrimmage on nearly every pass play, looking like an All-Pro. The Pats have to be thrilled for the most part with what they got from this group. Maybe they should just put Mayo on IR.

Defensive Backs: C

It’s getting really depressing with Devin McCourty, not just watching him suck but writing about how bad he sucks. The Pats are playing so much of that deep, soft zone stuff that allows them to give up between seven and 15 yards per pass play as opposed to all the 30, 40 and 50+ yarders they were giving up through the first three weeks but even that isn’t helping McCourty. Someone named Laurent Robinson, who is fourth on the Cowboys receiver depth chart, toasted McCourty on multiple occasions in this game, once shaking off a feeble, sideline tackle attempt for a 32 yard gain. And on another play, he was beaten so badly in the end zone, all he could do was commit an egregious interference penalty but was bailed out due to one of the many costly infractions that went against Dallas, this one a holding call that offset McCourty’s blunder. He clearly has no confidence; all of the swagger and substance that made him such a revelation last season is so far gone, it’s fair to wonder if it will ever return. It’s too soon to say that McCourty is the latest in the string of misfires by Bill Belichick in drafting DBs over the past few years (Darius Butler, Terrence Wheatley, Jonathan Wilhite, Brandon Meriweather, etc.) but he’s looking a lot closer to that status than not through this season’s first six games. The Cowboys tandem of star receivers, Bryant and Miles Austin, caught 11 passes for 152 yards on the day but neither of them scored, Bryant didn’t have a catch after halftime and Austin had two huge drops, one on the Cowboys penultimate drive of the game. So credit to this group for that, and credit to Kyle Arrington, who tied for the league lead with his fourth INT on a classic forced, back foot throw by Romo in the first quarter, overcame a couple of little nicks and managed to make a few more plays not only against the pass but against the run too. With McCourty struggling so badly, Leigh Bodden a shell of his former self and rookie Ras-I Dowling unable to get healthy, the play of Arrington for the most part thus far has been a nice surprise. No one else did much noteworthy here, though James Ihedigbo had another very solid game (every snap but one, seven tackles, one for a loss) and Patrick Chung didn’t hurt himself again. This level of the defense is still the furthest away of any. But like the rest of them, it’s getting better.

Special Teams: C

A fumble by Matthew Slater on a kick return and another penalty on Dane Fletcher really gummed this one up, especially given the improved kick coverage and the otherworldly punting of our man Zoltan (48 yards per punt, one down perfectly at the Dallas 1). And Stephen Gostkowski made a couple more field goals, running his tally of consecutive makes to 10 since Week 1 at Miami. All in all, the Pats special teams are pretty boring. Surely, Belichick and friends are OK with that description. But wouldn’t it be great to see someone break a return for more than 15 yards? Or see a guy absolutely lay someone out in coverage? Come on, is this really asking that much???!!!

Coaching: B

For starters, it should be pointed out that if this grade was based on a comparison between coaches, Belichick would get an A if for no other reason than that his opposite number is Jason Garrett, who is probably still deluding himself into believing that he will ever have a chance to be successful in Dallas between now and when Jerry Jones fires him five games into next season with the Cowboys are coming off yet another non-playoff campaign and are 2-3. Jones is the coach of the Cowboys, not anyone else. And if you ever forget that, it will probably take him no more than 10 minutes to remind you. But I digress. This section is about Belichick and the coaching and while he and his staff have had better games, they’ve definitely had worse. It was a little bit alarming to see it take so long for the offense to make any real adjustments to what Ryan and the Cowboys D were throwing at them but by the same token, it was impressive to see the defense turned loose a little bit more than in recent weeks and respond to that in the opposite way it did in Buffalo which is to say positively. Those maddening, eight yard cushions given by the corners to the opposing receivers were still there enough to make a few chunks rise in the old gullet but there was surprisingly also some more risk taken than usual. The Pats blitzed, played man and were aggressive in ways we haven’t seen in weeks and at least for this week, it paid off. There’s no telling whether it will happen again though, we’ll have to wait two weeks until the Pittsburgh game to find out. There will need to be tackling drills aplenty in the coming days but all in all, the progress of the D in the last two weeks has been encouraging and all the credit there has to go to Belichick and the defensive staff. After allowing in excess of 25 points per game through the first three weeks, the defense is allowing less than 20 in its last three, the play in the red zone being a major reason why. That progress showed big time on Sunday. Along with Brady and his timeless, supernatural ability in the clutch, it’s why the Pats are 5-1 and alone in first place in the AFC East, not 4-2 and tied for it.