Post Game Report Card
It seemed to be the same script, just a more formidable opponent and a less sexy locale.
The Patriots once again sliced through one of the league’s top defenses from a year ago with a relentless aerial assault led by trigger man Tom Brady, but saw their own secondary struggled to handle the opposition’s passing game. Last week the Pats surrendered 416 yards through the air to the pedestrian Chad Henne, and this week it was 378 yards to Pro Bowler Phillip Rivers. Improvement, some might say.
Again, the results were the same. The Patriots defense gave up chunks of yards, but made enough plays for New England to win comfortably. Brady continues to favor his young tight ends Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski, who both appear to be developing into elite pass catchers for their position, in his assault on the NFL record books. Finally, and most importantly, New England is 2-0 with convincing victories over a divisional foe and a San Diego team that many people believe can make some serious noise this year. Sunday’s win had its worts, but it was a stellar performance by the Patriots.
Can you really give any other grade to the guy that just set an NFL records for most yards in the first two games of a season? Brady was once again spectacular, but his efficiency was the most impressive thing. Only nine of his 40 pass attempts hit the ground, and he kept his stat sheet clean with zero turnovers. Brady continues to be perfectly in sync with his tight ends along with veterans Wes Welker and and Deion Branch at receiver. He spread the ball around to seven different targets and only had one negative play all day, a fourth down conversion attempt where he missed Welker due to the rush.
Running Back- B+
The numbers are certainly not eye popping. Patriots running backs rushed for a decent 92 yards, but when they needed to pound it, they did. The New England offense is going to revolve around Brady and the passing game, but Benjarvus Green-Ellis showed he can be a durable first option, carrying 17 times for 70 yards, including a 16-yard touchdown run to put the game out of San Diego’s reach. Danny Woodhead did not get many chances to carry the ball, but once again proved how valuable he was in blitz pickup, knocking back Chargers linebacker Shaun Phillips twice when he came untouched off the edge.
Receivers/Tight Ends- A+
Brady was great, but the guys he was throwing to weren’t bad either. Hernandez and Gronkowski combined for 148 yards and three touchdowns, while Welker and Branch took over the game at times in the first half and combined for 210 yards on 15 catches. Much has been made of the lack of production of Chad Ochocinco, but the former Bengal added a pair of catches, one a 30 yard post, to the corps production. There were no noticeable drops and all the receivers did a great job of picking up yards after the catch.
Offensive Line- A
Brady was sacked twice, but he seemed to have endless time in the pocket the rest of the game. The line also showed enough athleticism to get out in front on both wide receiver and tight end screens, despite Dan Connolly filling in for injured center Dan Koppen. Though the Patriots do not run the ball often, there were holes open for their running backs in the second half when they needed to.
Defensive Line- C+
Nobody was surprised that this group didn’t get much pressure on Rivers, but it was a bit shocking that running back Ryan Mathews was able to average over five yards a carry on the day. Only when the Chargers committed several turnovers and were forced to abandon their ground game did the gashing of New England’s defensive line end. The bright spot was tackle Vince Wilfork had got to Rivers once and made a nifty interception when he slid to his left to cut off Mathews coming out of the backfield.
Ron Ninkovich had a nice day, collecting a sack and helping the secondary by “chucking” All-Pro tight end Antonio Gates at the line of scrimmage, but one member of the unit seemed to disappear at times. Brandon Spikes, fresh off a benching last week, was absent all day, only collecting two tackles and seemingly vacating the middle and flats in coverage to Chargers running backs Mathews and Mike Tolbert to the tune of a combined 15 catches for 135 yards. Jerod Mayo was once again a tackling machine, and even forced a fumble on Tolbert. A solid day, but the group looked very out of place in coverage at times.
Defensive Backs- C
Though the linebackers were giving up check downs to running backs left and right, San Diego’s receivers had a field day as well. Vincent Jackson had a career day, grabbing 10 catches for 172 yards and two scores, and that was without Malcom Floyd playing the majority of the game due to injury. One theme that is emerging, at least early on, is that the Patriots are going to struggled with big, physical receivers. The 6’5” 230 lb. Jackson seemed to have his way with Devin McCourty in single coverage, and the 6’4” 230 lb. Brandon Marshall was able to grab seven balls for 139 yards while to boxing out and going over the top of McCourty as well. The similarly large Floyd had 59 yards on two catches before he went out, but safety Sergio Brown came up with a clutch interception to salvage the group’s performance.
Special Teams- B+
Stephen Gostkowski nailed a 47-yard field goal in the unit’s highlight, but punter Zoltan Mesko suffered a knee injury when teammate James Ihedigbo ran into him in its low-light. Mesko would not punt in the fourth quarter, forcing New England to go for it on a late fourth down and leading to Brady’s one negative play of the day. The coverage units where noticeably unnoticeable, which is a good thing, and Julian Edelman averaged a stellar 19.5 yards per punt return.