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Patriots Report Card: Week 14

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Quarterback: B

Tom Brady completed 19 of 32 passes for 192 yards, and threw one touchdown and one interception against the Carolina Panthers.  Brady’s 192 yards marked his lowest passing output of the season, but the crafty veteran made plays when he had to.  His five-yard touchdown pass to Ben Watson midway through the third quarter put the Patriots ahead for good.  The first half interception was more a result of lethargic route running by Randy Moss than inaccurate passing from Brady.  Brady’s performance certainly wasn’t what Patriots fans are used to seeing from him, but he played well enough to get his team a win.

Running Backs: B+

Starter Laurence Maroney produced his second-highest rushing total of the season, plowing his way to 94 yards on 22 carries.   He also caught two passes for 17 yards, putting his all-purpose yardage over 100.   The Patriots are making a more concerted effort to get the ball in Maroney’s hands.  The better Maroney plays, the better the Patriots offense performs as a whole.

Third down back Kevin Faulk rushed for 58 yards on ten carries, and scored on a three-yard touchdown late in the second quarter.  Faulk’s carries came almost exclusively out of the spread formation, keeping the Panthers defense off-balance throughout the second half.  Faulk also caught three passes for 17 yards.  In my opinion, Faulk is one of the most underrated players in the NFL, and is the glue that keeps this Patriots offense together.

Sammy Morris chipped in with 35 yards on six carries, but fumbled deep in Carolina territory on the Patriots first drive of the second half. The Patriots rushed for an impressive 185 yards as a team.

Wide Receivers: B

Wes Welker led all Patriots wide receivers with 105 yards off of a game-high ten receptions.  Five of Welker’s receptions came on the 96-yard go-ahead touchdown drive in the third quarter.  His longest reception went for 23 yards, and set the Patriots up with a first and goal before Brady found Watson in the end zone.   Welker was far and away the Patriots best player on the field on Sunday.  The speedy slot receiver had a field day with the Panthers linebackers, and acted as a security blanket for Tom Brady on a day when weather conditions were not optimal for throwing the ball downfield.

Randy Moss had a terrible game, catching one pass for 16 yards.  Moss had a crucial drop on a route over the middle (big surprise), lost a fumble, and ran most of his routes at half speed, which on one occasion led to Chris Gamble’s interception of Tom Brady in the first quarter.  Moss’s effort put a damper on Welker’s heroics, and cost the Patriots wide-outs an A on their report card.

Tight end Ben Watson had three receptions for 37 yards, and caught a five-yard touchdown pass from Brady.

Offensive Line: A-

The Patriots offensive line was solid all afternoon.  They kept Julius Peppers and the Panthers pass rushers at bay, allowing Brady time in the pocket.  Brady was not sacked on Sunday, a testament to the o-line’s pass-blocking.  Koppen, Mankins Kaczur, and the rest of the line opened up big holes for Maroney and Faulk to run through, and were a big reason why the Patriots rushed for almost 200 yards.

Front Seven: B+

The Patriots front seven held the formidable one-two punch of DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart to a combined 111 yards. Williams broke-off a couple of 20+ yard runs, but they proved inconsequential. Ty Warren led the team with six tackles followed by linebacker Jerod Mayo who tallied five solo tackles and two assists.  Titus Adams, recently brought up from the practice squad, did an admirable job filling in for Vince Wilfork, who left the game with a foot injury.

The Patriots pass-rush is improving but is still not where it needs to be.  Panthers second-string quarterback Matt Moore was on his back for much of the afternoon, but was sacked only twice, once by Derek Burgess, and once by Jarvis Green.

Secondary: C+

The Patriots secondary has to be disappointed with not intercepting a pass against Matt Moore.  The third-year second-string quarterback out of Oregon State played with a lot of poise completing 15 of 30 attempts for 197 yards and a touchdown. The Patriots safeties were once again exposed when they bit on a play action fake by Moore in the first quarter.  Moore connected with Steve Smith for a 41-yard touchdown on the play. The secondary continues to be the weak-link.

Special Teams: A

The Patriots kickoff coverage was outstanding, and made life miserable for Panthers rookie return man Tyrell Sutton.  Sutton averaged a measly 19 yards on five returns and was hit hard every time he touched the ball.

Stephen Gostkowski hit two crucial second half field goals in the driving rain from 48 and 47 yards. He continues to be one of the elite kickers in the NFL.

Coaching Staff: B+

I thought Bill Belichick and his staff called a solid game.  Going for it on fourth down in the first quarter proved to be a mistake, but the coaches made adjustments in the second quarter and the second half.  The Patriots came out a little too aggressive, trying to throw the ball downfield to Moss with little success, and biting on Carolina’s play action passing.  By the time the rain came however, Belichick and his staff had already committed to playing for field position, and wearing down the Panthers on both sides of the ball.  Short passes to Welker and 22 carries by Laurence Maroney were supplemented by Kevin Faulk gashing Carolina on runs out of the spread formation.  The Patriots benefited from great field position throughout the second half, and did a good job keeping Carolina pinned, forcing Matt Moore to try to execute long drives.

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