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Patriots Report Card: Week 15

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Quarterback: C+

Statistically, Tom Brady had perhaps his worst game of the 2009 season. Brady completed 11 of 23 passes for 115 yards in the Patriots 17-10 win over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.  Brady also threw one touchdown to Randy Moss and one interception to Bills linebacker Paul Posluszny.

Brady’s 13-yard touchdown pass to Randy Moss in the 2nd quarter was a thing of beauty, but was one of the few bright moments for the Patriots veteran quarterback.

The knock on Brady has always been that he makes mistakes when he is pressured.  The New York Giants brought Brady’s weakness to light in Super Bowl XLII, when they sacked him five times en route to a 17-14 upset victory.  Although the Giants never intercepted Brady in that game, they did rattle him, and his completion percentage of just over 50 percent and, 5.5 yard per completion average, were a product of the relentless Giants pass rush.

Last Sunday Brady threw an interception to Chris Gamble in the face of pressure, and he did the same thing this Sunday against Buffalo. While all quarterbacks throw interceptions, Brady’s recent ill-advised throws are very uncharacteristic. If the Patriots are going to have a chance to advance in the playoffs, he needs to be a little more careful with the football.

Running Backs: B

Laurence Maroney has been the Patriots’ most improved player this season.  The fourth-year running back had another productive day in Buffalo, rushing for 81 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries.  Maroney’s longest run of the day went for only 13 yards, but his workman-like effort wore down the Bills defense in the second half, and helped the Patriots kill the clock. His one-yard touchdown run in the second quarter was his ninth of the season.  Maroney was supplemented by Sammy Morris and Kevin Faulk who combined for 20 yards on five carries, and five yards on two receptions.  In a game in which both team’s offenses were struggling, the Patriots rushing attack was just effective enough to allow the Patriots to squeak by with a win.

Wide Receivers: B-

Randy Moss bounced back from last week’s lackluster performance catching five passes from Tom Brady for 70 yards.  One of those catches came on a 13-yard touchdown strike from Brady in the second quarter.  Moss silenced his critics, at least momentarily, with his effort against the Bills.

With nearly two-thirds of Brady’s 115 passing yards going to Randy Moss, it wasn’t possible for other receivers to put up big numbers.  Wes Welker had a solid game, as usual, catching four passes for 40 yards.  Oddly enough, Moss and Welker were the only Patriots wide receivers with catches on Sunday.  The Patriots desperately need someone to emerge as a solid number three option for Brady.  Early in the season it appeared rookie Julian Edelman would fill that role, but a broken arm has made it difficult for him to contribute.

Offensive Line: A

For the second straight week the Patriots offensive line held the opposing defense without a sack.  This is huge for Tom Brady, who is currently playing with injuries to his right shoulder, ribs, and a finger on his right hand.  The Patriots kept Brady on his feet all afternoon without injured tackle Nick Kaczur (shoulder) and guard Stephen Neal (ankle). This unit gets an A for the second week in a row.

Front Seven: B+

After getting gashed by Bills running back Fred Jackson in the first half, the Patriots front seven tightened up in the second half, conceding a modest 105 rushing yards on the day.  Most noteworthy however was the Patriots pass rush which came out of hibernation in Buffalo on Sunday.  The Patriots sacked Bills quarterbacks Ryan Fitzpatrick and Trent Edwards a combined six times. Outside linebacker Tully Banta-Cain had three sacks and knocked Trent Edwards out of the game with an ankle injury.  Banta-Cain played like a beast, collapsing the pocket, harassing the quarterback, and making tackles all over the field. Derek Burgess, Gary Guyton, and Mike Wright accounted for the other half of the Patriots six sacks.

The Patriots showed a new defensive alignment on third down on multiple occasions Sunday.  The alignment featured a lot of movement by the Patriots linebackers, and no defensive lineman in three-point stances.  Look for the Patriots to continue to use it more down the stretch, especially when defensive tackle Mike Wright is on the field.

Secondary: B

The maligned Patriots secondary held Ryan Fitzpatrick to 178 yards passing on Sunday.  Second-year cornerback Jonathan Wilhite snatched the Patriots only interception as the Bills were driving for a score late in the first half. Despite giving up some big fourth quarter plays to Bills receivers Lee Evans and Josh Reed, I liked what I saw from the Patriots secondary.  They held the Bills to under 200 yards passing, made a crucial interception, and held Terrell Owens to two receptions for just 20 yards. Now they just have to show they play with the same consistency against a desperate Jacksonville team this coming Sunday.

Special Teams: B+

Stephen Gostkowski made his only attempt of the afternoon from 30 yards to extend to Patriots lead to 17-3 midway through the third quarter.  Chris Hanson averaged a pedestrian 29.8 yards per punt attempt, and the Patriots held Fred Jackson to a 27-yard kick return average.  This unit has been solid all year, which is all you can ask for from your special teams.

Coaching Staff: B+

The Patriots offensive coaching staff did a good job getting Randy Moss involved early and often. They also showed they are committed to the run.  Laurence Maroney carried the ball 23 times against Buffalo.  He has a whopping 45 carries in the Patriots last two games, and has been very effective.  The play calling was a predictable at times during the second half, but I think the offensive coaching staff called a good game overall.

I really liked the third down formation without down lineman. It helped the Patriots finally get consistent pressure on the quarterback, even if it was against an inferior opponent.

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