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Patriots Report Card: Week 16

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Quarterback: A+

Tom Brady returned to his ’07 form against the Jaguars on Sunday, completing 23/26 passes for 267 yards and four touchdowns.  Brady played an almost perfect game on Sunday, as his 149.0 quarterback rating would indicate. He threw three touchdown passes to Randy Moss, and another to tight end Chris Baker.  Brady continued his mastery of the Jacksonville Jaguars. When these two teams met back in the 2007 AFC Divisional Playoffs, Brady completed 26/28 passes and threw three touchdowns. Here’s Brady’s combined stats in his last two games against Jacksonville: 49 of 54 (90.7%), 529 yards, 9.8 YPA, 7 TD, 0 INT, 147.1 passer rating.

Running Backs: B+

There were some new faces carrying the load for the Patriots’ rushing attack on Sunday. Laurence Maroney’s goal line fumble on the Patriots opening drive earned him a seat on the bench, and a spot in Bill Belichick’s doghouse. Maroney has four fumbles in his last seven games, two of which occurred in the red zone.

Sammy Morris picked up the slack, racking up 95 yards on 12 carries. Morris scored on a one-yard touchdown run late in the second quarter putting the Patriots ahead 21-0.  Injury plagued Fred Taylor returned to action for the first time in 10 games and ran 11 times for 35 yards in the fourth quarter. Taylor was given mop-up duty on Sunday, but look for his role to expand as the Patriots gear up for the playoffs.

Kevin Faulk continued his steady weekly contribution with 41 yards on 6 carries. The Patriots had 197 net yards rushing on Sunday.

Wide Receivers: A

The Randy Moss controversy from three weeks ago is now a distant memory.  Moss continued his hot streak hauling in three touchdown receptions against the Jaguars. Three of Moss’s four receptions resulted in touchdowns.

Wes Welker caught every single one of the thirteen passes thrown his way on Sunday. His 138 yards receiving were a game-high.

Tight end Chris Baker caught two passes for 32 yards and a touchdown.

Offensive Line: A+

The Patriots offensive line continues to be the heart and soul of the team. For the third consecutive week, they held the opposing defense without a sack, and helped pave the way for the 197 rushing yards.

The play of Mankins, Koppen, Neal, Light and Kaczur has given me reason to believe the Patriots will make some noise in the playoffs this year.

Front Seven: B

The Patriots’ front seven did a fantastic job bottling up Maurice Jones-Drew.  They held the Jaguars star running back to 63 yards on 18 carries.  They were also able to put just enough pressure on David Garrard without the services of Vince Wilfork and Ty Warren.  Tully Banta-Cain continued his stellar play by recording another sack, bringing his season total to 9.5. However, the Patriots will need to improve their pass rush if they want to advance in the playoffs. They have a measly 30 sacks as a team so far this season; 17 fewer than they had in 2007. This team desperately needs a dominant pass rusher. Unfortunately the man they brought into fill that role, Adalius Thomas, hasn’t been an impact player since he came to New England.

Secondary: B+

Safety Brandon Meriweather tallied his 5th interception of the season, and capped it off with a very nice return deep into Jacksonville territory. The ageless wonder Shawn Springs had the other INT for the Patriots.  The Patriots’ secondary held David Garrard to under 200 yards passing, and zero touchdowns. It was a solid performance from what has been a questionable unit this year.

Special Teams: A

Stephen Gostkowski didn’t have to work very hard for his paycheck this week. The Patriots’ rock solid kicker knocked through all five of his extra point kicks. Chris Hanson averaged 42.0 yards per punt on a blustery afternoon in Foxboro. Neither team made long returns off of kickoffs or punts.

Coaching Staff: B+

It seems like the Patriots’ coaching staff has looked to achieve more balance on offense over the past few weeks. The Patriots had 197 yards rushing and 267 yards passing in the win over Jacksonville. Achieving a balanced offensive attack will be crucial in the playoffs against teams like the Colts and the Chargers, who rely on big plays and their quick-strike ability. Belichick knows Manning and Rivers can’t score if they’re not on the field. I like what I see from the offense, and Patriots fans should hope the balanced approach continues.

Defensively, the coaching staff needs to work on creating schemes that put more pressure on the quarterback. The Patriots don’t have a standout pass rusher, so figuring out a way to send more men than the offense can block will be crucial, especially because the secondary isn’t good enough to hold up against Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers, or Carson Palmer when they are given time to throw.

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