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New England Patriots Report Card: Week 9

Tom Brady played better than anyone else on his team, but too many mistakes and missed opportunities cost the Patriots Sunday against the Giants. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

The New England Patriots’ 24-20 loss to the New York Giants Sunday featured several firsts. The Patriots lost at home for the first time in 21 games. The Patriots lost two games in a row for the first time since 2006. And the offense failed to score in the first half, also for the first time since 2006.

While Tom Brady did his best to overcome all of that, the defense – which admittedly played very well for the first half – faltered in the fourth quarter, allowing two late-game comeback drives.

Who’s going to Harvard, and who’s falling back on a safety school? Only my grades can say.

Quarterback: B+

Another game, another two-touchdown day for Brady. But it took him far too long to figure out how to beat the Giants’ defense, and he made too many mistakes while doing it. Both interceptions were Brady’s fault: he failed to account for linebacker Michael Boley to start the second quarter, who easily read Brady’s pass, tipping it to Mathias Kiwanuka.

Deon Grant’s interception later happened because Brady threw a bad pass to Rob Gronkowski deep and over the middle. The first pick killed a scoring opportunity, and the second led to the Giants’ first score.

Brady redeemed himself to some extent with two magnificent fourth-quarter drives, capping 80- and 64-yard drives with touchdown strikes to Aaron Hernandez and Gronkowski, but the defense couldn’t hold either lead.

A month ago, this offense could put up 30 points or more without even trying. Now, 20 points is a chore. As the commander of this offense, Brady must shoulder the blame.

Running backs: C+

Three Patriot running backs combined for 88 yards, no touchdowns, and 4 yards per carry. BenJarvus Green-Ellis “led” with 52. Not great numbers, especially against a rushing defense ranked 25th in the NFL. Along with low rushing numbers, the running backs also failed to sell the Patriots’ bread-and-butter play-action pass.

Of the first four Patriot play-action passes, the first two worked, the third short-hopped Gronkowski, and Boley tipped the fourth to Kiwanuka. The Giants stopped falling for the play because they didn’t respect the Patriot running backs.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: B

Wes Welker and Gronkowski accounted for nearly 70 percent of the Patriots’ receiving yards. Welker led with nine catches and 136 yards, Gronkowski with eight for 101 yards and a touchdown. Hernandez couldn’t get open very often, but he did catch a game-tying touchdown early in the fourth.

In the last three games, Brady has targeted Welker or Gronkowski 47.2 percent of the time. They’ve combined for 54.4 percent of the receptions and 59 percent of the receiving yards. Receivers like Deion Branch (2-for-5 Sunday) and Chad Ochocinco (0-for-5) must step up, or this offense will remain stagnant and one-dimensional.

Offensive Linemen: B

Two sacks, three QB hits, only 10 yards in penalties from Logan Mankins (false start) and Nate Solder (12 men)? Considering how bad the offensive line has been lately, that actually qualifies as progress.

But that still doesn’t mean it was good. The Patriots’ failed running game starts at the line, where the Giants’ defensive line dominated the Patriots, preventing them from ever clearing running lanes. And at least once Dan Connolly completely muffed a snap, killing the play before it even began.

Defensive Linemen: B

The defensive line may have hit Eli Manning eight times, but they failed to sack him once. Better pressure up front might have made it easier on the secondary, who played as hard as they could for three quarters before finally running out of steam in the fourth. The line also allowed a 100-yard rushing game to one of the worst rushing teams in the NFL, including a too-easy 10-yard run to Brandon Jacobs.

Linebackers: C

The Patriots’ linebackers could do absolutely nothing with Giants tight end Jake Ballard, who averaged 16.8 yards per catch. Their difficulties were on full display during the Giants’ game-winning drive, when Ballard completely burned Tracy White for 28 yards.

A stop there, and the Patriots probably win the game.

Instead, the Giants marched down the field, scored and won the game. On that touchdown pass, it was Ballard again beating White after White bit on play-action. Add in Brandon Spikes third-down encroachment penalty, which gave the Giants a first down, and you have a particularly odious game from this defensive unit.

Defensive Backs: C-

The secondary played admirably for three quarters, holding off a pass-heavy New York offense without much help from the linebackers or the defensive line. In the fourth quarter, however, they completely fell apart. Sergio Brown and Kyle Arrington combined to allow 55 yards in pass interference penalties, and Arrington then allowed an easy touchdown pass to Mario Manningham.

Arrington gets a few points for an earlier end zone interception that killed an easy Giants scoring opportunity, but his play hurt the team far more than it helped.

Newcomer Phillip Adams‘ coverage simply looked atrocious.

Special Teams: B-

Stephen Gostkowski missed an easy 27-yard field goal, though he connected on the next two. Spikes’ holding penalty early on cost the Patriots yardage in a first half in which they averaged far worse starting field position than the Giants. Julian Edelman twice ran out touchbacks and failed to reach the 20, and he also fumbled a punt, giving the Giants the ball at the New England 40. Rob Ninkovich recovered a muffed punt that set up the Patriots’ first field goal, but overall a fairly mediocre game from special teams.

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