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New England Patriots Report Card: Week 16

He wasn't perfect, but Tom Brady's gritty second-half performance – including two rushing touchdowns – carried the day against the Dolphins. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

The Miami Dolphins narrowly avoided disaster Saturday against the New England Patriots. Somehow a group of talented, motivated football players broke into their locker room, knocked everyone out, stole their uniforms and took the field for kickoff. The “Dolphins” went into halftime up 17-0.

Luckily, the true – and truly terrible – Dolphins regained consciousness and took back their uniforms for the second half. The Patriots scored 27 points in a row and held on to win, 27-24.

The Patriots clinched a first-round bye, and the Dolphins continued their mission of destroying the legacy of a once-great franchise.

Which Patriots graduated with honors, and which will have to take summer school classes? Here’s this week’s report card.

Quarterback: A-

Tom Brady couldn’t do much in the first half, what with all the Dolphins constantly in his face. Whatever happened at halftime, the protection improved in the second half, and Brady came alive. Brady’s second-half line: 20-27 for 217 yards and a touchdown, finishing 27-46 for 306 overall. Brady continues to play with guts, QB-sneaking not once but twice for rushing touchdowns in the second half.

Running Backs: B+

Though the Patriots gained 119 yards and two touchdowns on the ground Sunday, actual running backs only accounted for 94 of them, and Brady rushed for both scores. Still, Stevan Ridley seems to improve with every game. He led the team with 13 carries for 64 yards Sunday, averaging 4.9 yards per carry – just 0.2 yards lower than Miami’s rushing leader, Reggie Bush.

Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: A-

Wes Welker loves playing the Dolphins: Hh has more receiving yards (981) against his former team than against any other opponent. Welker continued his dominance Sunday, catching seven balls for 138 yards – the most since Week 4 against the Raiders. Rob Gronkowski backed up Welker with seven catches for 78 yards, usually earned by breaking three or four tackles. Deion Branch‘s smartly staying inbounds in the back of the end zone in the third quarter led to the Patriots’ lone receiving touchdown, and Aaron Hernandez‘s sure-handed reception converted the last third down the Patriots would need to run out the clock.

Offensive Line: C+

Missing Matt Light and losing Logan Mankins early on definitely hurt an already porous offensive line. But the Patriots should be so familiar with the Dolphins’ pass-rush by now that even backups could give Brady decent protection. Instead, they allowed four sacks – three in the first half – and eight QB hits. They also struggled to spring the running backs. Though the offensive line improved dramatically in the second half, this unit needs to go back to the drawing board before next week.

Defensive Line: B+

The defensive line combined for two sacks and five hits on Miami QB Matt Moore. Vince Wilfork recovered a fumbled snap that set up the Brady-Branch touchdown. The line played penalty-free, but they also allowed Bush to rush for 113 yards. The line disrupted Moore some, but the secondary accounted more for Moore’s barely 50-percent accuracy and the Dolphin’s 5-13 third-down conversion rate. Not a bad game, but not a great one either.

Linebackers: A-

Jerod Mayo and Rob Ninkovich combined for three sacks, and along with Dane Fletcher limited the Dolphins’ rushing game to short gains, not big ones. But Fletcher also committed a ridiculous pass interference penalty against Moore as a receiver, turning what should have been fourth-and-3 from the New England 20 to first-and-goal from the 3. The Dolphins went up 17-0 three plays later on a touchdown pass to fullback Charles Clay.

Defensive Backs: B

Brandon Marshall torched the secondary for seven catches, 156 yards and a touchdown. Devin McCourty, meanwhile, had an up-and-down day: a key interception that led to the Patriots going up 20-17, plus four defensed passes, but also a horrible pass interference penalty against Brian Hartline on third-and-12 from the Miami 9. Still, an up-and-down day is better than a down-and-down day, which is what Patriots fans have come to expect from McCourty this season. And both McCourty and James Ihedigbo blitzed well, each making one tackle behind the line.

Special Teams: A-

Stephen Gostkowski badly missed a 51-yard field goal to close out the first half, but he put the Patriots on the board with a 45-yarder on the opening drive of the second half, then put the Patriots up 20-17 with a 42-yarder in the fourth. He also nailed all three extra points. While the coverage teams didn’t commit any penalties, Julian Edelman dropped and had to dive on a punt.

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