The New England Patriots brought just enough offense and defense to beat an inferior team Sunday afternoon, and that kind of performance needs to be stuck way in the rear-view mirror if they want to make it out of the next few weeks in position to take the playoffs by storm. With Baltimore falling to a very crippled Pittsburgh Steelers team, the Patriots are now in a virtual tie for the second seed with the Ravens. Baltimore won the only regular season meeting and will have the tiebreaker should each team maintain the same record for the rest of the season, but the Ravens have looked shaky lately and the Patriots need to take advantage of this opportunity. If they take the field versus Houston and San Francisco and play as flat as they did Sunday, they may have to play wild card weekend. There were some positives and negatives this weekend, and those are covered below:
- Anyone else see Brandon Spikes in pass coverage? He has looked better and better every week, and was the only Patriots defensive player credited with a pass defensed, moving up to third on the season on the active roster. If his ability progresses in that regard, the Patriots could have one of the better enforcers in the NFL at their disposal.
- Aaron Hernandez looks like he has recovered nicely from that ankle injury; he had two excellent stop and go moves to fight for first downs. The Pats are going to need all of their weapons at full health moving forward.
- Absolutely huge seven minute drive to close out the game. Josh McDaniels’ strategy of pushing the run game early in the season could be paying off, as Stevan Ridley eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing while icing the game on the final drive, practically by himself.
- Stevan Ridley looks like a tough downhill runner; he broke through first contact all day, including on his 7-yard touchdown run in the first quarter.
- Brandon Lloyd had only one catch, but man wasn’t it a beauty. Unbelievably athletic play; the Pats need to utilize this guy more, but he may not be open enough to warrant it.
- Excellent defensive pressure almost all day, which led to four sacks. Vince Wilfork, Trevor Scott, and others were on their game. Who needs Jermaine Cunningham? (though having Chandler Jones back would certainly be nice)
- Tom Brady got hit…a lot. This offensive line needs to get healthy because Thomas, Cannon, and others cannot be counted on to hold the line against superior pass rushing defenses. When Brady gets hit, he loses his spot, and that often results in an offensive breakdown throughout the game, which was very evident on Sunday. Brady even came close to another intentional grounding, which is not something fans want to see moving forward.
- Speaking of Brady, is it just me or can he just flat out not throw the deep ball anymore? He had Julian Edelman wide open (three steps in front of his man) in the endzone and over threw him by five yards. In an interview a while back, Brady admitted that he sometimes gets too cautious about throwing interceptions and that causes him to miss receivers. That’s understandable, but I can’t remember the last time Brady hit a deep ball since the Moss one handed touchdown versus the Jets years ago.
- And speaking of Edelman, he left the game in crutches with a walking boot. This receiving core has looked like the walking wounded all season. Edelman is just another guy to go down, but if Brady’s weapons keep getting hurt, eventually there could be some trouble.
- After the Patriots iced the game with a stunning fourth quarter drive that people have been asking for all year, the defense went out on the field and promptly gave up two 28-yard catches in under a minute and allowed a field goal to make the game a one score difference again. This defense doesn’t seem to physically know how to play prevent D, and they are going to have to figure it out soon.
- Aqib Talib looked lost, as he had a heck of a time trying to cover Brian Hartline, not exactly the elite when it comes to receivers in the NFL. Blame not getting safety help enough, but for a guy that has been heralded for his ability as a “shutdown” corner, Hartline was very much a part of the game.
- Two more major dropped passes by Pats receivers, one from Aaron Hernandez and one from Wes Welker in the endzone. These costly mistakes have to be shored up.
This team has a lot to go over this week, and with a Monday night game, they have an extra day to prepare. The next two weeks bring perhaps the best team in the AFC and the best team of the NFC to Foxboro, and the Pats will need all hands on deck to come out of this one with their hope for a #2 seed intact.
Tags: Brandon Spikes, Dolphins, Negatives, Patriots, Positives, Stevan Ridley, Tom Brady