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It took the New England Patriots a drive to get in rhythm, but once they did, Sunday’s game went according to plan. Tom Brady dissected the Philadelphia Eagles’ secondary, the defense allowed just three points across 50 minutes of football, and the Patriots handed the “dream team” Eagles a 38-20 nightmare of a defeat. The boobirds started singing early at Lincoln Financial Field, and they didn’t quit until the stadium emptied out.
Whose play was masterfully artful, and whose was just b.s.? Here’s your weekly report card.
Tom Brady turned in a brilliant performance Sunday, completing over 70 percent of his passes for 361 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. With little pressure to worry about, Brady had plenty of time to find the open receiver and throw a perfect strike. Only one pass even had a chance at being intercepted, and it wasn’t. Otherwise, immaculate decision-making from the emotional leader of this team. He even rushed for 28 yards!
Brian Hoyer took over midway through the fourth, successfully handing the ball off on three straight plays when the Patriots just wanted to bleed the clock and punt.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis did most of his damage on the Patriots’ first scoring drive, churning up 28 hard-fought yards on eight carries. He ended the drive with a 4-yard burst into the end zone that cut the Eagles’ lead to 10-7 and chewed up almost seven minutes. Green-Ellis added a second, 1-yard touchdown on the Patriots’ next drive.
The running game’s focus shifted towards clock management as the Patriots’ lead grew and grew, but the threat of the run still helped sell two play-action passes. The first, with Danny Woodhead on the field, left Wes Welker wide open for a 41-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter. The second led to a 14-yard pass to Rob Gronkowski early in the fourth. That drive ended with a 24-yard touchdown pass to Gronkowski.
The Patriots’ receiving corps played smart, crafty football Sunday. When Deion Branch (six catches, 125 yards) caught a 49-yard pass at the Philadelphia 15 early in the second, he made a fantastic move on safety Nate Allen to pick up another 14 yards, setting up Green-Ellis’ easy 1-yard score. When Welker (eight catches, 115 yards) caught a sideline-pass outside the Philadelphia end zone, he dragged his feet just enough to keep him in bounds while dragging the ball above the left pylon for the touchdown.
Meanwhile, Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez combined for 10-of-11 receiving, 121 yards and a touchdown. Hernandez showed some of the skills that have so defined Gronkowski this season, making a one-handed catch in the first and breaking two tackles in the third.
The offensive line allowed just one sack and two hits. Terrific pass-protection this time, and just one enforced penalty – Brian Waters for holding, though the Eagles declined two more against the offensive line. The Patriots didn’t really try to run until the game was essentially over, so no points lost there. This unit’s play was extra commendable considering they’re now down to their third-string center.
With the exception of Kyle Love (and Mark Anderson, whose sack was nullified by an illegal contact call against Phillip Adams), no one on the offensive line got any pressure on Vince Young. They shut down the run, but when nearly three out of every four plays is a pass, that’s not that big of an accomplishment.
The easiest way to save the secondary is to force the quarterback to throw prematurely. Against the better QBs the Patriots will face in the playoffs, this inconsistent pass-rush will not get the job done.
The linebackers got great play from Rob Ninkovich, who sacked Young and tackled running back LeSean McCoy 4 yards behind the line of scrimmage. The linebackers helped completely shutdown the Eagles’ running game, although they had more trouble dealing with tight ends Brent Celek and Clay Harbor (100 yards on six combined catches).
No linebacker made a game-changing play, but everyone ably handled their assignments. Bill Belichick loves when that happens.
Antwaun Molden picked off Young, and Kyle Arrington led the team with 10 tackles and two defensed passes. The secondary still allowed 400 passing yards, but over a quarter of that came on two passes in the first two drives. Arrington and the rest of the secondary settled down after that, playing a major role in Philadelphia’s barely 30 percent third-down conversion rate and stagnant scoring offense.
With the secondary so banged up they’ll use anybody healthy enough to correctly lace his cleats and correctly put on a helmet, Julian Edelman is seeing time at cornerback, and he’s actually contributing. The Patriots’ defensive backs allow yards, but they don’t allow points. For now, the system is holding together.
Stephen Gostkowski missed a 39-yard field goal at a time when the Patriots were up just 14-10, but otherwise a nearly error-free game for special teams. Gostkowski made all five extra points (including one backed up 5 yards by a false start), no one committed a penalty on punt/kickoff returns, and the Eagles averaged a starting field position behind their 19 yard line – 8 yards behind the Patriots’ average starting spot.