Cardinals vs Patriots: Final Report Cards, Player Grades for New England

Dan HopeContributor IIISeptember 16, 2012

Cardinals vs Patriots: Final Report Cards, Player Grades for New England

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    The New England Patriots had a very disappointing loss in Week 2, falling to the Arizona Cardinals in a 20-18 defeat on Sunday afternoon. The Patriots only scored one touchdown in the entire game, and with a chance to win the game with just six seconds remaining on the clock, kicker Stephen Gostkowski hooked a 43-yard field goal attempt wide left.

    Which players are to blame for the Patriots’ loss, and which players had great performances even in defeat? This report card seeks to break down which players fall on which ends of the spectrum.

Quarterbacks

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    Tom Brady: B+

    Tom Brady ended up with 316 passing yards for the game, but he was far from at his best. 166 of those yards came in the fourth quarter, and he only completed 28 of his 46 total passing attempts.

    Many of Brady’s late yards came from the volume of passes thrown, although he did play much better with the game on the line. Brady looked uncomfortable, however, for much of the day as the Cardinals’ defense brought pressure, and was not as sharp and accurate as he is typically.

    Brady also had some bad misses in this game. His first throw of the game was tipped at the line of scrimmage, and intercepted by Cardinals cornerback Patrick Peterson. Brady also missed Rob Gronkowski on a deep ball late in the first half that would have been a much-needed touchdown, and on another drive late in the game where the Patriots needed points, Brady missed behind Gronkowski and was nearly intercepted.

    Brady led the Patriots on a big comeback drive late in the fourth quarter that could have led to a victory, but he was unable to complete a 2-point conversion pass or pass for a touchdown on the game’s final drive that ended with a missed field goal.

Running Backs

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    Stevan Ridley: B-

    After a breakout performance in Week 1, Stevan Ridley had a more pedestrian performance against the Cardinals. Ridley ran the ball 18 times for 71 yards, and had three receptions for 24 yards.

    Ridley did not play poorly, but he did not set the world on fire either. Additionally, while he was among the main sources of offense in the first three quarters, he only received one touch in the fourth quarter, meaning he was not part of the Patriots’ game plan when they needed big plays for their offense.

    Danny Woodhead: B

    For a brief moment, it appeared that Danny Woodhead was the offensive hero of what would have been a win for the New England Patriots, when he took a short pass 30 yards all the way to the end zone in the final minute of the game. However, a questionable hold called against tight end Rob Gronkowski brought that play back, and Woodhead did not see another touch on the final drive.

    Woodhead did not have another pass reception earlier in the game for 12 yards, and also had eight runs for 18 yards, which was a pedestrian effort. Nonetheless, his big play late was big for him, even if it was called back and even though the yardage gained did not lead to a win as it should have. Woodhead’s contributions in blocking on passing plays, as well as on special teams, also boost his grade.

Wide Receivers

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    Wes Welker: B+

    Wes Welker calmed the fears of many Patriots fans on Sunday, who thought he may no longer be a big factor in the offense after catching only three passes for 14 yards in Week 1, by gaining 95 yards on five receptions against the Cardinals.

    Welker became a much more important factor in the offense once tight end Aaron Hernandez was knocked out of the game with an injury, and he had multiple big plays, including a tough 25-yard reception near the left sideline late in the first half, and a 36-yard gain off a reception on the second half’s first play from scrimmage.

    Welker did have a slow start, and dropped one pass early in the third quarter, but had a strong overall performance.

    If Hernandez is out for a significant period of time, Welker is definitely going to continue being a major factor as he was in this game. Welker broke the Patriots’ team record for most career receptions in this game, while he tied Stevan Ridley as the leading source of all-purpose yards on the Patriots in this game.

    Brandon Lloyd: B+

    Brandon Lloyd led the Patriots with eight receptions in this game. Lloyd also made multiple tough sideline catches, including a 9-yard grab where he had to make full extension and drag both toes for a truly impressive catch that deserves a place on SportsCenter’s Top 10 Plays on Sunday night.

    Lloyd did not make any big plays in this game, but he was a reliable source of offense, and is emerging as one of Brady’s go-to receivers.

    Julian Edelman: B+

    It appears that Julian Edelman is going to play a much more significant role as a wide receiver this season, potentially even more than Wes Welker, as he started the game in Welker’s place today, but Welker was brought on for more significant snaps following the game-ending injury to Hernandez.

    Edelman had a strong game as a wide receiver, catching five passes for 50 yards. He also had a 22-yard punt return and made a special teams tackle in the game.

Tight Ends

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    Rob Gronkowski: B

    Rob Gronkowski only had one reception in the first three quarters of the game, but late in the game, he became Tom Brady’s go-to guy. On the Patriots’ lone touchdown drive of the game, Gronkowski had four receptions for 44 yards, including the 5-yard touchdown reception.

    Gronkowski also beat deep coverage and was open for what could have been a 53-yard touchdown late in the first half, but Brady’s deep ball missed him slightly, and Gronkowski was unable to make the play.

    Gronkowski did make mistakes, however, on the Patriots’ final drive of the game. He was called for a questionable hold which nullified what would have been a game-winning touchdown for running back Danny Woodhead off a pass reception, and two plays later, he cost the Patriots five more yards on a false start.

    Aaron Hernandez: Injured

    The biggest storyline going forward from this game will not be that the Patriots had a disappointing loss, but will instead be the health of tight end Aaron Hernandez. Hernandez is one of the Patriots’ main offensive weapons, but he suffered a lower leg injury in the first quarter versus the Cardinals, and had to be helped off the field.

    Hernandez’s ankle was rolled upon by Julian Edelman, and he appeared to be in significant pain. According to Pro Football Talk, Hernandez's ankle is not broken, but he could still be out up to six weeks. No confirmation has been given yet on Hernandez's injury, but it sounds likely to be a high-ankle sprain.

Offensive Line

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    Nate Solder: B

    Left tackle Nate Solder was responsible for at least one sack in this game, but he did make positive strides. For the most part, he was able to keep pressure away from quarterback Tom Brady, and he had a good game in run blocking.

    The Patriots’ offensive line continues to be a work in progress each week, but Solder is getting steadier at left tackle.

    Logan Mankins: B-

    Left guard Logan Mankins is the Patriots’ best offensive lineman, but he did not have one of his stronger games on Sunday.

    Mankins struggled in pass protection, as he really had a hard time going up against Cardinals defensive end Calais Campbell, who beat him for two sacks in this game. He was not at his usual level of dominance as a run blocker either.

    Donald Thomas: C-

    Donald Thomas had to fill in for an injured Dan Connolly at right guard, and he looked like a fill-in.

    Thomas really struggled in both pass protection, where he allowed opposing defensive lineman to shoot through the right center of the line often, and in run blocking, where he did little to create paths for Stevan Ridley to run through on the right side of the line.

    Overall, Thomas was the weak link of the Patriots’ offensive line on Sunday, and the team will be looking to bring Dan Connolly back into the fold next week.

    Sebastian Vollmer: B-

    Right tackle Sebastian Vollmer had a solid game in both pass protection and run blocking when he was on the field. He is, however, still in a rotation with Marcus Cannon, meaning that there are still significant concerns about his health and conditioning.

    Until Vollmer returns to being the Patriots’ full-time starter at right tackle, he will not grade out high for a game.

Defensive Line

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    Chandler Jones: A

    Defensive end Chandler Jones has not looked like a rookie in his first two NFL games. Instead, Jones has been the star of the Patriots’ defensive line, bringing constant pressure and making big plays.

    Jones was a consistent presence in this game, as he dominated the battle with Cardinals left tackle D’Anthony Batiste. The early second-quarter, however, is where Jones truly made his mark.

    On the first defensive series of the second quarter, Jones started the series with a 5-yard tackle for loss on Cardinals running back Ryan Williams, then drew offensive holding on Batiste two plays later, forcing a three-downs-and-out for the Cardinals. On the next series, Jones soundly ended a Cardinals drive by stripping Kevin Kolb on a quarterback run attempt, forcing a fumble which was recovered by Patriots teammate Tavon Wilson.

    Rob Ninkovich: A-

    Rob Ninkovich was the weak link on the Patriots’ defensive line in Week 1, but that was not the case against the Cardinals. Ninkovich had the Patriots’ only sack of the game, and he was able to bring consistent pressure and make plays throughout the game.

    Ninkovich was an effective pass-rusher, but also did well against the run, showing his linebacker skills as well by making tackles in space. Ninkovich had four total tackles for the game.

    Vince Wilfork: B+

    Vince Wilfork came up with some very big plays in Sunday’s game that helped keep the Patriots in a position to win the game late.

    Early in the fourth quarter, Wilfork did a great job of getting out in space near the right sideline to make a big stop on 3rd and 6, which ended a Cardinals drive when the Patriots really need it to end without points and end quickly. Later, Wilfork was the player in the right place to recover a forced fumble by Brandon Spikes, which set up the potential game-winning field goal attempt.

    Kyle Love: B

    Kyle Love had a solid game next to Vince Wilfork inside. The Patriots’ run defense was not as strong as it was in Week 1, allowing 105 yards on the ground, but Love did his job well for the most part.

    Love, per usual, did a good job of eating up space on the defensive line, and finished the game with three tackles. He did not make any big plays, but was solid overall.

    Ron Brace: B+

    Of the Patriots defensive linemen who came off the bench in this game, the biggest impact came inside from defensive tackle Ron Brace.

    Brace had three tackles in this game, one of which was a 4-yard tackle for loss. Brace showed his explosion at shooting the gap through the middle when he was on the field, and made an impact while providing solid depth.

Linebackers

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    Brandon Spikes: A+

    Spikes was not much of a factor in Week 1 with only one tackle, but that changed completely in Week 2. He had a great overall game, which he finished with seven tackles, including a three-yard tackle for loss, while he also landed two hits on quarterback Kevin Kolb.

    Spikes was very effective as a run stopper in this game, and also had a very good game in pass coverage and making tackles downfield. He earned the highest marks available, however, for making the game’s biggest play, one that nearly won the Patriots this game.

    On a third down with just barely over one minute left to play in the game, the Patriots needed a big stop just to force a punt and have any chance at getting the ball back and having a chance at the game-winning score. Spikes did the Patriots one better, by not only stuffing Cardinals running back Ryan Williams, but stripping him, forcing a fumble which set the Patriots up in field goal range.

    If Spikes can play this well on a consistent basis, the Patriots have a star in the middle of their defense.

    Jerod Mayo: A

    For the second straight week, Mayo led the Patriots in tackles, and had a tremendous performance. Mayo had nine tackles, and was consistently around the football and making plays.

    Mayo even succeeded on a rare stint as a pass rusher. The Patriots lined him up outside of the right tackle and had him blitz quarterback Kevin Kolb, which forced him to throw into coverage for a pass nearly intercepted by safety Patrick Chung.

    Mayo has been the consistent leader of their linebacker corps, and is off to a great start to the 2012 season.

    Dont’a Hightower: B+

    Rookie starting linebacker Dont’a Hightower had another very solid game against the Cardinals. Hightower had five tackles, a number of which were plays where he tracked players downfield for stops, and another which was a 2-yard tackle for loss.

    Hightower’s play was overshadowed by that of Spikes and Mayo in this game, but he is proving to be a very solid starter on the Patriots defense.

Defensive Backs

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    Devin McCourty: A

    Devin McCourty’s main assignment in Sunday’s game was to take Larry Fitzgerald, the Arizona Cardinals’ best wide receiver and one of the NFL’s elite receivers, out of the game. Fitzgerald had only one catch for four yards, so McCourty absolutely succeeded in that task.

    McCourty had a very strong and consistent game in coverage, although he was usually helped out by a double team in coverage versus Fitzgerald.

    McCourty also had a solid day as a kickoff returner, with the Patriots’ only two returns on the day for a combined 46 yards.

    Kyle Arrington: B-

    Kyle Arrington did a solid job in coverage in this game, not giving up any big plays, but he did have some issues with tackling in this game.

    Arrington’s biggest blunder came late in the third quarter, when he completely whiffed on a tackle he should have made on Cardinals tight end Todd Heap, enabling Heap to go for a 28-yard gain on what should have been just a short completion.

    Sterling Moore: B

    Sterling Moore took over for Ras-I Dowling as the Patriots’ third cornerback on Sunday, and he had a solid game. Moore had a big, up-ending tackle on Ryan Williams early in the game, and did not give up any big plays as either the second outside cornerback when Arrington played in the slot, or when he lined up as the nickel slot cornerback himself.

    Ras-I Dowling: DNP

    Ras-I Dowling graded out with an A- in Week 1, but surprisingly, he did not play at all versus the Cardinals, as he was taken out of the third cornerback role with Sterling Moore in his place.

    Patrick Chung: B

    Patrick Chung did not make a big impact in this game, but was solid in the back end of the defense, and almost had a big play. In the fourth quarter, Chung reached over Anthony Sherman on a pass thrown into coverage by Kevin Kolb, and deflected the ball with both hands, nearly coming up with an interception.

    Steve Gregory: B-

    Steve Gregory was the leading tackler among Patriots’ defensive backs on Sunday, with five stops. Gregory was doing his job in the back end, but four of his five tackles came after gains of 10 yards or more, so he was more of a clean-up guy than he was an impact playmaker.

    Additionally, Gregory gave the Cardinals 15 yards with a costly late-hit penalty on the drive that ended up being the Cardinals’ only touchdown drive of more than two yards.

    Tavon Wilson: B

    Tavon Wilson did not record a single tackle in this game, but he was often tasked with helping out McCourty in double coverage of Fitzgerald, and he was effective in that regard.

    Also, for the second time in two weeks, Wilson came up with a takeaway because of his instincts, and being in the right place at the right time. This time, when Chandler Jones popped the fumble out of Kevin Kolb’s hands on a rushing attempt, Wilson was in position to scoop the live ball out of the air, getting an important takeaway for the Patriots’ defense.

Special Teams

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    Stephen Gostkowski: B-

    Through 59 minutes and 54 seconds of this game, Patriots placekicker Stephen Gostkowski was set to earn an A for his postgame grade.

    To that point, Gostkowski’s game had been flawless, as he had made all four of his field goal attempts straight down the middle, including kicks from 51 and 53 yards out. He also had touchbacks on four of his six kickoffs.

    Gostkowski’s final kick in the game, however, was an absolute disaster. Gostkowski had the chance for a true game-winning field goal kick—a situation he really had never been put in yet in his career—as his 42-yard field goal attempt was the difference between a win and a loss. Under the pressure, Gostkowski choked, shanking the kick immediately wide left.

    Gostkowski showed how great of a placekicker he can be in this game, but he also brought seriously into question whether he can make clutch kicks.

    Zoltan Mesko: D

    Zoltan Mesko had a very poor day punting the football on Sunday. Mesko attempted six punts, of which one was blocked, and the other five combined for an average of just 34.4 yards, with only two of five pinning the Cardinals within the 20-yard line.

    Mesko’s punting averages have been way off his usual mark so far this season, and his kicks really have not been strong. The punt block set up the Cardinals’ first touchdown of the game, and his hold on Gostkowski’s field goal miss was also shaky, which may have in part led to the miss.

    Nate Ebner: D

    Nate Ebner has been a pleasant surprise for the Patriots thus far, but he has to take blame for the punt block, which was really a costly point in this game for the Patriots as it gave the Cardinals an easy touchdown. Ebner was matched up against Cardinals linebacker Quentin Groves, who overpowered Ebner and got a clean shot at blocking Mesko’s punt.

    Ebner is a great special teams player, but he did not record any special teams tackles in this game, and the blame for the punt block goes chiefly upon him.

Coaching

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    Coaching Staff: B-

    The Patriots were unable to come up with a game plan to beat the Arizona Cardinals, a team that was expected to be among the league’s worst entering the 2012 NFL season.

    While the Patriots nearly executed an incredible comeback victory, the Patriots did not have a strong offensive game plan for this game, and while their defense made big plays, they did not make starting quarterback Kevin Kolb look bad, which is something many other teams have done since he joined the Cardinals in 2011.

    Dan Hope is the Patriots gameday correspondent and an NFL draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. For more Patriots analysis, follow him on Twitter @Dan_Hope.