New England Patriots: The Good, Bad and Ugly of the First 4 Games of the Season
The first quarter of the New England Patriots' 2012 season has been up and down, filled with some great and not-so-great moments.
After checking off the loss column two weeks in a row in disappointing and at times embarrassing fashion, the former AFC champs returned to form in Week 4, putting up 52 points in Buffalo's own backyard.
With the Pats about to play their fifth game of the season, let's take a look back at some of New England's good, bad and ugly moments so far this season.
Good: Rising Running Game
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Led by the violent running of Stevan Ridley and Brandon Bolden, the Patriots rushing attack currently ranks eighth in the NFL.
Through just four games, Ridley and Bolden have accounted for 491 yards and five touchdowns and boy has it been fun to watch.
In the words of Martha Stewart, "It's a good thing."
Good: The Front Seven from Heaven
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We already knew that Jerod Mayo was a tackling machine and that Vince Wilfork was an immovable object, but several other guys are starting to make a name for themselves in the Patriots' front seven.
Brandon Spikes' undeniable nose for the football has continued to develop this season. So far, he's forced three fumbles when the team needed it the most.
Chandler Jones was just named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month (h/t Mike Rodak of ESPNBoston) and rightfully so. The rookie defensive end/outside linebacker has already tallied up three sacks, 17 tackles and a pair of forced fumbles through just four games. It’s becoming very easy to see why the Patriots were so aggressive to draft him in last April’s NFL draft.
With a sack, 17 tackles and a recovered fumble for a touchdown, rookie strong-side linebacker Dont'a Hightower is making plays as well.
Early in the 2012 season, it's quite apparent that there is no shortage of playmakers in the Patriots front seven.
Good: DMac Is Back!
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Much to the delight of fans, Devin McCourty was back to his Pro Bowl self last weekend, grabbing two picks and breaking up two passes.
McCourty looked solid in coverage and seems to be back to the level of athleticism he showcased throughout his rookie campaign. Even before last week’s contest, McCourty has looked a lot better than a season ago. Sure, he missed out on a few picks early on, but he was still in a position to make a play on the ball.
So far, so good from DMac. Let’s just hope it continues.
Good: Brady-to-Lloyd Connection
Keith Nordstrom/The New England Patriots
Look at that smile!
I'd be smiling like a goofball too if I made a superman grab like the one Brandon Lloyd did against the Bills.
The Patriots hit a home run when they decided to sign Lloyd. He knows the offense as good as anyone on the team and already has an impressive rapport with Tom Brady.
It hasn't been perfect, but four games into the season, it's clear that the Brady-to-Lloyd connection could become something great.
Bad: Early Pass Protection
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Despite being without their Pro Bowl left guard Logan Mankins, the Patriots' pass protection looked impressive against the Bills, making Mario Williams and Mark Anderson complete non-factors, but it hasn't been all sunshine and rainbows this year.
In Week 2, Brady was continuously pressured and sacked four times as Arizona's defensive front manhandled New England's offensive linemen.
The offensive line has looked like a completely different group the past two weeks however, so it appears that this "bad" could be a "good" going forward, but man was it bad in Week 2.
Bad: Too Many Big Pass Plays Given Up on Defense
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There's no doubt that New England's secondary is better than it was last year, but it still has been a weak spot on the defense through the first quarter of the season.
A few low-lights that come to mind are Kyle Arrington giving up a 24-yard completion to Nate Washington in Week 1 against the Titans, Torrey Smith's huge game in Baltimore in Week 3 (even if he did get away with some push offs) and the safeties being completely unable to defend the middle of the field for most of the Bills game in Week 4.
With that said, this unit did hold Larry Fitzgerald to just four yards, and they also seem to have a real knack for picking the ball off—so it hasn't all been bad.
There's enough talent back there to make a good secondary; they just need to be more consistent.
Bad: Fumbling Fiasco
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Last Sunday was a fumbling fiasco for both the Patriots and the Bills, but how often do you see Wes Welker or Rob Gronkowski fumble—never mind in the same game?
Stevan Ridley had a fumble, too, but unlike his counterparts, his fumble wasn't recovered by the Bills (it bounced right out of bounds).
Fortunately, each of these fumblers bounced back to have a monster game.
Ugly: Stephen Gostkowski
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Once considered one of the most accurate kickers in football, Stephen Gostkowski has not lived up to his reputation this season. He's been missing field goals that I'm convinced most high school kickers could make.
Luckily for Gostkowski, his two missed field goals last weekend had no bearing on the outcome of game, as the offense exploded in the second half on their way to a 52-28 blowout win.
However, had he not missed the game-winning field goal against the Cardinals in Week 2, the Patriots could be sitting pretty at 3-1 atop the AFC east, rather than sitting in a three-way tie with the inferior New York Jets and Buffalo Bills.