New England Patriots 45, St. Louis Rams 7
The Patriots struggled to a 4-3 record through their first seven games of the season, but heading into their Week 9 bye, Patriots fans should feel confident about the second half of the season. The Patriots were dominant in every aspect of the game on Sunday versus the St. Louis Rams, coming away with a 45-7 win in the NFL’s annual overseas contest at London’s Wembley Stadium.
The Patriots’ offense was superb, scoring touchdowns on their first five straight drives of the game and points on their first six consecutive possessions, while the defense did not allow any points after giving up an opening-drive touchdown.
Any time a team has 45 unanswered points, chances are grades are going to be very good across the board, but which players shined brightest above the rest in the Patriots’ best performance of the season to date? Read through the following slides to find out!
New England Patriots 45, St. Louis Rams 7
Tom Brady: A-
Tom Brady had a very strong performance overall, leading the Patriots to a 45-point day of offense. Brady completed 23-of-35 passes for 304 yards and four touchdowns, and made some great throws while throwing no interceptions and taking no sacks.
Brady only had a few bad throws in his game, and although many of his yards came on short passes, he also made some strong downfield throws, especially in connection with tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Brady finished the game with a quarterback rating of 131.1, his best rating yet of the season.
Ryan Mallett: C
Backup quarterback Ryan Mallett got his first opportunity to play this season, as the Patriots sent him for the final two drives of the fourth quarter. The last drive consisted of kneeling down to run out the clock, but he did have one drive with an opportunity to make some throws.
Mallett was not exactly impressive in that capacity. Mallett did complete one pass for 17 yards to convert a 3rd-and-14 situation, but nearly all of those yards were picked up by running back Shane Vereen after catching a short pass. On two downfield passing attempts, Mallett was inaccurate, and missed his intended receiver both times.
Stevan Ridley: A
Running back Stevan Ridley had a very strong showing on Sunday, gaining an impressive 127 yards on 15 carries.
Ridley scored a 1-yard touchdown on a power run to the right side on the Patriots’ fourth scoring drive, but it was his performance in the third quarter that helped the Patriots put the game away. On just six carries in that quarter, Ridley gained 88 yards, including runs of 41, 30 and 16 yards.
Ridley looked fast in this game, often gaining making defenders miss tackles not by running through them, but by running away from them. Overall, he was a reliable source of offense against the Rams, and helped lead the Patriots to such a great offensive performance.
Shane Vereen: A-
The Patriots did not go to Shane Vereen often in this game, but they did so with more frequency than in previous weeks, and when they did, he performed.
The Patriots first looked to Vereen on a critical play, when they decided to go for a touchdown on 4th and goal from the 1-yard line. Vereen took a handoff going to the right side and pounded it in for a touchdown on his first carry of the game, showing his ability to step in and make an immediate impact.
Vereen made two other very nice plays in this game. On his next run later in the second quarter, Vereen made multiple defenders miss, then lunged forward as he was tripped up from behind, in order to gain 14 yards. Vereen also helped Ryan Mallett get a first down on his first NFL pass completion by taking a screen pass 17 yards.
Vereen has speed and agility, and he showed those skills in this game as well as an ability to come in and make a play on an important down. Vereen showed more value to the Patriots today than he had at any previous point in his career with the team.
Danny Woodhead: B
Danny Woodhead got absolutely nothing done as a runner on Sunday, gaining just three total yards on two carries, but per usual, he ran tremendous routes and did a good job of getting open for Tom Brady and being a reliable target for short passes and screen plays.
In total, Woodhead gained 56 yards on five receptions, with the highlight being a 24-yard gain up the right sideline. As the team’s best receiving back, Woodhead continues to succeed in his niche role on Sunday.
Wes Welker: B-
There was nothing special about Wes Welker’s performance on Sunday, and because he’s the leading receiver in the National Football League, that is the only reason his grade is lower than a B.
Welker was still a reliable target on Sunday, catching six passes for 48 yards, but because he did not make any big plays, he did not stand out on a day where many other Patriots performances did.
Brandon Lloyd: B+
Brandon Lloyd only caught two passes for 28 yards in this game, but both of those receptions were in the end zone for the touchdown.
On the first touchdown, Lloyd took advantage of a trips formation that the Rams did not have properly covered, and beat their defense to get wide open going to the end zone for a 19-yard catch. On the second touchdown, Lloyd ran a nice stop route against Janoris Jenkins, and used a quick turn and his physicality to get open for a 9-yard catch on the goal line.
Lloyd may not have made any of the big plays he is known for in this game, but his receptions certainly made an important impact. He also did a good job contributing as a run blocker.
Julian Edelman: C
Julian Edelman was back in the lineup and healthy, but he was not utilized much as a receiver in this game. When Edelman did receive one offensive touch on a screen pass and had a chance to convert a 2nd and 10 on a screen pass, but tripped after an 8-yard gain.
Edelman did reprise his role as a punt returner, but aside from one impressive 14-yard return after fielding a bouncing punt, he did not make a big impact in that area. He made some contribution as a run blocker, but overall, he did add much to the Patriots’ offense on Sunday.
Rob Gronkowski: A+
Rob Gronkowski has been listed on the injury report for a number of weeks with a hip injury, but regardless of whether he was fully healthy on Sunday, he certainly gave the impression that he was.
Gronkowski finished the day with eight receptions for 146 yards. He also made two touchdown receptions in this game, and he certainly could have had three.
On the Patriots’ second scoring drive, Gronkowski caught two 25-yard passes, including one on which he had to contort his body to make a very tough grab over his head and went down at the 1-yard line.
Gronkowski got his first touchdown on a tough catch between double coverage for a 8-yard play, and he celebrated it with an entertaining touchdown dance. Later, Gronkowski got wide open in the end zone for a 14-yard catch, and celebrated that with another dance.
Gronkowski wasn’t just making big plays on downfield receptions in this game either. He also showed his ability on multiple occasions to make big gains out of screen passes, by using his athleticism in space and his size to truck through smaller defenders.
On a day where many stars shined for the Patriots, Gronkowski was the superstar.
Michael Hoomanawanui: A-
With Aaron Hernandez out of the lineup due to continued issues with his ankle injury, another tight end who shined in London was blocking specialist Michael Hoomanawanui.
Hoomanawanui did a tremendous job lead blocking in the rushing offense, including on both of the Patriots’ 1-yard rushing touchdowns, and on a 30-yard run by Stevan Ridley. Additionally, he made a good play on a deceptive formation by the Patriots, when they brought him out in a power running formation, then split him out for a pass, which he took for an 18-yard gain.
Hoomanawanui can play an important role on this Patriots offense, and he showed that on Sunday.
Daniel Fells: C
Like Michael Hoomanawanui, backup tight end Daniel Fells made some very positive contributions as a run blocker when he was on the field. On the other hand, however, Fells did not have a single pass target on the day, and during Ryan Mallett’s offensive drive late in the fourth quarter, Fells was penalized twice, which brings his grades down.
Nate Solder, Donald Thomas, Ryan Wendell, Dan Connolly, Sebastian Vollmer: A
There is not one unit on the football field that has to function more as a team than the offensive line, and the Patriots’ line certainly did that on Sunday. Against a very talented Rams’ front four of Chris Long, Robert Quinn, Kendall Langford and Michael Brockers, the Patriots’ offensive line was dominant, and earned an A as a group.
The Patriots were fantastic across the line in pass protection, and did not allow a single sack and very little pressure throughout the game. They were also very strong in the rushing offense, opening up big holes frequently for the Patriots’ running backs. Overall, the offensive line’s fantastic performance was the backbone for the Patriots’ 473-yard, 45-point output on Sunday.
Solder and Vollmer did a great job containing outside pressure that could have come from the ends, while both contributed in the rushing offense as well. Inside, there were a couple of occasions where Rams defenders shot the gap for a tackle for loss, but for the most part, Thomas, Wendell and Connolly controlled the line of scrimmage, and did not allow any inside blitz pressure to come after Tom Brady.
Chandler Jones: B+
The Patriots did not have a big pass-rushing day, but per usual, rookie defensive end Chandler Jones led that effort.
Jones had the game’s first true sack, a 17-yard sack on 3rd and 4 that stalled a Rams’ drive in the third quarter. Jones also brought pressure, along with Brandon Spikes and Jerod Mayo, which forced intentional grounding from Rams quarterback Sam Bradford in the second quarter.
Jones had a solid day against the run as well, and did a good job on one play on dropping back into coverage to make a tackle on Rams tight end Lance Kendricks following a seven-yard pass to the left sideline.
Jones can impact the game in many different ways, and he did on Sunday.
Jermaine Cunningham: C-
With Rob Ninkovich taking many of his snaps at outside linebacker once again, Jermaine Cunningham got another start at right defensive end. Cunningham did not make any big mistakes, but he did not do much to impact the game either.
The majority of the Rams’ rushing yards came to Cunningham’s side, and that was no coincidence, as he did not generate major push in run defense. He also did not bring significant pressure on Bradford at any point, even though he spent most of his game working against weak right tackles Barry Richardson and Chris Williams.
Vince Wilfork: B+
Vince Wilfork only had one tackle in this game, but it was certainly a memorable one. On a screen pass to Daryl Richardson in the game’s second quarter, Wilfork sprinted out to the right sideline and tracked Richardson down for a big 4-yard tackle for loss in space.
It is rare for a 325-pound lineman like Wilfork to have that kind of playmaking ability that he does. He also had a solid game leading the Patriots’ interior run defense effort, as many of the Rams’ 107 yards of rushing offense came in the fourth quarter when Wilfork was no longer in the game.
Kyle Love: B-
Kyle Love had a solid game, highlighted by two tackles at the line of scrimmage, and did a fairly good job of holding down the left middle of the line of scrimmage. He did nothing to dominate or stand out, and did not generate much of an interior pass rush, but overall, it was a steady game for him when he was on the field.
Brandon Deaderick: B+
Brandon Deaderick received more playing time in the game than usual at defensive tackle, taking repetitions to spell both Wilfork and Love, and he played well when he was in the game. Deaderick generated more push than Love when he was on the field, and had two big stops on Rams running back Daryl Richardson during one second-quarter series.
Considering that Ron Brace has made very little impact when he has been on the field this season, it is a good sign that Deaderick had a strong showing as the team’s third defensive tackle on Sunday.
Brandon Spikes: A
Brandon Spikes was the big playmaker for the Patriots’ defense on Sunday, making plays all over the football field. Spikes was his usual self as a run-stopping standout, but he also had what may have been his best career game in pass coverage.
Unlike many previous occasions, where Spikes has looked lost and slow in pass coverage, Spikes was in position for the most part in pass defense in this game. Spikes made two impressive pass deflections in this game, including one that should have been an interception, but was dropped and also would have nullified by a defensive holding penalty away from the play.
Spikes also did a good job of bringing pressure from the blitz in this game. Spikes’ pressure led to an intentional grounding penalty by Sam Bradford in the first quarter, while he also combined with Rob Ninkovich to collide with Bradford and force an incomplete pass on a key third-down to start the fourth quarter.
Spikes tied for the team lead with eight total tackles.
Jerod Mayo: B+
The player who tied with Spikes with eight total tackles was outside linebacker Jerod Mayo, who had a very solid all-around game. Mayo’s tackles included two tackles for loss and a forced fumble, although that fumble was knocked out of bounds and therefore not recovered by the Patriots.
Mayo was beaten on an 18-yard pass over the middle in the first quarter, but aside from that, he had no other mistakes.
Rob Ninkovich: B
Rob Ninkovich was moved back to outside linebacker for most of Sunday’s game, and unsurprisingly, he came through again to make plays.
Ninkovich’s big moment came on the first two plays of the fourth quarter, both plays on which he hit Sam Bradford. One play after combining with Brandon Spikes to hit Bradford and force a third-down incompletion, Ninkovich came off the edge for a big sack to end the drive.
Ninkovich was fairly quiet for the game’s first three quarters, but they did not need him to make big plays at that point. He was in position to fall on a football originally ruled to be a forced fumble by Patriots cornerback Marquice Cole, but the play was eventually overturned to be an incompletion.
Dont’a Hightower: B-
Dont’a Hightower has not been playing as many snaps at outside linebacker, instead splitting time with Rob Ninkovich, since returning from a hamstring injury suffered early in the season, but he still managed to make an impact when he was on the field.
Hightower’s big moment came when he went unblocked coming straight at Sam Bradford on the left side, and hit him hard to force a throw that went for a loss of yardage. Hightower only finished the game with one recorded tackle, but he seems to still be getting back into full form coming off of injury.
Marquice Cole breaking up a pass
Devin McCourty: B
With both of the Patriots’ starting safeties out of the lineup, Devin McCourty played at safety for the second consecutive week. In this game, he was solid, blowing no coverages but also doing nothing special to stand out.
For a player who has only played safety on a limited basis, it would be hard to ask too much more of him. The Patriots’ secondary had their best game of the season, even though McCourty was the only starter still in the lineup after the first quarter, so he did a fine job on the field.
Kyle Arrington: Incomplete
Kyle Arrington has been criticized heavily for giving up many receptions this season, but he did not do that at all on Sunday. Unfortunately, the reason was because he did not have much opportunity to play.
Arrington left the game in the first quarter with a head injury, and did not return to the lineup.
Tavon Wilson: C
If the Patriots did not win this game as convincingly as they did, there would be much more attention paid to the game’s biggest mistake for the Patriots, which was on the part of rookie safety Tavon Wilson.
On the Rams’ opening offensive drive, it was Wilson’s responsibility to pick up Rams wide receiver Chris Givens on a deep post to the end zone. Instead, Wilson got caught flat-footed, Givens ran right by him and Bradford launched a 50-yard deep ball for an opening-drive touchdown.
Wilson was solid for the rest of the game, and did not come up any more big plays. He even padded his statistics late in the game, and helped hold the Rams to only seven points, by coming up with an interception on the Rams’ final offensive play of the game.
Wilson, however, is the primary man responsible for giving up the Rams’ only seven points of the game, and he cannot afford to make those mistakes in closer games, as he did in the Patriots’ loss earlier in the season to the Seahawks.
Alfonzo Dennard: B+
After a tumultuous performance one week earlier against the New York Jets, Alfonzo Dennard had a much stronger game against the Rams on Sunday.
Dennard was initially covering Givens on his 50-yard touchdown play, but it was not his responsibility to stay with Givens to the end zone. Dennard did not have any blown coverages in this game, and he had a very strong game making tackles.
From the limited action he has seen, Dennard seems to be the Patriots’ most steady cornerback, even as a rookie seventh-round pick. His performance against the Rams was promising.
Sterling Moore: C+
Of any of the cornerbacks on the field for the Patriots in this game, the one who had the most trouble in coverage was Sterling Moore, who stepped into the lineup once Kyle Arrington left with an injury.
Moore gave up his fair share of receptions, but he only had a strong game tackling, picking up six in the game, and did have one very nice pass breakup while working against Chris Givens.
Moore has certainly played worse than he did in this game, but he did give up some downfield completions, especially late in the game, and will need to play better if he continues to be in the Patriots’ lineup against tougher offenses.
Marquice Cole: A
When Kyle Arrington left the game, Marquice Cole was called upon to step in as the slot cornerback, and he performed admirably.
Cole did not give up any big plays in the slot, while he had two very good pass breakups by getting physical with opposing receiver and using his arms well to swat passes away. Cole did not play the most important role in the secondary in this game, but given circumstances, he made the biggest impression.
Cole, who is also one of the team’s key special teams players, stood out on special teams as well. He made a big tackle to stop Isaiah Pead at the 12-yard line on a first-quarter kickoff return, and also came through to make a big stop on a busted play on what was to be the Rams’ lone field goal attempt of the day.
Nate Ebner: B+
Nate Ebner did not play often in this game at safety, but he had a very solid overall showing. He made a big tackle on Rams tight end Lance Kendricks on 3rd and 10 on the Rams’ first drive of the third quarter, forcing a punt, while he also made three special teams tackles.
Stephen Gostkowski: B
It was a steady game for placekicker Stephen Gostkowski. He converted his only field goal attempt of the day from 26 yards out, while three of his eight kickoffs went for touchbacks.
Zoltan Mesko: A
The Patriots did not call upon Zoltan Mesko once until the third quarter, and he only had two total punts. He was superb on his two punts, which travelled an average of 56.5 yards even in rainy conditions.
Coaching Staff: A
There could have been plenty of excuses for the Patriots if they had another poor performance against the Rams: a plethora of injuries on both sides of the ball and a long trip to London after arriving on Friday among them. Instead, the Patriots had their best performance of the season.
Additionally, the Patriots were more aggressive than they have been all season, and their chances paid off. The Patriots scored a touchdown on 4th and goal at the 1-yard line when they could have settled for a field goal, while they added new elements to their offensive and defensive schemes.
Josh McDaniels/Offensive Staff: A
Josh McDaniels has been criticized heavily this season for having an offensive game plan that is too conservative, basic and predictable. That was not the case on Sunday.
The Patriots had plenty of power running plays and screen passes on Sunday, but they also took shots downfield, and threw some unique wrinkles into their offense.
One play that did not work due to poor execution, but was a great concept, was having Tom Brady fake a spike during the two-minute offense and then pass to the end zone, but Brady made a bad throw wide of a covered Brandon Lloyd. Another great play call that did work was bringing Michael Hoomanawanui out in the power rushing formation, then splitting Hoomanawanui out as a pass receiver for an 18-yard gain.
Matt Patricia/Defensive Staff: A
It has been a very tumultuous year thus far for the Patriots’ pass defense, and things looked bad early against the St. Louis Rams. But even after giving up a 50-yard touchdown pass on the Rams’ opening drive, and losing starting cornerback Kyle Arrington to a head injury, the Patriots’ defense had their best game of the season.
With three starters out of the secondary, the Patriots moved Devin McCourty to safety for the second consecutive week, while bringing in Marquice Cole as the slot cornerback following Arrington’s departure ended up working very well.
The defense was aggressive in this game, and even when the Rams started to pick up yards, the Patriots always found a way to stop them after the opening drive, holding them scoreless for their final nine drives.
Dan Hope is the New England Patriots game day correspondent and NFL draft Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. For more coverage of the Patriots, follow him on Twitter @Dan_Hope.