New England Patriots 23, Jacksonville Jaguars 16
The New England Patriots’ win on Sunday was very reminiscent of wins earlier this season against the New York Jets and their second game against the Buffalo Bills. The Patriots never truly took over the game, and at times it appeared they would lose control.
But even with a sputtering fourth-quarter offense and a bend-but-don’t-break defense, the Patriots survived to win thanks to clutch takeaways by the defense.
The Patriots were without some key players Sunday: tight end Rob Gronkowski, middle linebacker Brandon Spikes and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard were all inactive with injuries, while cornerback Aqib Talib battled a hip injury all day and played in very limited action.
As a result of the injuries on the defensive side of the ball, the Patriots looked much like the defense they were early in the season, before the rookie Dennard broke through and before they had acquired Talib via trade.
Which players most helped the Patriots pull out a victory, and which players’ struggles led to making this game against a two-win team much closer than it should have been? Read through the following slides to find out.
Tom Brady didn't have an MVP-like performance Sunday.
Tom Brady: C-
Tom Brady’s NFL MVP candidacy may have gone up in flames on Sunday. While he led the Patriots to a win, he didn’t do it impressively. Brady had a rare off-day, completing just 58.5 percent of his passes for 267 yards, while throwing two interceptions and ending up with a poor quarterback rating of only 73.9.
Brady never looked to be at his best today. He made few big downfield throws, and threw two interceptions and nearly threw two other interceptions by missing on his accuracy, making some bad decisions and just not finding the right targets over the course of the game.
Against a weak Jaguars defense, Brady was expected to have a field day, but he just didn’t show up on top of his game Sunday.
When the Patriots needed big runs out of Stevan Ridley, he didn't deliver.
Stevan Ridley: C-
Ridley certainly had a much better day than he had against the 49ers: He gained 84 yards on 18 carries and did not have any fumbles. But while Ridley put together some very good runs early in the game, he was unable to put anything together when the game was on the line.
The Patriots only ran the ball three times in the fourth quarter, where the Patriots really could have benefited from some big runs to put the game away, but they went to Ridley on all three of those carries, on which he gained a total of four yards. For a powerful back like Ridley who is expected to be their go-to source of offense when trying to run out the clock, this was truly a failure on his behalf.
He made some good runs in the game, including a 3rd-and-1 conversion from a direct snap, but his fourth-quarter struggles drop his grade significantly.
Danny Woodhead: B
Danny Woodhead did not do much of anything in this game as a runner, gaining just seven yards on three carries, but he did make a couple big plays off of screen passes. Both times he caught a screen pass on the left side, he found a lane to the sideline and turned it into a big gain, ending up with a 24-yard play and a 14-yard touchdown.
Woodhead is as good as any player on the Patriots at making plays off of short passes, and he put that skill to good work again today.
Brandon Bolden: D-
On a day where the Patriots never established consistency with their power-running game, Brandon Bolden proved to be an ineffective option. He gained just three net yards on five carried.
The only thing that keeps Bolden from getting an F was a nice tackle he made to stop a kickoff return at the 21-yard line. As a running back, he was terrible on Sunday.
Shane Vereen: F
Shane Vereen only came in the game for one play at running back on Sunday. The result of that play was Vereen being unable to hold a block against Russell Allen in pass protection, and Allen was able to get to Tom Brady for a sack.
Wes Welker was the Patriots' best offensive player on Sunday.
Wes Welker: A-
Wes Welker was easily the Patriots’ most reliable source of offense on Sunday. Welker caught 10 passes for 88 yards, which included one of the day’s most explosive plays on a tough 25-yard catch, and a 2-yard touchdown catch.
Welker had no drops in this game, and also contributed in other ways than just catching the ball: he gained 9 yards on a reverse run, and had a good day returning punts, averaging 14 yards per return.
Brandon Lloyd: C+
After back-to-back breakout performances in primetime, Brandon Lloyd returned to mediocrity on the smaller stage Sunday. Lloyd was targeted 12 times, but although most of those targets were catchable balls, he finished the game credited with only six receptions.
Lloyd did not have any bad drops, although one play that seemed as though it should have been ruled a catch was ruled a drop on the field and went unchallenged by the Patriots coaching staff.
Lloyd made some big plays in the third quarter, with a couple of tough grabs on their opening drive and propelling himself to an 8-yard gain on a screen pass with a stiff arm near the end of the quarter. Overall though, he wasn’t a big playmaker on Sunday, and the Patriots needed some big plays from their offense which they didn’t get from him.
Deion Branch: C
In his second game back in his second stint with the Patriots this season, Deion Branch had a quiet game. He caught two passes for 12 yards and made some solid run blocks, but didn’t make a big impact.
This image shows Aaron Hernandez' only catch of the game.
Michael Hoomanawanui: A
On a team that has Rob Gronkowski, Aaron Hernandez, Daniel Fells and once had Visanthe Shiancoe, no one would have expected coming into the season that Michael Hoomanawanui would lead all Patriots tight ends in receiving in any single game this season. He did that on Saturday by making two important catches for a combined 46 yards.
Hoomanawanui ended up the recipient of the team’s longest passing play of the day with a 32-yard deep catch over the middle in the first quarter. Later, he picked up a very important first down on the Patriots’ final offensive drive with a 14-yard catch and run to convert an important 3rd-and-4.
In addition to his receiving exploits, Hoomanawanui had a very good day in his usual role, which is serving as a run blocker. While it wasn’t a great day in power run blocking for the offensive line, Hoomanawanui made some key blocks both inside and outside to lead some of the day’s bigger gains on the ground.
Aaron Hernandez: D+
While Hoomanawanui was an early-season waiver-wire pickup, Aaron Hernandez didn’t do much to earn his money on Sunday. He had just as many drops as he had receptions with one of each, even though he was targeted five times.
Those other targets that weren’t receptions weren’t his fault, as Brady made a couple of bad throws his way, but nonetheless, he didn’t have his usual success with getting open and making plays. He was also called for an illegal motion penalty in the second quarter.
Sebastian Vollmer had an up-and-down game on Sunday.
Nate Solder: C
Left tackle Nate Solder may have had his worst game of the season Sunday. He struggled consistently in his matchup against Jason Babin, giving up too much pressure throughout the game in pass protection, while the Patriots did not have any consistent success running the ball up the left side of the line.
Solder has been very solid in pass protection and done a good job paving the way as a run blocker throughout the season, but he didn’t do either particularly well on Sunday.
Logan Mankins: B
Left guard Logan Mankins did not stand out either positively or negatively on Sunday. He did give up interior pass-rush pressure at times, but was not beaten badly often. He made some good blocks as a run-blocker, but failed to dominate his matchup against Jaguars defensive tackle Terrance Knighton.
Ryan Wendell: C+
The Patriots were almost entirely unsuccessful in running the ball straight up the middle on Sunday, and much of that failure falls upon Ryan Wendell as the center. He struggled to fend off penetration as a run blocker, and while he wasn’t personally responsible for much interior pass-rush pressure, there was too much pressure that came up the middle over the course of the game.
Dan Connolly: C
When the offensive line has been fully healthy, Dan Connolly has been the weak link of the starting five. That continued to be the case on Sunday, as he was at least partially responsible for two of the three sacks allowed by the line.
Along with right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, Connolly was beaten for a third-quarter sack by Jaguars defensive end Jeremy Mincey. The fourth-quarter sack allowed by the Patriots, however, was completely on Connolly: he was beaten immediately off the line by Jaguars defensive tackle Tyson Alualu, who abused Connolly and got a straight rush at Patriots quarterback Tom Brady to plant him for a 10-yard loss and a hard landing.
Connolly did a decent job as a run blocker, but his struggles in pass protection make one wonder if Donald Thomas deserves a chance to start at right guard.
Sebastian Vollmer: B
Sunday’s game was an up-and-down performance for right tackle Sebastian Vollmer. In the first half, Vollmer did a very good job as a run blocker, but had some troubles in pass-protection throughout the game with Jaguars defensive end Jeremy Mincey, and did not have a strong second half when the entire power running game became stagnant.
Sunday wasn't one of Vince Wilfork's better games this season.
Chandler Jones: B-
For three-and-a-half quarters, Sunday’s game was very much the same for rookie defensive end Chandler Jones as every game has been since he returned from an ankle injury. His pass-rush pressure was virtually nonexistent, and he made no impact on the game.
But on the final two series for the Patriots defense, where they needed more pass rush to come up with some crucial stops, Jones stepped up in a big way.
Jones first made his impact felt on 4th-and-goal of the second-to-last drive. He beat the Jaguars’ best offensive lineman, left tackle Eugene Monroe, on an outside pass-rush, and hit Chad Henne as he threw. That hit forced a fluttering throw which was picked off at the goal line by Patriots safety Patrick Chung.
On the final drive, Jones brought pressure and hit Henne twice more as he was throwing. Finally, the pass-rushing skill that Jones exhibited early in his rookie season was back at the end of Sunday’s game, and given how important the timing of him bringing that much-needed pressure was, what would have been a poor grade for Jones was very much salvaged.
Rob Ninkovich: B-
Rob Ninkovich split time between defensive end and linebacker today with usual starting linebacker Brandon Spikes out of the lineup, but was not as effective as he has been for most of this season.
Ninkovich did force one key third-down incompletion with backside pressure and had a couple important run stops, but did not consistently make plays or have success rushing the passer in this game. The Patriots didn’t have much pass-rush success in this game, and a quiet game for Ninkovich was one reason why.
Vince Wilfork: C+
Given his usual dominance, Sunday wasn’t a very good showing for Patriots nose tackle Vince Wilfork. Wilfork only physically made one stop happen in run defense, did not generate much penetration and was flagged for two penalties in this contest.
The Patriots’ defensive front seven had their share of struggles on Sunday, and a subpar game from Wilfork was a big part of that.
Brandon Deaderick: B-
Brandon Deaderick played a similar role to that usually occupied by Jermaine Cunningham on Sunday, lining up as a defensive end on rushing downs and a defensive tackle on passing downs.
He wasn’t nearly as effective as Cunningham usually is in that role, but he did make some plays, including a very-good pass swat over a double-team block that forced a three-and-out in the third quarter. That play came one play after Deaderick had helped create a run stop with inside penetration.
Kyle Love: C+
In limited action, defensive tackle Kyle Love remained mostly ineffective. Love did nearly force a third-quarter interception with a rare successful pass-rush that led Chad Henne into a bad throw, but aside from that, he made minimal impact when he was on the field.
Trevor Scott: B-
Trevor Scott was used as a rotational pass-rusher on Sunday, and had some degree of success. He forced a three-and-out with a quarterback hit that led to an incompletion on 3rd & 6, and did a decent job overall bringing pressure when Henne dropped back to pass. Per usual, he didn’t make much impact at all when the Jaguars ran toward him, but he did make a special teams tackle.
Justin Francis: D
Rookie defensive lineman Justin Francis played in limited action, but made no significant impact on the game when he was on the field.
Tracy White stepped in and play well for the Patriots at linebacker Sunday.
Jerod Mayo: B+
Jerod Mayo had to step up and be the true leader of the Patriots’ linebacker corps on Sunday with Brandon Spikes out of the lineup, and he did a solid job.
Mayo made six tackles, all of which came within six yards of the line of scrimmage. He also created a crucial 2nd-and-goal stop in the fourth quarter with a big hit on Greg Jones in the backfield, and it was his pressure that helped force Chad Henne’s final pass of the game to be intercepted.
The one significant blemish on Mayo’s game came on the Jaguars’ longest offensive play of the game, a 53-yard gain by Montell Owens off a screen pass. Mayo’s weakness as an outside linebacker is playing screen passes out to the sideline, and he took a bad angle on this play which Owens exposed then outran Mayo, giving him no shot at making the play.
Dont’a Hightower: A-
When Dont’a Hightower is on his game, he can be the biggest playmaker on the Patriots’ defense, and he was at times on Sunday. Hightower did not play on every snap, but he made some big plays when he was in the game.
His biggest play came on a fourth-quarter 3rd-and-goal play, where Hightower blitzed as an inside pass-rusher, beat a block attempt and took down Chad Henne for a 5-yard sack that helped set up the Patriots’ interception on the next play.
Hightower made an impact as a pass-rusher with his sack, broke up a pass in coverage and had a strong day against the run, finishing the contest with six tackles. The Patriots needed Hightower to step up with Spikes out of the lineup, and he did.
Tracy White: B+
Special teams stalwart Tracy White rarely plays on defense, but the Patriots called upon to play frequently at middle linebacker on Sunday with Spikes out of the lineup. White rose to the occasion and played a solid all-around game.
White did a good job as a run-stopper, finishing the game with six tackles, and he even made an impact with a big hit on Chad Henne that forced a third-down incompletion. He even continued to contribute on special teams, with one of his six tackles coming on a kickoff return.
Patrick Chung made two of the game's biggest plays on Sunday.
Devin McCourty: B+
With Alfonzo Dennard inactive and Aqib Talib out of the starting lineup, the Patriots had no choice but to move free safety Devin McCourty back to cornerback for Sunday’s game. McCourty had a mostly strong game back at cornerback, but did give up a few key catches.
McCourty was beaten early on a crossing route by Justin Blackmon for an 18-yard gain, and later was beaten by Blackmon on a curl route then subsequently missed a tackle, which turned that play into a 17-yard gain. McCourty also gave up a crucial 4th-and-10 pass on a comeback route to Toney Clemons in the game’s final minute which extend the Patriots’ struggle for survival.
Overall though, McCourty had a solid game in coverage, including keeping Blackmon in check for most of the game. He didn’t have any badly blown coverages, and was very consistent in coverage for a player now used to playing a different position.
Kyle Arrington: B+
With Dennard and Talib out of the starting lineup, the Patriots also had no choice to play Kyle Arrington as a starting cornerback on the outside, which has often been disastrous this season. He had a solid game, however, not blowing any coverages badly while he ended up being the team’s leading tackler of the day with seven tackles, all of which were solo.
Arrington did a good job coming up in run support to make tackles, which enabled him to lead the team in that statistic. Even on one play where Blackmon beating him across the field on a crossing route, he did a good job recovering to make a touchdown-saving tackle at the 1-yard line, which ended up having huge implications when the Patriots ended the Jaguars’ chance to score on 4th-and-goal with an interception.
Patriots fans had reason to fear the worst when Arrington came out as a starting cornerback, but he ended up having one of his best games of the season.
Marquice Cole: B+
After an atrocious performance on special teams against the San Francisco 49ers, cornerback Marquice Cole needed a strong game on Sunday to redeem himself. Cole ended up playing a lot on defense as the slot cornerback, and redeem himself he did, making a number of big plays in the game including an interception.
Cole was beat badly in the first quarter by Jordan Shipley, when Shipley outran Cole to the left sideline off a catch and gained 36 yards. Cole bounced back to be a playmaker the rest of the game, however. His six tackles included two tackles for loss off corner blitzes, and his sliding interception was a very nice play in coverage.
Aqib Talib: N/A
Aqib Talib did not start at cornerback, but he did receive some playing time in the first half. It was clear, however, that Talib should not have been on the field, as he was evidently favoring his hip on a play-to-play basis. The Patriots smartened up and did not play Talib in the second half, because he was not healthy enough to be playing in a game of relatively low importance just two weeks away from the playoffs.
Given that Talib was clearly injured and could not make much impact when he was on the field, he does not get a grade for his performance.
Patrick Chung: B-
For the most part, strong safety Patrick Chung’s play in coverage on Sunday was terrible. It is hard to give him a bad grade, however, because he also made the game’s two most important plays.
If Chung were to be graded simply off of his highlights, he would get an A+. Chung ended each of the Jaguars’ final two offensive drives with interceptions, and also made two other big hits in the game that broke up passes.
Chung, however, made just as many mistakes as he did big plays. He took some very poor angles in coverage, and fell down when he could have made a play early on Jordan Shipley’s 36-yard catch and run. He also had a costly 15-yard personal-foul penalty for targeting a defenseless receiver — a hit that knocked Cecil Shorts out of the game — after Devin McCourty had already made a great play on the ball, changing a pass breakup into an important gain on the Jaguars’ final drive of the game.
Chung came up big when the Patriots needed him to most, and really deserves credit for that, but his mistakes cannot be ignored.
Steve Gregory: B-
Safety Steve Gregory did not make any crucial mistakes in this game, but he didn’t make a big impact either. He came up with three tackles, but missed an opportunity to make a tackle in the middle of Montell Owens’ 53-yard gain, and did not do much to quell the Jaguars from completing passes in the intermediate passing game.
Gregory nearly came up with an interception on a bad third-quarter throw from Henne, but was able to keep the ball off the turf.
Tavon Wilson: B+
Rookie Tavon Wilson checked into the game at safety in nickel and dime packages, and played a very solid game when he was on the field. He did a good job of staying on his man in coverage, and made a couple very good tackles in run support as well.
Wilson did not give up any pass receptions of more than nine yards, and finished the game with four tackles.
Stephen Gostkowski had a good day kicking field goals on Sunday.
Stephen Gostkowski: B+
Stephen Gostkowski hasn’t always been consistent as a field-goal kicker this season, but he was on Sunday. Gostkowski made all three of his field goal attempts, including one from 49 yards out.
For the second straight week, however, Gostkowski did not get his usual distance on kickoffs. On six total kickoffs, he had just one touchback, and unlike last week, the weather in Jacksonville can’t be used as an excuse.
Zoltan Mesko: A-
Zoltan Mesko had a very good day punting the football Sunday. He had a very impressive average of 47.8 yards per punt, getting consistently good hangtime and with four of his five punts travelling more than 46 yards. His other punt pinned the Jaguars at the 10-yard line.
Danny Aiken: A-
It’s always a sign of good hustle when a long snapper makes a tackle, and Danny Aiken did that on Sunday after a 15-yard punt return. All of his snaps were good as well, so Aiken deserves recognition for doing his job well against the Jaguars.
Matt Slater: C+
Matt Slater had the Patriots’ only kickoff return on Sunday, and gained 20 yards. In coverage, however, Slater did not make as many plays as he usually does, as he did not end up with a single tackle for the game.
Bill Belichick won't be very happy with how his team played Sunday.
Coaching Staff: C-
The Patriots started this game looking like a team that didn’t want to be in Jacksonville, and ended the game looking like a team that didn’t want to be there either. They did what they needed to do to win the game, but the coaches had a tough task this week of keeping their team focused even when playing a far inferior opponent, and it appears they failed to an extent in doing that.
The Patriots struggled to close this game out in the fourth quarter, and without a number of key players on the defensive side of the ball, they struggled to make up for their losses.
Josh McDaniels’ offensive game plan went back to being fairly stale and conservative today, while defensive coordinator Matt Patricia cannot settle for the bend-but-don’t-break effort on his side of the ball that made this game too close for comfort.
It does not come as a big surprise that the Patriots stumbled through a game they were supposed to win easily even without some key players on both sides of the ball, but they must become refocused and reorganized with the playoffs looming on the horizon.