Pittsburgh Steelers vs. New England Patriots: Roster Grades for the Patriots
Aaron Dobson and Tom Brady will come away from the game with most of the accolades, but this was truly a team effort for New England.
Here are grades for each of the Patriots players.
Tom Brady: A
This was vintage Tom Brady: manipulating safeties, finding the open receiver, subtle adjustments in the pocket and pinpoint accuracy.
Brady finished 23-of-33 on the day, totaling 432 yards and throwing four touchdowns. Despite quite a bit of pressure—Brady was hit six times—he was able to stand tall in the pocket and deliver the ball down the field to a variety of receivers.
Despite a fumble early in the third quarter—Troy Polamalu ripped the ball out of Ridley's hands—Bill Belichick stuck with him. Ridley rewarded Belichick's patience with 115 yards on 26 carries, including two touchdowns.
LeGarrette Blount: A
I've been critical of Blount's indecisiveness the last few weeks, but he proved me wrong today by sealing the game with an incredible touchdown run that featured his unreal lower-body strength. Blount's work on kickoff returns was solid as well, averaging 24 yards per return.
Brandon Bolden: B-
Bolden was effective in the draw game, picking up chunks of yardage. However, he couldn't convert a 4th-and-1—which was called back on account of an offsides penalty—that should have resulted in a touchdown.
James Develin: B-
Develin was effective in blocking for Ridley and Co., but he isn't much of a threat in the passing game. I still think that Michael Hoomanawanui would be able to provide the same production without the expense of a roster spot.
Julian Edelman: B-
Edelman only caught one ball on four targets, including one drop, but provided an electric 43-yard punt return that kept the Patriots offense cooking.
Aaron Dobson: A-
Dobson continued to show Patriots fans why New England used a second-round pick on him this year. He finished the day with five catches for 130 yards, including an 81-yard touchdown that had many in the stands wondering if Randy Moss had suited up in the red, white and blue again.
Dobson's day wasn't perfect, as he let two catchable balls hit the ground, but it was a great performance for the rookie receiver.
Danny Amendola: A
Amendola made the most of his four targets, catching all four for a whopping 122 yards and a touchdown. His groin injury didn't seem to be bothering him at all.
Austin Collie: Incomplete
Collie left the game with an apparent knee injury, leaving the Patriots thin at the receiver position with Kenbrell Thompkins and Josh Boyce being healthy inactives.
Brady looked for Gronkowski early and often, eventually throwing Gronkowski's way 10 times. He came down with nine of those targets, racking up 143 yards and a touchdown. His blocking also paved the way for Ridley and Co. to gain close to 200 yards on the ground.
Michael Hoomanawanu: B-
Hoomanawanui had some great blocks that set up Stevan Ridley, but he had a really poor drop in the passing game. He made the catch on his only other target though, gaining 17 yards.
Matthew Mulligan: B
Mulligan didn't earn a target in the passing game, but that isn't his job. Mulligan didn't have any glaring errors while blocking—at first blush anyway—that would knock down his grade.
Marcus Cannon: B
Nate Solder: A-
Logan Mankins: C+
Ryan Wendell: B-
Dan Connolly: B-
When your running backs go for 197 yards, the offensive line and tight ends have done a good job. However, there were some penalties and errors made in pass protection that made things harder for the offense.
Logan Mankins looked good pulling in the run game, but his clipping and false start penalties put the offense in a hole.
Marcus Cannon looked good in place of the injured Sebastian Vollmer, as he moved very well on Sunday. Nate Solder was his normal, dominant self.
Chandler Jones: B+
Jones notched two more sacks on Sunday, giving him 8.5 for the season. He lost contain a couple of times in the run game, but otherwise, he was a menace for the Steelers offensive line.
Chris Jones: B
Jones didn't earn a sack, although he did take down Roethlisberger for what looked like a loss. Regardless, he was still able to once again cause problems in the opponent's backfield. His ability to shoot gaps on the interior is key to blowing up plays before they begin.
Joe Vellano: C+
Other than recovering a fumble, Vellano was largely invisible on the day. I'll have to take a look at the All-22 film, but it didn't look like he was being pushed back either. Patriots defensive tackles can't be judged by their statistics.
Rob Ninkovich: B+
In limited action due to an ankle issue, Ninkovich was able to record five tackles, including a strip-sack. I'd like to see Ninkovich drop into coverage even less than he does now, as that isn't his strong suit.
Isaac Sopoaga: B
Sopoaga played well in place of Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly. He made it very difficult for the Steelers to move him at the point of attack and nearly intercepted a screen pass.
Andre Carter: B+
Carter earned his first sack in a Patriots uniform since he first played for the team in 2011. He filled in nicely for Ninkovich.
Dont'a Hightower: A-
Hightower took over the communication duties in the huddle when Steve Gregory was injured, and he performed very well. He stuck with the Steelers running backs in coverage and was able to get some hurries on Roethlisberger in the passing game.
Brandon Spikes: B+
Spikes didn't show up much in the box score, but his presence was felt on the field. His hard-charging moves at the snap force running backs to make a cut earlier than they'd like to, often leading to a positive play for the defense.
Dane Fletcher: A-
Fletcher added another sack from the dime linebacker position—his second in as many weeks—and wasn't embarrassed in coverage, by any means. Fletcher has found his niche on this team.
Jamie Collins: C
After a few poor plays last week, Collins didn't seem to be a big part of the plan this week. He finished with one tackle, and Patriots fans are still waiting to see an impact play from the rookie.
Devin McCourty: A-
McCourty snagged his first interception of the year—unless you want to give him a half-interception for his assist to Marquice Cole last week—and totaled six tackles on the day. His play on the back end helps cover up any mistakes that the Patriots corners might commit.
Alfonzo Dennard: B
Dennard had a difficult job in covering the talented Antonio Brown. He was beaten on a perfect throw for a touchdown, but he was able to break up a pass and hold Brown to only 71 yards on nine targets.
Steve Gregory: B-
Before Gregory left the game with a hand injury, he was continuing his solid play from throughout the season. He will be sorely missed if he is out for an extended period of time.
Kyle Arrington: D+
Arrington, who was playing with a tweaked groin, had a couple of tough matchups with the slippery Emmanuel Sanders and Jerrico Cotchery. Each took advantage of Arrington for a touchdown. Arrington cannot wait for Aqib Talib to return so that he can return inside.
Duron Harmon: B
Harmon finished the game with another interception after filling in for the injured Steve Gregory. If Gregory misses some time, Harmon has shown that he is ready to step in at strong safety.
Logan Ryan: C+
Ryan didn't follow up his monster performance against the Dolphins with anything special, but his play is still above-average for a rookie. He has a solid future in New England.
Marquice Cole: C+
Cole, with Talib still injured, had to venture onto the defensive side of the field in addition to his special teams duties. Although his play in the slot is decent, he likely will remain as solely a special-teamer once Talib returns.
Stephen Gostkowski: B+
Gostkowski's leg looked perhaps a bit tired, or perhaps the wind was a factor, as the normal booming kickoffs just weren't there. He was still money on field goals, so I wouldn't worry too much going into the bye week.
Danny Aiken: A
Aiken continued his excellent season. He has had two games where he had a couple of loose snaps, but that wasn't the case today.
Ryan Allen: C-
Allen didn't have much to do on Sunday—the Patriots did score 55 points—but the two punts that he did kick weren't his best. He ended the day with just a 28.5 net punting average. Allen was perfect holding on field goals and extra points though.
Matthew Slater: C+
Nate Ebner: B
Tavon Wilson: D
Michael Buchanan: C
Chris White: B
Tavon Wilson had a holding penalty, and the coverage units weren't as tight as normal against the Steelers. Ebner and White led the charge with two special-teams tackles apiece.