Carolina Panthers vs. New England Patriots: Full Roster Grades for New England
In his press conference after the game (h/t Yahoo! Sports), Bill Belichick refused to take the bait and blame the referees for his team's 24-20 loss to the Carolina Panthers. "We came up short. It wasn't good enough. Didn't make enough plays," Belichick stated in his normal somber mood.
Where some saw Luke Kuechly interfering with Rob Gronkowski on the game's final play, others saw an uncatchable ball. Either way, Tom Brady and the rest of the Patriots have had way too many run-ins with referees at the end of games.
Gotta hear the explanation for picking up the flag. Between this and Jets penalty in OT Pats may have persecution complex.— Tom E. Curran (@tomecurran) November 19, 2013
Here are grades for each of the Patriots players.
Tom Brady: A-
Tom Brady was hyper-accurate early—25-of-29 before the game's final drive—and never led the Patriots on a drive less than eight plays long. Unfortunately for New England, the last drive ended with Brady's only—and certainly not uncontroversial—interception of the night.
When asked about the non-call on Gronkowski Brady took the blame, though. "It really shouldn’t have come down to that. We had plenty of other opportunities in the game to score points and really widen the gap that we had on them at halftime."
Brady was able to defuse the bubbling situation and will be invaluable in keeping the Patriots on track for postseason success.
Despite strong running inside and outside—including a touchdown—Ridley cost the Patriots much-needed points with another fumble. Until his ball-security issues are fixed, it will be tough to trust Ridley when the game is on the line.
LeGarrette Blount: B+
Blount stacked another great game on top of his quality performance against the Steelers, averaging 4.9 yards per carry on 10 runs. With his powerful running style, I would have liked to see Blount get the ball on 3rd-and-1 on the Patriots' second-to-last drive.
Shane Vereen: B+
Shane Vereen was a sight for sore eyes. He only rushed once for seven yards, but was able to haul in eight balls in the passing game. Other than a tough drop on a wheel route on the final drive, Vereen was an absolute force for Brady. His role looks to be huge going forward.
James Develin: B-
Develin was able to fill in for Michael Hoomanawanui—injured leg—in three-tight end sets and was able to throw some blocks in the run game as well. His versatility came in handy against Carolina.
Aaron Dobson: B+
Dobson was neutralized somewhat by the Panthers' ability to generate pressure with their front four. On one occasion, Dobson was able to beat his man off the line, but Brady was sacked before he could unload the ball.
Dobson finished with four catches for 38 yards but was also able to draw multiple holding and interference penalties.
Julian Edelman: B
Edelman didn't have much of an impact in the return game—the two teams combined for a total of three punts—and was held to three catches for 27 yards.
Danny Amendola: B
Amendola made the most of the seven balls sent his way, catching six for 45 yards. He was able to consistently find holes in the defense and give Brady an easy target inside.
Kenbrell Thompkins: B+
Thompkins came back in a big way after being named a healthy scratch against the Pittsburgh Steelers. He caught both balls thrown his way for 60 yards.
Josh Boyce: I
Boyce saw the field as a kick returner but hasn't been able to crack the lineup as a receiver over the last few weeks.
Rob Gronkowski: A-
Brady looked Gronkowski's way seven times, connecting on five. Gronkowski scored a touchdown early in the third quarter and nearly drew a penalty that gave the Patriots one more chance at winning the game.
The Panthers were able to hold Gronkowski in check much of the night, but Gronkowski is a constant threat that defenses have to pay attention to.
Michael Hoomanawanui: C
Hoomanawanui was unable to finish the game, leaving with an apparent leg injury. He will be sorely missed if he is unable to suit up against Denver next week.
Matthew Mulligan: C+
Mulligan was effective in the run game but wasn't able to get open when asked to fulfill some of Hoomanawanui's role in the passing attack.
Marcus Cannon: C+
Nate Solder: B-
Logan Mankins: C-
Ryan Wendell: C+
Dan Connolly: C
The offensive line was inconsistent again against the Panthers. At times, Brady had all the time in the world. When it counted, however, the Panthers were able to pressure Brady.
Logan Mankins and Dan Connolly each had costly penalties, and while Nate Solder was solid for the majority of the game, he gave up a big sack early in the game after being tricked on a zone blitz.
Chandler Jones: B-
Jones added another sack to his season total—now at 9.5—but wasn't able to corral Cam Newton when it mattered. Missing Newton in the backfield proved to be costly in such a tight game.
Chris Jones: C
Jones was non-existent in this game. He didn't pressure Newton and wasn't able to gum up the Panthers' run game with his normal penetration. This wasn't Jones' best game for the Patriots, but I think he still has some big plays left in him this season.
Joe Vellano: C+
Vellano was stouter than his rookie teammate and finished the game with four total tackles. He has filled in admirably at the nose tackle position this year.
Rob Ninkovich: B+
Ninkovich was in on two sacks and was able to severely blunt the effectiveness of the Panthers' running attack. He has been an absolute menace to opposing offenses this year.
Isaac Sopoaga: B-
Sopoaga didn't appear in the stat sheet, but he was able to hold up blockers and allow his linebackers to make the play. He has been a quality pickup in Vince Wilfork's and Tommy Kelly's absences.
Andre Carter: C+
Carter earned one tackle in light duty. He could be key down the stretch, allowing Chandler Jones to rush from the inside.
Dont'a Hightower: C+
Hightower took over the communication duties in Steve Gregory's absence last week and continued with the green dot on his helmet against Carolina. Hightower was effective with his run fits, but his "green dog" blitzes—where he doesn't see his man release and rushes the quarterback—ended up costing the Patriots when he couldn't contain Cam Newton.
Brandon Spikes: B
Spikes ended with seven tackles in this game but was a part of so many more. Whether it was blowing up a lead blocker or delivering jarring hits to the ball-carrier, Spikes' physicality kept the Patriots in the game.
Dane Fletcher: C+
Fletcher was again the main linebacker in dime coverage. I'd like to see him sent more often as a blitzer, as his defensive line skills from college have translated well to the NFL.
Jamie Collins: C
Collins had some spot duty, at times looking like he might have been a spy on Newton. Patriots fans are still anxious to see Collins use his incredible athleticism.
Devin McCourty: B+
McCourty was called for a questionable holding penalty that extended a Panthers drive, but otherwise had a pretty clean day. He was able to fill in run support—two tackles—and kept the Patriots' patchwork secondary under control.
Aqib Talib: D+
Coming off his hip injury, Talib was thoroughly outplayed by Steve Smith. Smith drew multiple penalties against Talib and was able to make chunk plays when needed. Talib left the game late with an undisclosed injury and his status for next week's game against Denver is now in jeopardy.
Kyle Arrington: C+
Arrington was the best cover corner that the Patriots had Monday night, but many will only remember his egregious missed tackle that allowed the Panthers to take the lead. Arrington needs to wrap up better, but his play kept New England in the game.
Duron Harmon: B
Harmon played in place of the injured Steve Gregory and acquitted himself nicely, picking up three solo tackles and helping McCourty cover the back end. He does not play like a rookie and has thus far made Tavon Wilson an afterthought.
Logan Ryan: C+
Ryan had a deflection and some good coverage outside, but was beaten badly on Cam Newton's pass to Brandon LaFell.
Marquice Cole: C
Cole was on the field late in the game with Talib injured. The Patriots are obviously in trouble when he is forced to take over for Talib and Dennard.
Nate Ebner: C+
Ebner saw his first action of the season in the defensive backfield and looked comfortable trying to re-route receivers and tight ends.
Stephen Gostkowski: A
Gostkowski was excellent again, nailing his lone field-goal try into howling wind—he added another with the wind at his backand backing up the Panthers with his booming kickoffs.
Danny Aiken: D+
Aiken had one poor snap that his holder—Ryan Allen—was able to cover for. The Patriots will surely be evaluating Aiken, as that is now four questionable snaps on the year.
Ryan Allen: B+
Allen has punted only three times in the last two games. His lone punt against Carolina resulted in poor field positions for Carolina, stopping inside the 10-yard line.
Matthew Slater: B+
Tavon Wilson: A
Tavon Wilson made two big tackles in coverage and Slater helped down the ball on the Patriots' lone punt of the game. Special teams were excellent against Carolina.
All stats are courtesy of NFL.com and the Patriots Media Department.