Top Ten Promising Patriot Performances Against the Falcons
The New England Patriots defeated the Atlanta Falcons 28-10 on Thursday night.
The starters for the Patriots outscored the Falcons 14-3, and Wes Welker even got in on the action during the first series, a promising sign for Patriots fans.
While the starters controlled most of the first half of the game, the backups also had a strong showing, equally encouraging for the Patriots' season.
Listed here are the top ten promising performances of the night. These ten do not necessarily represent the top ten performances in the game, but rather the individual performances that offer the most hope for regular season success.
#10. Zoltan Mesko
Don't mess with The Zoltan!
Zoltan punted four times for a solid 42.8 yard average, downing two punts inside the 20 (an art unknown to the artist formerly known as Hansen).
More importantly, the hang time for these punts was superb, providing room for only one return of negative seven yards.
In addition to his solid punting, he handled another bad snap on an extra point, hiked almost directly into his forehead, assisting above counterpart Stephen Gostkowski.
Not to be forgotten, he performed all of these feats with trademark neon-orange cleat seen above.
#9. The Patriots' Secondary
This was a solid all-around performance put on by the secondary, if not spectacular.
For the safety postion, Pat Chung had five tackles and always seemed to be around the ball. Brandon Meriweather also had five tackles and was credited with a pass defensed. When Brandon McGowen was called into action, he recorded four tackles, although seemed to around the ball on every play. He also creamed Falcons' quarterback John Parker Wilson on a delayed blitz, causing an incompletion.
On the outside, Devin McCourty had a strong game with five tackles (seems the magic number), at one point stunting in to tackle Michael Turner. By all accounts run support seems to be his strength as a cornerback. Butler also had a solid game, avoiding costly penalties this time out. The backups impressed as well, as Jonathan Wilhite picked off Wilson on a fourth down play, cutting under a route, and Kyle Arrington nearly forced a fumble (he was apparently hurt on the play though, as he did not return to the game.)
All in all, this was a solid performance turned in by what appears to be the strength of this "bend-but-don't break" defense. By the way, Leigh Bodden has yet to return, which will only bolster this group further.
#8. Ron Brace
Yes, I know that's not his name, but doesn't he look like a Ronaldino?
Speaking of his appearance, did he not look especially rotund to anyone else during this game? I guess there's no mystery as to why he failed the conditioning test until last week. It seemed as if his jersey was simply too short to be able to tuck into his pants, so the referees stopped bothering to enforce the rule with him...
All kidding aside, there was a Ron Brace sighting on Thursday night, a terrific sign, given the recent news of Ty Warren's trip to IR. Brace recorded two stops and forced a fumble on Dimitri Nance late in the game. He did a decent job of clogging the middle and even got his hand up in the face of Falcons' passers.
This was perhaps the most exciting part of the second half, as Brace could be in the mix for a sub role with the regular defense. If he can get to the passer more consistently, he may be able to fill the Jarvis Green role, a sub rusher, the man whose number he now wears.
#7. Brian Hoyer
Hoyer had another excellent game, at one point lofting a touch pass over the top of the seam to Rob Gronkowski.
Perhaps Hoyer's best quality, however, is his ability to manage a game (once upon a Brady, that was the best quality for a NE QB to have). Yes, he did throw a pass directly into the hands of a Falcon's defender at one point in the game, but his accuracy was generally solid, particularly given some occasionally questionable blocking by the Patriots back up offensive line.
Speaking of questionable blocking, another strong quality that Hoyer possesses is the ability to throw under duress. Several times, Hoyer released the ball right before being sucked under the rush. His internal clock seems to be accurate.
Overall, you've got to love his performance in the preseason. If Tom Brady does go down, God forbid, the team will still be competitive.
#6. Sammy Morris
Yes, I know it was versus the backups, but his second effort run to score a touchdown in the third quarter was a promising sign for the regular season.
Some pundits had him on roster bubble at the beginning of preseason, but his performance tonight would seem to quell those doubters for the time being. Against the first string, he did get an opportunity to perform his typical third and short fullback dive, dreaded for its obviousness by some Patriot diehards, picking up a solid nine yards.
He finished with 52 yards on a mere six carries, impressive numbers.
Did I cringe every time he got hit hard and hold my breath on every tackle until he got up? You bet your Fred Taylor I did.
Seriously though, could we chop up parts from Taylor and Morris to create a bionic super back? We could use Morris's feet, Taylor's knees, Morris's torso, and Taylor's shoulders. We could cut up their brains, too. Find the part of Taylor's brain that somehow always knows where to go to follow the blocks with Morris's complete lack of fear of contact. Then if the super back got hurt, we could just patch him up with some of the left over parts. This could really work.
#5. Tom Brady
Brady's performance was pretty dominant, notching a 124.0 quarterback rating, going 10 for 12 with a TD.
The TD toss was ridiculous, pinned to Aaron Hernandez's back pocket, when Shaun Weatherspoon overplayed the route. I'm not sure how two people are able to connect in a split second on such a complex thought. If done out loud, the conversation would have run something like this:
Brady: Run to the corner of the endzone
Hernandez: This dude is draped all over me.
Brady: Well then, I'll throw it behind you a bit.
Hernandez: Okay, I'll go from a dead sprint to a standstill and reach behind me for the ball
Brady: Okay, here you go (perfect throw)
Well, this exchange all happened, telepathically, and in under 1.5 seconds. These people are clearly not human. As I watched the replay five times, this was the prevailing thought.
Brady is back. He is hungry and he is back. The fact that he barely celebrated the TD tells you where his sights are. I'm telling you, watch out for this team.
#4. Rob Gronkowski
I think this will be the last picture you will see of Rob Gronkowski without a Patriots uniform on, for there aren't any on this system currently.
There were several things that struck me about his 24 yard touchdown catch. First was the precision of the route that he ran. Right down the seam creating just enough space for the quarterback. This man isn't a ballerina, either. He's 6'6 and 265 for God's sake. And then there was the catch itself. Effortless. Right on the hands. As the PFW writers describe the sound of his catches, like the sound of a football hitting a bag of sand.
And his receiving wasn't the best part of his game. Remember how Troy Aikman and Joe Buck were praising the balance of the offensive play calling? Well, the reason that a team can run the ball as much as they pass is not the dedication to balanced play calling, it's whether or not the line can block it well enough to get any yardage out of running the rock. The Tight Ends play a huge role in this success or lack of success, and Gronk was blowing people off the line of scrimmage.
There was a reason Joe and Troy were singing these guy's praises at the end of the game. They had a dominant performance.
#3. Fred Taylor
I have to admit, I was a bit shocked by how well Fred Taylor played in this game. Many had pegged him as a bubble player. Those who predicted the Patriots would keep four running backs had either him of Ben-Jarvus Green-Ellis not making the roster.
I think it's fair to say he's earned a place on it now.
HIs touchdown run was well blocked up front, but when he got to the second level it was pure effort, with the yards after contact getting him into the end zone. You had to like that he was able to outrun the defensive back to the corner of the end zone, too. Any question that this guy doesn't have the legs anymore?
But with Fred Taylor, it's not the breakaway runs that you pay for. It's the consistent gains. Lawrence Maroney is as likely to get negative two yards as he is to pick up thirteen. Taylor will almost always get you three yards. And that's all you ever really need if you have Tom Brady and Kevin Faulk on third down and short. Someone should really sit down and try to explain this to LoMo. Maybe draw him a nice diagram to illustrate.
Anyways, Taylor will be a solid contributor, if healthy... yada yada. Seriously, modern technology being what it is, with stem cell research and such, couldn't we carve up him and Morris to make one super back? LoMo would never see the field...
#2. Aaron Hernandez
Wow, this guy is really talented! Lost in the perfect touchdown throw by Tom Brady is the awareness by this rookie (!) to break off his route and then turn and adjust to the ball. Impressive.
On an earlier route, he pulled the "juke step, back out, and then head up field when the defense clears" move. It reminded me of Julien Edelman's moves in the game against the Saints. Hernandez is going to be a YAC machine, an accurate quarterback's best friend.
Just think about the potential for this guy when he learns how to use his large frame to shield off smaller defensive backs. Bill O'Brien hasn't even cracked the well on how to use this guy. I have mixed feelings baout using him in the slip screens, usually drawn up for Welker. He's fast enough to make those moves and pick up good yardage, but part of me feels like there's so many other better routes for him to run, so why bother? (Especially if you already have an Edelman or a Welker to run those). How about some Jason Witten/Dallas Clarke-like routes? Those little five yards ins and outs? Hey, I like him up the seam too!
If only he could learn to block a bit, and stop being photographed with douche bags at Dave Matthew's concerts. He is still a rookie...
The total line for Patriot's tight ends: 9 catches, 96 yards, 2 TDs. I could get used to this.
#1. Wes Welker
Wow. Speaking of non-human players... Barely seven months after ripping his knee to shreds in Houston, Welker was back in game action, catching two balls for 20 yards.
Brady wasted little time getting Welker involved, throwing to him on his first three passing attempts. Welker made a nice catch on the second target, thrown a bit behind him, adjusting to snare the pass and even get past the sticks for a first down. Amazing. He is still the same guy.
Clearly, there was some rust there, as he had an uncharacteristic drop on a bubble screen early in the first Patiot's drive, but that is to be expected. On the play he got cleaned out by the defensive back, and it's a good thing he did drop the pass or he may have been hit harder. When he came up, his eyes were bulging out of his head, suggesting he is still struggling with the mental aspect of recovery, too. No shock there.
But this is perhaps the most promising sign in this game for Patriot's fans. It doesn't seem like Welker has lost much in the way of quickness or instincts, and he took his first real hit after the injury. Everything checks out.
Now imagine Welker, Moss, Edelman/Tate, Gronkowski, and Hernandez all on the field at the same time.
When is the season starting? Please come soon.
What are your thoughts?
How did you feel about the game? Did I leave anyone off this list that you thought was worthy of a top ten showing? I guess I undersold the defense, which really played well as a unit. Did anyone stick out individually to you there? Let me know in the comments.