Tom Brady and the New England Patriots have reached the bye week with a 5-3 record, good enough for first place in the AFC East. Benjamin Woodward assesses New England's first half.
As the Patriots lick their wounds this afternoon after a dominating 45-7 victory over the St. Louis Rams, they sit at 5-3 and atop the AFC East as the NFL enters Week 9. While adjusting to travel back from London, the Pats have a bye.
Here's a look at the midseason report cards for the New England Patriots.
Tom Brady - Is Tom Brady the clutch, gun-slinging touchdown generator that he has been over the course of the past decade? Of course not. It wouldn't be fair to expect No. 12 to be the same player at age 35 as he was earlier in his career. Still, he's been one of the best two quarterbacks in the AFC this season and 16:3 touchdown-to-interception ratio remains impressive. Grade: B+
Stevan Ridley - On pace to rush for over 1,400 yards this season, New England's 2011 third round draft choice has been the surprise of the season for the Patriots' offense. If Ridley can become a more consistent backfield runner, he'll become the every-down back for the Patriots sooner rather than later. Grade: A-
Brandon Bolden - The undrafted rookie free agent who no one thought would even make the roster out of training camp has been a solid addition to the Patriots' offense. His powerful running accrued 234 total yards and two touchdowns before being set back by an injury. When fully healed, he will become a valuable redzone weapon for the Patriots. Grade: A
Danny Woodhead - He's been useful in certain spots, but hasn't been nearly as effective as he was one year ago. Grade: C
Brandon Lloyd - He hasn't been the all-pro that Patriots' fans had hoped he would come here and become, but Brandon Lloyd has been solid all-around, giving Brady a valuable option on the outside. Outside of a few drops against the Jets, Lloyd has been a reliable target, catching three touchdowns in the first half of the season. Grade: B
Wes Welker - At the beginning of the season, folks thought that Welker was being eased out of the offense in favor of younger and less expensive slot man Julian Edelman. However, No. 83 has certainly proved his value to the team ever since. Now with 736, Welker leads the Patriots in receiving yards by more than 150. Grade: B+
Julian Edelman - Edelman began the year with a bang, but simply couldn't handle the increased work load that he was given at the start of the season. He's a talented player, but most definitely a far cry from Wes Welker, the man it once looked like he would replace. Grade: C
Rob Gronkowski - The NFL's top tight end struggled a bit to begin the year, but has come on strong over the past couple of games. Gronkowski has now taken a commanding team lead in the receiving touchdowns department with seven so far this year. Gronkowski isn't having the type of year that he enjoyed last season, but duplicating history is often an impossible feat. Grade: A-
Aaron Hernandez - It's tough to accurately grade Aaron Hernandez's season thus far, as much of it has been spent on the sidelines with an ankle injury. The Patriots would be wise to rest Hernandez until the injury is fully healed as he'll be a valuable part of the offense come crunch time in December and January. Grade: B-
Vince Wilfork hasn't been the disruptive player that he's been in the past, but rookie Chandler Jones and veteran Rob Ninkovich have done a good job to make up for it. These five men have combined for 11.5 sacks this season, led by Jones' 6.0. There is little doubt that the line has been the most successful part of the Patriots' defense this season. Grade: B+
The emergence of Brandon Spikes as a legitimate playmaker in the middle of the New England defense has been a welcome sign for head coach Bill Belichick. He hasn't quite developed the necessary consistency or pass coverage skills to see the field on every down, but a knack for big plays has made No. 55 a fan favorite in New England. Hightower has been excellent in coverage of opposing tight ends and defense captain Jerod Mayo has been his same all-pro self. Grade: B
No explanation is required here. If you've seen any of the Patriots' games this season, you'd know just how historically poor their secondary play has been. If there's been one singular bright spot, it's that rookie Alfonzo Dennard has shown some solid coverage skills in limited action. The addition of veteran corner Aqib Talib should help the secondary, but I wouldn't expect a complete turnaround. Grade: F
Coaching (Bill Belichick, Josh McDaniels) - To say that some of Josh McDaniels' offensive play calls this season have been questionable may qualify for the understatement of the year. Call me crazy, but a reverse handoff on 2nd and short doesn't seem like a bright idea. Nor does running the ball with 5-foot-8 Danny Woodhead on 3rd or 4th and one. But, I digress. There have also been some instances of poor clock management on the part of the Patriots this season, which is something we're not used to seeing around these parts. That typically falls on the shoulders of the head coach. Grade: C+
Overall - At 5-3, the Patriots certainly could be worse, but they could also be a whole heck of a lot better. They'll need to work on closing out games and see a fairly significant improvement in their secondary if they'd like to work their way back to where they were last year. Its been a roller coaster filled with ups and downs in the first half of the season, but the Patriots have put themselves in a good position to make a run to the playoffs in the second half of the year. Overall Grade: B
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