The New England Patriots suffered an incredibly disappointing overtime loss to the New York Jets yesterday, 30-27. This piece will shy away from the penalty at the end of the game and will instead focus on five individual performances from yesterday; three bad and two good. The Patriots played sloppy, converting just one of 12 third-down attempts, and Tom Brady had a major off game.
1. FS Devin McCourty
If you asked me to name the MVP on the New England Patriots so far this season, then I would probably pick Devin McCourty over Aqib Talib, and it’s games like this that really remind you just how good McCourty is. He finished the day with seven tackles, including one for a loss, and had two passes defended, with one of those being a crucial one. He also drew an offensive pass interference that some Jets fans are calling a “flop”, but I’ll reserve judgement on that; I’ll leave it up to you guys. But one thing is clear, McCourty is one of the best safeties in the NFL, and it would be short-sighted to even think of criticizing the work he has done. He’s been making solid plays against the run all year, and he had another amazing game in coverage. There isn’t a better player in the league in deep coverage, and McCourty is a huge deterrent to QBs who love throwing the ball deep. You always have to think twice with a guy of McCourty’s caliber patrolling the back end of the secondary.
2. QB Tom Brady
Look, Tom Brady had an absolutely horrendous game yesterday, and he could have easily finished with multiple interceptions. He admitted it himself; his pick six to Antonio Allen was a very poor decision. Brady is still an elite quarterback and there’s absolutely no reason to suddenly turn on him (hold the presses on the “declining QB” argument for a bit) given what he did last week. But it was clear to me that Brady was missing passes he normally makes with ease, forcing too many balls to Rob Gronkowski, and he made some decisions that I’m sure he would love to have back. As Rob Ninkovich said this morning, the Patriots left plays on the field, and Tom Brady was a big culprit.
Any time your starting quarterback completes under 50% of his passes, has more interceptions than touchdowns, averages just five yards per attempt, and has a QB Rating in the low 50s, it is extremely difficult to win. His inability to hit an open Aaron Dobson was one glaring examples of his struggles, and he’ll hope to shake this one off with a crucial game against the Miami Dolphins coming up. Nobody should have less than full faith regarding Brady, but he definitely did not have one of his finer performances.
3, 4. Ryan Wendell and Dan Connolly
These two have been two of the most frustrating players to watch on the New England Patriots this season, and it’s fair to wonder how much longer Dan Connolly will last in New England. He’s lucky that Cannon’s progression and switch to RG hasn’t gone as planned, because he would have been out of a job by now. Connolly was the offensive line’s weak link last season, and the right guard spot has been even weaker this year thanks to the struggles of both Connolly and Cannon. Ryan Wendell hasn’t been much better either, and it’s a shame given how good he was and how many “underrated” awards he received last year as a first-year starter. A small center, Wendell has excellent stamina and is one of the better run blocking centers in the NFL, but he has always had pass protection issues. Those seemed to improve as the year went on last year, but they are back and worst than ever before this year. While they did go up against an extremely difficult Jets three-man front, the quick interior pressure that both Connolly and Wendell have been giving up all season long is having a significantly negative affect on Brady.
Interior pressure affects quarterbacks the most, and Connolly and Wendell need to step it up. Wendell’s regression from last year has been discouraging, and even his run blocking hasn’t been as good. It’s a shame, too, since some fans are lumping the struggles of these two interior OLs with the greatness of the other three starters. Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer are both playing shutdown football at the tackle spots, and Logan Mankins has looked downright inspired this year. He’s fully healthy, and he is manhandling opposing defensive players.
5. DT Joe Vellano
I started the piece off with the good, and I’m going to end the piece with a good observation. I’ve already praised Stephen Gostkowski enough this season, so it’s time to turn my focus to an undrafted rookie defensive tackle in Joe Vellano. Thrust into the starting gig thanks to a season-ending injury to Vince Wilfork, Joe Vellano has had his ups and downs. He was horrendous in the Week 5 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals before playing pretty well against the New Orleans Saints, and he put on a show against the Jets yesterday. Vellano recorded seven tackles, which is excellent for a DT. Those tackle totals weren’t inflated either, and Vellano did an incredible job shutting down inside runs. He also added a QB hit, and the Patriots defensive line will be in good shape if Chandler Jones and Vellano can keep playing like they did yesterday once Tommy Kelly (and Armond Armstead, I guess) come back.