Things are looking good in New England. Even with the loss of some key personnel, this team has proven resilient and capable – though the quality of their opponents going forward will be a whole lot higher. That being said, there’s little question that this team has looked awfully good on both sides of the ball in recent weeks.
Still, it’s not about what’s going to happen, but rather what has already occurred. On to the Progress Report.
Offense – A
This offense definitely rebounded from a relatively lackluster third quarter in the final four games. The team averaged just over 30 points a game; not the high-octane numbers of earlier in the season, but strong enough. Tom Brady didn’t close out the year with the sorts of gaudy numbers he was throwing out to start – he averaged 270 yards per game, but that figure is skewed by a 406-yard game against the Ravens; he also had nine TDs and just one pick. Julian Edelman, Martellus Bennett and Chris Hogan have all contributed mightily to the passing game. LeGarrette Blount hasn’t gained much yardage, but he’s pulled five TDs in the last four games – he gets in the end zone – while Dion Lewis and James White continue to help power the rush.
Defense – A-
This grade feels high, but there’s no denying the effectiveness of the New England defense over the past few games. This group gave up an average of less than 11 points per game over the season’s final month; that number helped lead them to the best scoring defense in the NFL this year. The last quarter of the season saw the Pats pick off seven passes and sack the quarterback 12 times – far ahead of the pace set to that point. Guys like Malcolm Butler and Trey Flowers and Logan Ryan and Rob Ninkovich – players who have assembled solid seasons without particularly gaudy statistics – have led the way. It has been the ideal version of the traditional Patriots bend-don’t-break defense; even against less-than-stellar competition, you can’t argue results.
Special Teams – B
Stephen Gostkowski no longer has that air of perfection about him – we’ve accepted the fact that he’ll occasionally miss a kick. He still managed to go seven for eight in field goals and make all 13 of his extra point attempts over the last four games. That level of performance – along with his exceptional kickoff work – points up his still-significant value. Punter Ryan Allen closed out strong, averaging nearly 47 yards on his last 20 punts. Only five were returned for an average of less than five yards, while Allen put six inside the 20. Kick coverage is solid as always, while the return game remains utterly, almost willfully bland in its general effectiveness, devoid of both spectacular plays and spectacular mistakes.
Coaching – A
I know it’s starting to sound like a broken record, but there’s a consistency here that borders on the eerie. This team simply succeeds and succeeds and succeeds. Coaching is the constant; Bill Belichick and his staff continue to find ways to overcome what obstacles they might find in their path and come up with victories. There have been significant personnel losses on both sides of the ball – some expected, others not so much. Regardless of who takes the field, it seems that the man on the sideline has it all under control. This is a flawed team with plenty of issues, but until I see otherwise, I’m going with the guy in the hoodie. In Belichick we trust.