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Patriots Progress Report 2016 – Third Quarter

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New England Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler, top right, celebrates his interception with Brandon King, left, during the first half of an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016, in Foxborough, Mass. New England Patriots cornerback Malcolm Butler, top right, celebrates his interception with Brandon King, left, during the first half of an NFL football game against the Los Angeles Rams, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

The third quarter of this New England Patriots football season has a definite “good news/bad news” vibe to it.

The good news is that the Patriots went 3-1 in their last four games, winning the last three in a row after falling to Seattle in their first game after the bye. And wins are good – they’re definitely in the driver’s seat with regards to the AFC East going forward.

But they’ve suffered a pretty significant loss with Rob Gronkowski undergoing season-ending back surgery. They’ve got plenty of weapons – and Tom Brady has long since proven capable of working wonders with much less than he has now – but the absence of a next-level threat like Gronk definitely stings.

Still, they look to have things under control as they enter the home stretch of the regular season. The path to the Super Bowl might have gotten a bit rockier, but Bill Belichick and company have never been ones to shy away from a challenge.

On to the Progress Report.

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Offense – B+

The offense hasn’t been as effective over the past four games; while their average of 26 points per game is still solid, it’s a full touchdown less than they managed in the season’s second quarter. Brady has been good – averaging just shy of 290 yards per game with seven TDs against a single interception. Still, the loss of Gronk is real – in his absence, Brady’s yards per attempt have dropped precipitously – though guys like Julian Edelman (averaging eight catches and 90 yards in his past four) have stayed productive. Malcolm Mitchell, Chris Hogan and Martellus Bennett have seen up-and-down production, though running back LeGarrette Blount has been a beast, averaging 87 yards and a TD over the last four.

Defense – B+

Considering the general condemnation of the Patriots defense in recent weeks, this grade might surprise you. It surprises me. And yet, looking at the raw numbers, it’s hard to fault this unit much for its performance over the last quarter-season. While they might not be the most impressive-looking bunch, the truth is that they’ve averaged fewer than 19 points allowed over the last four. Granted, three of those games were against bad teams (the 49ers, the Jets, the Rams). And they have shown a tendency to make mediocre players look good. But the proof is in the pudding – while they definitely give up too many yards, they continue to play the bend-don’t-break style of defensive football for which New England is well-known.

Special Teams – B-

There has been some grumbling about Stephen Gostkowski lately because he had the audacity to actually miss a couple of kicks. Those misses mean that he merely made nine out of his 10 field goal attempts and nine of 10 extra points this quarter. He’s still really good. Add in his kickoff prowess and he remains an exceptional special teams weapon. Punter Ryan Allen is still a middle-of-the-pack punter – this quarter has seen him average just shy of 43.5 yards on 17 kicks – but he’s decent enough. The Patriots return game remains steady and generally unimpressive, both in terms of returns and coverage.

Coaching – A

Part of me wants to just cut and paste this entry from the last Progress Report, make a few edits and call it good. 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. 

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