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Patriots Progress Report 2018 – Second Quarter

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It’s safe to say that the second quarter of the Patriots season was a heck of a lot better than the first quarter. After a rough start to the season, New England has cruised to victory in each of the last four games.

They haven’t all been easy. And a couple of them have been quite a bit closer than fans might like. There has been an uncomfortable amount of doing just enough to win – one-score victories over the Chiefs and the Bears left us sweating it out until the end.

But in the end, a win is a win. And four wins is four wins.

The offense definitely picked up steam and the defense held up its end of the bargain (albeit just barely at times). It’s the sort of strong stretch of play against some good teams that instills confidence in the team’s viability going forward.

The .500 team from the first quarter is gone. This is the New England Patriots squad we expected to see – one that appears poised to march to yet another AFC East title and a deep postseason run.

On to the Progress Report.

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Offense – A

It’s tough to give this group any other grade. The team has averaged 36 points per game over this four-game stretch – and that number is actually deflated a little by the surprisingly low-key 25-point performance against Buffalo on Monday night. And it’s not that any one player has been performing at an eye-popping level. Tom Brady has been excellent – averaging over 320 yards passing per game with seven TDs against just three interceptions – yet it feels the slightest bit ho-hum. It says something about the state of the league when these numbers from a 41-year-old don’t blow your mind. Rookie running back Sony Michel showed some real skill before falling to injury, but James White remains to catch a million passes out of the backfield. Getting Julian Edelman back did a lot for the offense, as did the addition of Josh Gordon. And while Gronk hasn’t been GRONK, he’s still one of the NFL’s best at his position. Any doubts about this unit’s ability has been put to rest – it’s going to take an injury or two to really slow this offense down.

Defense – B-

It has been a while since the Patriots featured anything even resembling an elite defense. This four-game stretch looks good, though it is actually inflated by the game against the anemic Bills. Giving up 40 to Kansas City is nothing to be ashamed of – that’s an incredible offense – but giving up 31 to the Chicago Bears is less forgivable. Still, these guys are getting it done. The biggest push is coming in the defensive backfield, where the McCourty brothers – Devon and Jason – are anchoring what has become a sneaky-good secondary. The linebacking corps, which looked painfully slow at times early in the season, appears to have found ways to minimize the issue. The D-line remains a work in progress; the Pats still have their struggles when it comes to rushing the passer. However, all the Patriots ask of their defense is to keep the team in position to win the game. For the most part, they’ve done that. Still, while getting shredded by Patrick Mahomes is no big deal, letting Mitchell Trubisky do it should perhaps give one pause.

Special Teams – A

As always, I acknowledge my tendency to overrate this unit. But while he’s no longer the weapon he was a couple of years ago, there’s no disputing that Stephen Gostkowski remains one of the game’s best kickers. In the past month, he’s made all 15 of his extra point tries and missed just one of his 12 field goal attempts (and that was from 50). He remains strong on kickoffs as well. Punter Ryan Allen keeps plugging away, sitting squarely in the middle of the pack. He’s not great, but he’s far from bad. And then there’s the return game. The Patriots have a legitimate kick return threat in Cordarrelle Patterson; he took one 95 yards to the house against a good Bears team. It’s a weapon the Pats haven’t had for some time. The punt return game isn’t as impressive, with Julian Edelman doing unimpressive work in his admittedly limited time there thus far this season. The kick coverage continues to be some of the best in the league.

Coaching – A

We’ll probably never know just how much of Bill Belichick’s success is directly related to the presence of Tom Brady. That’s the nature of the game – particularly when you’ve got such a longstanding relationship between player and coach. However, it’s tough to argue that Belichick has found the necessary paths to victory over the past month. Beating Indianapolis and Buffalo isn’t that big a deal, but putting up 38 against an elite Bears defense and handing the high-octane Chiefs their first loss? Yeah – big deal. Whatever buttons need pushing, Belichick knows just when to push them – and how hard. Any early-season whispers about his performance have long since dissipated into the ether. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, over and over until he finally gives me reason not to: in Belichick we trust.

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