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Patriots Progress Report 2015 Fourth Quarter

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Once again, we reach the end of the NFL's regular season. After a brilliant first half, the New England Patriots struggled over the final eight. They finished at 12-4 their 2-2 record for the month included losses in their last two games against the Jets and the Dolphins.
It's safe to say that the Patriots as they stand currently are a different team than the one that was inspiring talk of another perfect regular season. On offense in particular, the team has struggled. Despite their losing streak, New England still landed a first-round bye, though they did cede the overall top seed to Denver.
It's playoff time, so the counter is reset to zero. However, if they keep playing the way they have over the past month, New England's time might be short.

Offense C
A blandly average grade for a blandly average offense. This once-powerful offense only managed to muster up a relatively paltry 22.5 points per game over the last four well below their season average to that point. The mounting injuries particularly in the receiving corps and on the offensive line certainly played a significant role in the offense's decline. Still, every team has to deal with injuries. Tom Brady's struggles are indicative of those of the offense in general he managed just five TD passes and right around 215 yards per game. Numbers like that aren't going to get the job done in the playoffs, particularly with a battered running game that gives meaningful snaps to a retread like Steven Jackson. This team needs to heal to have any shot of moving forward.
Defense B
On the defensive side of the ball, New England actually stepped up their performance a little. Not enough to make up for the team's offensive struggles, but they only gave up more than 20 points once (26 to the Jets, and even that final six came in overtime). For the month, they gave up an average of just 17 points per game. Granted, it was partially a product of some weak opposition, but even so, guys like Chandler Jones, Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan have performed admirably. Linebacker Jamie Collins has been a force, with 30 tackles, a sack, an interception and a forced fumble in his last four. New England has certainly been healthier on the defensive side; that health is a big reason the team even managed as good a month as it had.
Special Teams B
While kicker Stephen Gostkowski looked almost mortal in the final month he missed two of his 11 attempts he remains one of the best kicking weapons in the league. He allowed just four returns on 19 kickoffs. Punter Ryan Allen has continued his middle-of-the-road ways on that end, averaging just shy of 42 net yards on his 21 punts. The return game has been as solidly unspectacular as usual, with primary returners Danny Amendola and Keshawn Martin punctuating OK numbers with the occasional big gain.
Coaching C+
Part of me wants to bump Coach Belichick up a notch or two simply out of sympathy; injuries have taken a big toll on this team. However, the truth is that the Patriots lost a pair of winnable games to close out the season; some of that responsibility has to fall on the coaching staff. In particular, the odd call to kick off leading into overtime in the Jets game a call that led to New England never getting the ball might well have cost them the victory. There are extenuating circumstances to be sure, but ultimately, it's up to Belichick to find a way to win something he couldn't do in the season's last two contests.


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