Report Card time and it's the ol' written lap dance for the offense and a little bit of the red pen treatment for the defense. That's how it goes when you put up 688 yards of offense and give up 488 yards on defense (and yes, I know it's not quite that simple).
To the card we go ...
QUARTERBACK -- A+
This wasn't the Jets or Ravens or even the Lions. And it's true that Brady has a passer rating of 74.2 in the last three playoff games, all losses. We look at Brady in a bottom line kind of way -- the stats are swell, but it's ultimately about the wins and losses with him. (Put it another way: How many TD passes did Brady throw in 2003? How about 2004? And why, exactly, doesn't it matter?)
So we know all that (and yeah, probably Johnny Unitas wouldn't wear Uggs). And on January 12 no one is going to care about what happened on September 12. Agreed. But all I can grade Brady on is his performance Monday night, and it was as close to quarterback perfection as you'll ever see. Sure, it helps that Brady was hit just twice on his 48 pass attempts, but come on. 517 yards is 517 yards, I don't care if there was no defensive line. He was in command from the start, using play-action brilliantly (as he did on the TD pass to Aaron Hernandez in the third quarter) to freeze safety Reshad Jones on his first throw which allowed Matthew Slater to get open for a 46-yard catch. Brady worked the sidelines (Deion Branch, Welker) and the middle of the field (the tight ends) with equal aplomb the entire game while operating (mostly) a no-huddle offense that left the Miami defense completely gassed (I think Sean Smith just stopped vomiting on the sideline). The 99-yard TD pass was delivered in the only spot where Welker could make the catch, right over the shoulder of Benny Sapp (who never turned his head). Soup to nuts, a virtuoso effort from the MVP.
(Brady's passer rating for the game was 145.6, the eighth straight game his rating has been at least 100. His worst rating in that stretch was a 107.0 against the Bills in Week 16 last year, a game that saw Brady throw for three touchdowns and zero interceptions. Aaron Rogers might be the Super Bowl MVP and we all saw what happened vs. the Jets in the postseason, but let's be fair about this: Over the last 12 months Tom Brady has played at a level that has never been matched by an NFL quarterback. Forty touchdowns against four interceptions in a 17-game stretch will never happen again.)
RUNNING BACKS -- A-
Let's assume the reason Danny Woodhead played more than twice as many snaps as BenJarvus Green-Ellis (56-24) was the heavy use of no-huddle. That would make sense, right? Woodhead carried the ball a career-high 14 times for 69 yards, good for 4.9 yards per carry. Green-Ellis also averaged 4.9 YPC, picking up 34 yards on seven carries, including a four-yard TD rush that saw him run over Kevin Burnett. A great example of what makes Woodhead -- who it should be noted looked an awful lot like the featured back during the preseason -- unique as a back came on a 3rd-and-2 in the second quarter: The Pats ran a sweep to the right side that looked dead from the start, but Woodhead managed to cut quickly to his right, make Dansby and Bell miss and pick up the first down. Woodhead also had a superb night blocking (at times a weakness for him last year), highlighted with a pick-up of a Dansby blitz on the first TD pass to Welker.
RECEIVERS -- A-
The safeties of the Dolphins were helpless against Gronkowski (six catches, 86 yards, one TD -- and don't forget a 40-yard catch that was wiped out by a penalty on Ochcinco) and Hernandez (seven catches, 103 yards, one TD) -- I'm thinking Mike Nolan's strategy might have had a couple of holes. I wrote this on Monday night and am standing by it: If I'm starting a franchise tomorrow and could have a pick of any tight end in the NFL I'd take Gronkowski first and Hernandez second. It'll be fascinating to see where the Pats offense goes with these two guys over the next half-decade or so.
Wes Welker (eight catches, 160 yards) had the play of the night, hauling in the Brady pass and stiff-arming Benny Sapp on his way to the 99-yard TD pass and also caught a two-yard TD in the third quarter. I thought Welker just wasn't Welker last season -- understandable post-MCL, but he top five in the league in drops and had the lowest catches, yards and yards per catch in his Patriots career -- but he was the 120-catch guy again on Monday. If you believe the preseason means nothing, Deion Branch (seven catches, 93 yards, all through three quarters) continued to prove the point. If you believe the preseason means something, Chad Ochocinco (one catch, 14 yards, more miscommunication with Brady and a dopey penalty that killed a 40-yard Gronkowski catch) continued to prove the point. I'm not going to slap the Donald Hayes label on him yet, but right now there's no getting around the idea that he's just another guy.
OFFENSIVE LINE -- A
Again, Brady was hit twice in 48 pass attempts and the running backs averaged 4.9 yards per carry. Really all you need to know. The Brothers Gronkowski gave Nate Solder plenty of help (especially in the first half) against Cameron Wake, but give Solder a ton of credit for really controlling Wake for almost the entire game (Wake drew a holding call on Solder and then sacked Brady on back-to-back plays on the final drive of the first half). Matt Light -- who was up-and-down on Monday -- has had a lot of trouble with Wake in the past, so let's at least chalk it up as a very impressive start to Solder's career.
I sometimes wonder if Dante Scarnecchia is the best-kept secret in the NFL. Sebastian Volmer gets hurt, so a rookie starts in the season opener. Brian Waters signs last week. Dan Koppen leaves at the end of the first half with a broken ankle (the rare case where you see the replay and think a broken ankle isn't so bad) and Dan Connolly steps in at center. And -- save for a few moments in that final first-half drive -- the line was nearly flawless. It's just not supposed to work that way.
DEFENSIVE LINE -- B
The stat sheet (two tackles) doesn't paint an accurate picture of just how active Albert Haynesworth was in his debut with the Patriots. Haynesworth drew a pair of holding calls on Richie Incognito, broke a double-team and brought down Reggie Bush (with one arm) for a loss on second-and-goal in the first quarter and managed to get an arm and then pressure on Chad Henne on the first two plays of the fourth quarter. If this was the best we'll ever see of Haynesworth it would be a disappointment, obviously, but given the 58,000 things going on with this guy over the last couple of months it was an encouraging first paragraph.
(Hayensworth has become, I suppose somewhat ironically today, the new Manny Ramirez, the new Randy Moss. He's the guy the folks in the media with nothing else to do but pound out moral high-ground columns have taken aim at. And I guess it's all fair, it's all in play. But if the NFL allows this guy to wear a uniform, what exactly are the Patriots supposed to do, I wonder? Let someone else get better because Albert Haynesworth isn't the second coming of Bill Bradley? Please. This is professional sports -- all you can do is laugh at these frauds who write this stuff sometimes. Have they stopped watching professional sports? Are they still making a living covering guys like Manny and Haynesworth? Thought so -- if all the low morality really bothers you that much, go take a job teaching English for $28,000 at a low-income school in Alabama. Feel free to make the world a better place. I have no problem with Haynesworth in New England. None. I also have zero belief that it's going to end well. And if or when he does something idiotic or worse off the field, get rid of him. I'm on board with that. But I think we've all had our fill of the Haynesworth bashing. The point has been made, we have been appropriately briefed. Leave him alone until he screws up. And that's one to grow on.)
Myron Pryor had half a sack, a tackle on Reggie Bush for a loss and a clean hit on Henne on the same fourth-quarter play that saw Haynesworth get an arm the Miami quarterback. Andre Carter beat Jake Long to pick up a sack on first and goal on the opening drive (Mike Wright also was in on the play, but did not receive credit for half a sack) and Mark Anderson also had a sack of Henne. As Chris Price pointed out in his column Monday, there was a ton of shuffling going on with the defensive line -- they didn't use the same combinations on any series in the first half.
LINEBACKERS -- C
Rough night for Gary Guyton, who was beat by Anthony Fasano on the right sideline for a 22-yard catch to set up a first and goal at the two-yard line (not Guyton's fault -- pretty good coverage but Fasano made one of several tremendous catches by the Dolphins), blocked by Incognito to open the hole for Lex Hilliard on 4th-and-1 earlier on the same drive and was way to slow to react on the Henne QB draw. Guyton -- and Jerod Mayo, who was also fooled on the QB draw and was overall pretty quiet on Monday, very little blitzing -- struggled with Reggie Bush in pass coverage. Guyton spilt time with Dane Fletcher, who was able to bring Bush down for an open-field tackle on third-and-3 to force a Miami punt. A group that was missing Brandon Spikes and Jermaine Cunningham probably had its best performance from Rob Ninkovich, who had a couple of hits on Henne (and forced him out of the pocket twice) and also stopped Bush short on a third-down play with a tackle.
SECONDARY -- C+
Look, I understand the Dolphins tanked up on the stat sheet on the fianl two drives (137 of the 488 net yards came when the game was essentially over), but it's hard to avoid the fact that Chad Henne completed 30-of-49 passes for 416 yards and a pair of touchdowns. The secondary has to take a hit for that. Devin McCourty (team-high 10 tackles, not always a good thing for a cornerback) was up-and-down in his battle with Brandon Marshall, as the Miami wideout finished with seven catches for 139 yards. But McCourty nearly picked off a Henne pass intended for Marshall in the end zone in the third quarter, and later got his hands in and deflected what would have been a catch for Brian Hartline. Leigh Bodden was matched up with Davone Bess (five catches, 92 yards) for much of the night, but was beat by Hartline for a third-quarter TD. Ras-I Dowling got the start at cornerback and made a pair of crucial goal-line plays, deflecting a pass intended for Marshall on third-down at 21-14 (the Dolphins settled for a field goal) and covering Hartline on the doomed fourth-down fade pass (the Welker 99-yard TD immediately followed). A work in progress, but a clear upgrade over Darius Butler.
Pat Chung (nine tackles -- including an absolute blasting of Fasano -- a pass defensed and a sack) was all over the field, but neither Sergio Brown or Josh Barrett (who was out of position on the Hartline TD) contributed anything to the win. The "other safety" still strikes me as perhaps the biggest weakness on the roster.
SPECIAL TEAMS -- C+
Stephen Gostkowski missed badly on a 48-yard attempt at the end of the first half (no problems with new snapper Danny Aiken) and had six of his seven kickoffs returned. Zoltan Mesko had a net average of 38.0 on four punts (it was 38.4 last season), but did pin the Dolphins inside the five-yard line in the second quarter. Julian Edelman averaged 32.5 yards on a pair of kickoff returns but made a special teams double bogey when he decided to return a punt from the goal line. Good work by the coverage teams (James Ihedigbo was a standout), limiting the Dolphins to 21.5 yards per kickoff and 5.5 yards per punt return.
COACHING -- A-
Adjustments on defense after the opening TD drive. The decision to go heavy no-huddle on offense throughout the game, and having your players in the physical condition to do so (I understand it's Week 1 after a shortened training camp, but I watched a lot of football over the weekend and didn't see a lot of teams with multiple players cramping up and guys sucking serious wind in the second quarter. When Tony Sparano gets fired, he has no shot at taking over as the new trainer on "The Biggest Loser.") A terrific game-plan on offense that was executed with absolute imperturbability (I'll admit it, a 1992 SAT study guide word) by Brady.