Report Card time and comparing Chad Ochocinco to Carl Crawford is silly, of course -- about $136 million reasons why that doesn't work -- but it strikes me that both have had a tough time adjusting to new teams (and I'll bet you never thought of that -- it's why they pay me, folks). I don't think it has anything to do with big market vs. small market or the overwhelming media (an angle used often by the Boston media to make themselves feel powerful), but something just hasn't clicked. And Ochocinco is clearly starting to press, a feeling I absolutely have had about Crawford since the beginning of the season (and I thought Terry Francona did Crawford a serious disservice by hitting him seventh in the third game of the season -- I'm sure he was trying to take some pressure off but I think it had the opposite result).
Whatever It is, Crawford has the luxury of a guaranteed seven-year deal to figure It out. Ochocinco likely doesn't have seven weeks if he keeps playing at this level. He ran a weak route on the Leodis McKelvin (a bad decision by Brady, but still) and of course there was the drop on what would have been an easy TD in the fourth quarter. And, sure, the Patriots eventually scored a TD on the drive but there is this: The Ochocinco drop came with 8:12 left in the fourth quarter and the Welker TD came with 3:25 left. Think the Patriots would've like those 287 seconds back as Ryan Fitzpatrick was taking a knee before the game-winning field goal?
To the report card we go ...
QUARTERBACK -- C-
Tom Brady has now thrown four interceptions six times in his career. Care to take a gander at the Patriots record in those games? Yup, 0-6. Look, Brady threw for 387 yards and four touchdowns and played a lousy game. That's the standard he has set. All four of his picks led to points (24 in total), and two were in the Absolute Killer department, turnovers coming at a time when the Patriots were about to put this game away. The first? The Patriots were up 21-7 and had the ball at the Buffalo 13. First down with just over a minute left in the first half. At the time Brady was 16-of-21 for 227 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions, surgeon stuff. A touchdown -- and 28-7 lead -- seemed a lock. But instead Brady threw a bullet (no reason for that kind of fastball there) behind the back shoulder of Danny Woodhead, who tipped it in the air and right to Bryan Scott. Killer Pick No. 2? First down at the Buffalo 23, up 24-17 with 11:27 left in the fourth quarter. Brady underthrew Rob Gronkowski (who had some separation) and George Wilson came up with the interception. Two opportunities to close the game out, two awful throws. We know the defense is flawed (at best), we know Ochocinco has been a flop, we know this will never be a run-first offense. All this is true and none of that is on Brady. You can sort out the blame pie any way you'd like for Sunday, but Brady's four turnovers were an enormous factor in the loss.
RUNNING BACKS -- C-
Hello to Steven Ridley, who acquitted himself quite well in his first significant role with the offense, finishing with a team-high 44 yards on seven carries. Who knows if this will lead to a more prominent seat at the table for Ridley, but it was an encouraging performance, highlighted by back-to-back carries for 14 yards on the plays preceding the Wilson interception. Danny Woodhead (six carries, 21 yards) was a non-factor and BenJarvus Green-Ellis (nine carries) was uncharacteristically ineffective at the goal line, failing to get in the end zone on three different carries (two different drives) from the Buffalo 1-yard line.
RECEIVERS -- B+
The most vanilla Twitter account in history. No recording contract. No reality show. No girlfriend that has a reality show. Doesn't ask the media for a group hug. Won’t be opening a restaurant. No hideous commercials. He doesn’t even really have a nickname, does he? Just no PLEASE! LOOK AT ME! going on with this guy.
So what, exactly, is Wes Welker?
Well, he's the best pass-catcher in the history of the Patriots. By a lot. He has the first, second, third and ninth spots on the team’s single-season reception chart. And on Sunday he had the best game of his career, tying a franchise record with 16 catches and setting the Patriots mark with 217 yards. You'll never see a receiver play a better game than Welker did on Sunday. Not possible. And at his best he was at his best on the game-tying TD drive in the fourth quarter, catching a pair of fourth-down passes -- one an incredible leaping catch (on the play right after Ochocinco's drop, talk about the ultimate contrast), the other the six-yard TD grab. Last season Welker wasn't at the level we saw from him pre-ACL, but so far in 2011 he has been the Welker we saw from 2007-09.
Rob Gronkowski is the best tight end in football. Period. Who are you trading him for right now? Six catches for 102 yards and two more TD's on Sunday (plus a 28-yard catch that was wiped out by a penalty on Nate Solder). Guys like Jairus Byrd and Aaron Williams cannot match up with Gronkowski -- there's a combination of speed and power there that hasn't existed for this team during the Brady era. Plus he's now commanding some double coverage, which was responsible for a couple of the Welker catches, including a 23-yard third-quarter catch. If he's going to play like that the Patriots should cut one of his brothers every week.
(Gronkowski has five touchdowns this season -- most in the NFL -- and nine in his last eight games. Raise your hand if you think Kevin Faulk has been at least a solid receiving option of out the backfield for the Patriots over the last decade-plus. Faulk has 15 touchdown catches in his 152 career games -- the same total as Gronkowski in his 19 career games.)
Danny Woodhead had three catches for 20 yards and Steven Ridley had one catch for eight yards, but other than Welker/Gronkowski (combined 23 catches, 328 yards) there was nothing from the receivers. Julian Edelman had more carries (two) than catches (one) and Deion Branch wasn't even targeted by Brady (which is one of those mysteries -- 15 catches in the first two games of the season and no targets? How does that happen?)
OFFENSIVE LINE -- B+
Sure there were penalties -- two by Logan Mankins, the Solder call that killed the Gronkowski catch, Gronkowski was flagged in the red zone -- and there wasn't much help for Green-Ellis on the three attempts from the Buffalo 1-yard line (though I'll buy that a top back needs to find a way to get in on his own), but you'll sign for zero sacks allowed and 4.2 yards per carry (108 yards on 26 carries) every time out. Plus this: Brady was pressured on exactly zero of his four interceptions.
DEFENSIVE LINE -- D
One hit on Ryan Fitzpatrick and zero sacks and Fred Jackson averaged 6.2 yards per carry. Just a pathetic effort by the defense overall and this group was a major part of the problem. Shaun Ellis? Invisible. Mark Anderson? Nowhere. Landon Cohen? Admit it, you didn't even know he played. Vince Wilfork did bust up a first-down rush by Jackson and drew a holding penalty, but that was it. Maybe Albert Haynesworth will eventually make a difference, but it's fair to at least wonder if he's going to A) stay healthy and B) stay motivated, just as it was fair to ask those questions the day he was acquired. But through three games, the ability to get to the quarterback is still the weakness it was a year ago.
LINEBACKERS -- C-
Gary Guyton was terrible in the Week 1 win over Miami and struggled again on Sunday, missing a tackle on the Fred Jackson 27-yard screen at the end of the first half, a drive that also highlighted his weakness in pass coverage (David Nelson's 16-yard catch on the opening play of the drive was on Guyton). And Guyton (and Josh Barrett) was lost on Jackson's 38-yard catch that set up the game-winning field goal, should have been in position to make a tackle. Just four tackles in a quiet game for Jerod Mayo, and we all wait for Brandon Spikes (two tackles) to make some kind of impact.
SECONDARY -- D+
Time to stop making excuses for Devin McCourty -- he has been a severe liability over the first three weeks of the season. I understand that Brandon Marshall and Vincent Jackson are legitimate No. 1 receivers and that Steve Johnson is a very good player, but didn't we think that McCourty was going to be a shut-down corner, the kind of player that would win these matchups, not be dominated? Forget being intimidated by McCourty -- the Bills went after him. Johnson (one-on-one on the sideline) was Fitzpatrick's first look on the 11-yard TD pass (the fourth McCourty has given up this season), and the Jones 29-yard catch on the first play of final drive of the game was at McCourty's expense. With a less than stellar pass rush and not much help from the rest of the secondary it is a must for this defense to have McCourty return to the level of play we saw from him in the second half of last season.
Leigh Bodden (or is it Bowdon? I think Marv Albert calls an NBA game better than anyone calls any sport -- ever --- but he was Dick Enberg-level shaky on Sunday. Names wrong, no idea that the pass intended for Woodhead had been intercepted, no clue as to why Belichick called that timeout at the end of the game, he just sounded like an 82-year-old guy who had won some contest. If you want to hear Marv at his absolute peak, watch Game 5 of Celtics-Pacers from 1991 -- Bird comes back, Chuck Person, Derek Smith, the last great moment at the Garden. Marv was throwing about 104 MPH that day.) was beat twice for big plays by Jones and Johnson (both had significant separation on Bodden).
Josh Barrett should have been able to make a play on Jackson's 38-yard catch, but he took a terrible angle. Sergio Brown tried to tackle Jackson by the neck on his 18-yard third-quarter run (spoiler alert: didn't work) and committed perhaps the game's biggest penalty, a (correct, I think -- had his arms around him and never turned around, just totally unaware) 31-yard pass interference call that gave Buffalo the ball at the New England 1-yard line (and wiped out a Barrett interception). Two first-quarter interceptions and a nice break-up on the final drive of the first half for Kyle Arrington.
SPECIAL TEAMS -- B+
Zoltan Mesko was a standout, averaging 46.7 yards per punt (including a 57-yarder). Julian Edelman (or maybe it really is Aidelman and Marv is right and the rest of the world is wrong) averaged 21 yards per kick return and 10.3 yards per punt return (C.J. Spiller averaged 16 yards per kick return and 10 yards on two punt returns). Ross Ventrone -- added to the 53-man roster on Sunday and a great Marv Albert name, right there with LaSalle Thompson -- and Matthew Slater both made solo tackles. This unit has been solid in all three games this season.
COACHING -- C-
Can you blame Bill Belichick for the four Brady interceptions? Nope. The injuries? Nope. But if we are going to keep watching documentaries and reading books about the genius of Belichick -- and I think he's one of the three or four best coaches in history -- he needs steadier credentials as a defensive master, or at least some recent ones. The idea that Belichick can get into the head of an opposing quarterback seems about as antiquated as that fax machine picking up dust in your attic. Chad Henne? Mark Sanchez? Ryan Fitzpatrick? This defense was opportunistic but full of weaknesses last season, and what has changed? Through three games the Patriots are ranked 31st in first downs allowed, 32nd in passing yards allowed (1,131) and 27th in points allowed. If this is a team with any Super Bowl hopes that has to change, and we'll see if Belichick makes some much-needed adjustments.