One man's Week 4 Patriots Report Card, written with the understanding that while Wes Welker probably won't maintain his 160-catch pace, he's got a better chance than Vince Wilfork does keeping his eight-INT pace ...
To the 'card we go ...
QUARTERBACK -- B+
When you are pace to break Dan Marino's record by over 1,200 yards and throw for 52 touchdowns, 16-of-30 for 226 yards and two TDs is going to look average at best. That's the standard Brady has set. But Bill Belichick thought this was Tom Brady's best game of the season from a decision-making perspective, and he might be right about that. Brady was nowhere close to throwing an INT, really didn't force a single pass the entire game. Sure, he wasn't as clean as he's been in other games this season -- a couple of overthrows to Rob Gronkowski, some miscommunication with Deion Branch and a badly thrown deep ball to Welker, he was actually quasi-shaky on the opening drive but was bailed out by Richard Seymour -- but he didn't come close to making the kinds of mistakes that we saw Jason Campbell (or from Brady last week -- the four turnovers vs. the Bills led to 24 points). No 500 yards, no five touchdown passes, no standout throw -- just a solid performance from Brady. I wrote it Sunday and it was true after a second viewing of the game on Monday afternoon -- if you swap Jason Campbell and Tom Brady the Raiders beat the Patriots.
First-quarter grade: A
RUNNING BACKS -- A-
Stevan Ridley was the story, rushing for 97 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries. He had plenty of help from the O-Line on his two most productive carries of the game -- the 15-yard rush on the direct snap in the second quarter and the 33-yard TD rush in the third -- but this is a guy that can clearly make people miss and has the ability to fight off would-be tacklers (see the 33-yard TD run, where Ridley shrugged off a tackle attempt from Chimdi Chekwa, who had a brutal game). Last three games for Ridley? Two carries, six carries and 10 carries. He's now right in the mix, and you get the feeling that he's inching closer to passing Danny Woodhead on the depth chart. The Ridley TD might not have happened had BenJarvus Green-Ellis not converted a third-and-2 on the previous play, leaping over two Raiders to get the yards. Green-Ellis (16 carries, 75 yards) also had a TD (a one-yard rush in the second quarter, getting in despite a whiffed block by Dane Fletcher) and had a key 15-yard rush on the fourth-quarter drive that ended with the Branch TD. Danny Woodhead had two carries for 13 yards before leaving with a sprained ankle.
First-quarter grade: B
RECEIVERS -- B+
The Raiders tried different guys and different looks against Welker, but they had no chance. Welker has been the best player in the NFL for the first four games of the season (he's on pace to catch 52 more passes than anyone else in the league). I'm happy to admit when I'm wrong, and my "Wes Welker is damaged goods" angle from the off-season is looking like my New Coke (which I have to admit I thought was a good idea -- see how often I'm wrong?). Maybe Chimdi Chekwa will have a swell NFL career -- he played well against Plaxico Burress in the win over the Jets -- but he was absolutely destroyed by Welker, who has been always defined by yards after catch -- and he leads the NFL in that stat also -- but his route-running is amazingly crisp so far this season (Two examples from Sunday? The touchdown catch and the 33-yard sideline catch on 3rd-and-8 on the Ridley TD drive).
Welker was really it for the receivers -- he caught nine of Brady's 16 completions and Green-Ellis and Ridley each had a reception. Just one catch for Gronkowski, and Deion Branch's only catch (just one in the last two weeks) was a TD. Chad Ochocinco set a nice pick on the Welker TD and caught back-to-back passes on the final drive of the first half.
First-quarter grade: B+
OFFENSIVE LINE -- A-
Brady was pressured more than usual (Dan Connolly was beat by Richard Seymour and Tommy Kelly on different first-half plays, both got hits on Brady) and was sacked by Mike Mitchell (who, down 18 points with eight minutes left, celebrated the sack with a level of enthusiasm usually reserved for Pink Hats who see themselves on a JumboTron), but overall the pass protection was more than acceptable against a top-10 defensive line. On the aforementioned 3rd-and-8 pass to Welker the line gave Brady all the time in world to wait for Welker to get separation against Tyvon Branch (another guy Welker torched). And the success of the running game -- 183 yards -- was in no small part due to the line. Rob Gronkowkski and Nate Solder opened a huge hole for Ridley on the TD rush (Gronkowski also sprung Green-Ellis on his 15-yard third-quarter run).
First-quarter grade: A-
DEFENSIVE LINE -- C+
No sacks since the fourth quarter of the Chargers game (121:09 since last sack -- stole that from Chris Price). Was there more pressure on Campbell than we saw on Ryan Fitzpatrick? Sure, they drove him out of the pocket at times, including three straight plays (Vince Wilfork, Andre Carter) to force a second-quarter punt. But did you ever get the feeling that Campbell was uncomfortable? Nope. And that is what has to change for this team. You never get the idea that the opposing quarterback is ever worried about a pass-rushing threat. And I agree that it doesn't have to be only about sacks, but someone has to be a disruption (the last time Albert Haynesworth was on the field the Red Sox had a three-game wild-card lead).
Vince Wilfork's INT was about the only time you'll ever see a 350-lb (we're always kind with the estimates at the 'card) guy successfully hide on a football field. It sure looked like Jason Campbell -- not exactly the NFL's verson of Sam Gerard, true -- never saw Wilfork, who dropped back into coverage and (sort of) made himself invisible behind center Samson Satele. As was the case with the INT of Rivers, it was the kind of play you'd be impressed with if a 260-pound linebacker made it.
First-quarter grade: C
LINEBACKERS -- C-
Jerod Mayo to Gary Guyton is the biggest downgrade since the replacement Dukes took over for Bo and Luke. Guyton has had a horrific season and was hideous again Sunday, taking a terrible angle on Michael Bush's TD rush, missing a chance to tackle Jacoby Ford on his 29-yard end-around (Shaun Ellis was also guilty, he had a Ford for an eight or nine-yard loss but failed to make the play) and continuing his struggles in coverage. Rob Ninkovich and Fletcher also failed to contain Kevin Boss. Brandon Spikes was active (and actually active), but he was taken out on the 41-yard rush by Darren McFadden. This group has had a tough season (including -- with the exception of the San Diego win -- Mayo, who missed a tackle on McFadden and was run over by Bush on the TD run) and now face the next six weeks (at least) without their leader and best player.
First-quarter grade: C
SECONDARY -- C-
No Brandon Marshall or Vincent Jackson on the Oakland roster, so I don't know how much stock to put into Devin McCourty's best game of 2011. McCourty led the Patriots with eight tackles, including a solo backfield tackle of McFadden. Heyward-Bey finished with 115 yards on four catches but was silenced by McCourty, who took the receiver out of the game in the second half. We'll see if this was a parentheses in a down season or the beginning of a return to the form we saw in 2010. Kyle Arrington was also at fault on the 41-yarder from McFadden and lost Heyward-Bey on a 3rd-and-10 from the Raiders' 20 (a 20-yard catch). The safeties have been a weakness all season and did nothing to inspire hope on Sunday, as Mr. No-Depth Perception (better known as Sergio Brown) misjudged a 23-yard pass to Kevin Boss (with no help from Antwaun Molden).
First-quarter grade: C-
SPECIAL TEAMS -- B-
Stephen Gostkowski did make the 44-yard field goal at the end of the half (he's made five straight since missing his first attempt of the year in Miami) but gave the Raiders tasty field position with a out-of-bounds on the opening kickoff (the Raiders wound up with a field goal). Nothing standout-ish from the return or coverage teams (though Jacoby Ford did have a 27-yard kickoff return) and Zoltan Mesko averaged 49.0 yards on three punts.
First-quarter grade: B+
COACHING -- C+
I'll say this: What you saw from Richard Seymour on that opening drive (two 15-yard personal foul penalties -- the first a hit on Brady on a play already whistled dead that wiped out a 3rd-and-14, the second a facemask of Green-Ellis turned a 3rd-and-8 into a first down at the Raiders 32, drive ended with the Welker TD -- just dopey, baby) didn't happen when Bill Belichick was his coach. I get that he was emotional and I get why, but that's just inexcusable stuff.
Great mix of the passing and running game on offense, even better as the game wore on, but again there was a failure from the defense to get off the field. I understand that the final drive was meaningless and a chance to tank up on stats, but 504 yards of offense from the Raiders is a very real problem that followed a very real problem against the Bills which followed 958 yards allowed against San Diego and Miami. I don't know if we are at the point where we can start blaming Bill Belichick the GM instead of Bill Belichick the coach, but unless there is some serious change in performance from the defense the offense will have to continue to score 30-plus every week.
First-quarter grade: B