Report Card time and a quick word about running up the score in the NFL.
Bill Belichick absolutely did the right thing on Monday night when he went for a TD on fourth down -- up 27-3 with just over a minute left in the game -- instead of kicking a field goal. If he had elected to throw instead (though I'm still not sure why Tom Brady was in the game), that would have also been fine with me. The only action I would have had issue with is if he had taken a knee. That would have been a disservice to both his team and the fans. This isn't junior varsity football. Feelings shouldn't matter. Most of the players on that Chiefs defense are making millions of dollars to play football. If what the Patriots are doing is so upsetting, you have every opportunity to stop them. Shane Vereen should have valuable snaps taken away because it would be perceived as the classy thing to do? Child please. And guess what? It'll probably never come down to this, but there are playoff tiebreakers that could come down to things like points scored. I'm on NFL.com right now and can't find "classy decisions" anywhere on the tiebreaker chart.
As long as Bill Belichick doesn't bitch and moan if an opponent runs up the score on him -- and he never has in the past, the Saints were throwing all over the field in that Monday night blowout in 2009 -- you can't blast him for doing what he is supposed to do. This is professional sports, and he's treating the situation exactly as a professional should.
To the report card we go ...
QUARTERBACK -- B-
Tom Brady was pissed -- and it seemed legitimate, not the manufactured stuff we'll sometimes see after an easy win -- in his postgame presser, and if you watched the first quarter and a half on Monday it wasn't hard to understand his frustration. When the Patriots took over at their own 15 with 7:36 left in the second quarter Brady was 3-of-9 for 26 yards. He had been sacked three times (four QB hits in total) and had fumbled two drives earlier. It was about as ugly as it gets with Brady -- two poorly thrown first-quarter passes to Aaron Hernandez, another short-armed toss to Hernandez on the play following a second-quarter sack, just no rhythm -- but for the final two-plus quarters he was solid if not spectacular. The Chiefs were determined to take Wes Welker out of the game with a consistent double-team, so Brady didn't force the issue. It was seven targets each for Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez and 33 carries from BenJarvus Green-Ellis, Shane Vereen and Danny Woodhead. Just 15 completions from Brady in 27 attempts, but nothing close to an interception. Brady wasn't remarkably sharp by any stretch -- his 55.6 completion percentage tied for his third-lowest in two years -- but made the throws when he had to.
RUNNING BACKS -- B+
BenJarvus Green-Ellis has averaged nine carries per game in the three Patriots' losses. In the seven wins? Just a tick under 16 carries. Bottom line: Brady can throw for 5,000 yards and 40 TDs and that's swell, but this offense is best when there is a balance in the passing and running attacks. We saw it against the Raiders (30 passes, 30 rushes) and Jets (33 passes, 35 rushes) and it happened again on Monday night (27 passes, 33 rushes -- against the Giants it was 49 passes, 24 rushes and 35 passes, 12 rushes against the Steelers). Green-Ellis was the lead back, finishing with 81 yards on 20 carries. His strongest series was the opening drive of the third quarter, catching a 25-yard pass and carrying the ball three times for 22 yards (he also picked up a blitz to give Brady time on the TD pass to Gronkowski). Green-Ellis had clearly been slowed by a toe injury over the last couple of weeks, but on Monday (especially in the second half) was the downhill runner that we saw against the Jets earlier this season. Danny Woodhead chipped in with 55 yards of total offense -- though he was stripped by Derrick Johnson on what would have been a third-down TD catch in the second quarter, in fairness a terrific play by Johnson -- and has for now won the battle with Kevin Faulk. Shane Vereen got his first eight carries on Monday and acquitted himself quite well (in garbage time, but still) picking up 39 yards and a 10-yard fourth-quarter touchdown.
RECEIVERS -- C+
Wes Welker didn't have a catch (and only one target) until the game was 27-3 and all Deion Branch contributed was a pair of catches for 19 yards (just a combined total of six targets for Welker and Branch). Absolute non-factors, and it does speak to the depth of this offense that they can put up 27 points with virtually zero production from the No. 1 and No. 2 wideouts. It helps, of course, when you have the best tight end in the NFL, and Gronkowski was again brilliant on Monday, catching four passes for 96 yards and a pair of TDs. After watching the first TD, I'm still not sure exactly who blew the coverage for the Chiefs, but it sure looks like Derrick Johnson took the bait on play-action out of shotgun (see, helps when the think you might run it) and Gronkowski had an easy 52-yard score. The second TD saw Gronkowski lined up as a fullback, catching the Brady pass in the flat and making Donald Washington miss in the open field before being flipped into the end zone on Johnson's tackle. Forget tight ends -- how many players in the NFL today make that play? Two, three tops? Aaron Hernandez dropped a sure TD pass in the second quarter and had fourth-quarter a TD catch wiped out by a Logan Mankins penalty. And Chad Ochocinco continues to be invisible on the field but evidently remains a super teammate and wonderful practice performer, which is all you really want for $6 million bucks.
OFFENSIVE LINE -- C
Not a good night (or season, for that matter) for Sebastian Vollmer, who was beat for a pair of sacks, the second (by Wallace Gilberry) forced the Brady fumble. Dan Connolly gave up the third sack -- to Amon Gordon -- and struggled inside before leaving the game with a groin injury. Ryan Wendell replaced Connolly at center and was key on a pair of second-half rushes for Green-Ellis. Logan Mankins picked up his seventh penalty of the season but was a force in the running game, laying the ol' pancake block on Jovan Belcher on a Green-Ellis 13-yard third-quarter rush and opening the hole for Vereen's 19-yard rush on the final drive. Three sacks and seven hits on Brady -- the Chiefs entered the game with just nine sacks -- isn't going to work the rest of the season, but this group pass-protected well in the second half and allowed the Patriots to rush for 157 yards.
DEFENSIVE LINE -- B+
A question: Has any player in the Bill Belichick era been as good a pass rusher as Andre Carter been in the first 10 games of this season? He's on pace for 14.5 sacks -- that would be most by a Patriots player since Andre Tippett's 16.5 in 1985 -- and was again all over the field on Monday, collecting a half sack, a pair of tackles for a loss (including a takedown of Palko on QB rush) and three hits on the quarterback. Carter dominated Branden Albert, beating him for the half sack and tackle of Palko. Mark Anderson split the sack with Carter and blew past Barry Richardson on a fourth-quarter sack. Anderson now has seven sacks on the season and (for now, at least) the question of a pass-rush for this team cannot be asked. Carter and Anderson have been tremendous this season. Vince Wilfork had four tackles and opened a huge gap (along with Kyle Love) in the line for Jerod Mayo to come in and stop Jackie Battle for no gain on a 3rd-and-1 on Kansas City's second drive.
LINEBACKERS -- B
Rob Ninkovich was able to get a hit on a blitz of Palko on Arrington's first interception. He also picked up a sack and another pressure on Palko. Jerod Mayo played his best game since Week 2 vs. the Chargers -- certainly his best effort since he was injured vs. the Raiders -- with 11 tackles, including four solo tackles with Kansas City in the New England red zone. How buried is Gary Guyton in the rotation? Julian Edelman played several snaps as a nickel linebacker. The verdict? Not Dick Butkus, but not a total disaster. He looked lost at times, but did make a solo tackle on Jeremy Horne on a third-down play to force a second-quarter punt. The truth is that Edelman might be a better linebacker than Guyton right now, at the very worst he's three times as aggressive.
SECONDARY -- B+
We saw the stuff that can scare us about these guys -- Philip Adams and Antwaun Molden both struggled against Dwayne Bowe (seven catches, 87 yards), James Ihedigbo took a terrible angle on a 26-yard Thomas Jones first-quarter rush -- and I'm just not sold that this group can slow down an elite passing attack. But they were plenty good enough against Tyler Palko. Kyle Arrington now leads the NFL with seven interceptions after his two picks Monday night. Is some of that luck, right place at the right time? Sure, but he's in those places and making those plays. Philip Adams had the third pick and also had a solo tackle of Bowe on a third down to hold the Chiefs in the red zone and force a field goal.
SPECIAL TEAMS -- A-
Julian Edelman's TD punt return (72 yards) was set up by a quick initial cut to make Jalil Brown -- who had a good chance to make a stop for no gain -- miss on a tackle attempt. Two blocks from Molden and Niko Koutouvides gave Edelman just enough room on the right side to find the hole and break away from the defense. The coverage units were average (Javier Arenas averaged 17.8 yards on four punt returns) and Stephen Gostkowski made both his field-goal attempts (no heavy lifting, 21 and 19 yards). Zoltan Mesko was outstanding, averaging 50.8 yards on his four punts (his second-best average of the season).
COACHING -- A-
Just one quibble, not sure if it's minor or not: I simply see zero upside in having Tom Brady in a 27-3 game (and throwing) with two minutes left. None. I get that's how Belichick does business, but it eludes me. Is Tyler Palko going to score four touchdowns in 120 seconds? Tyler Palko will not throw for four touchdowns in his NFL career. Again, this isn't about running up the score -- Brian Hoyer can come in and throw it 20 times in a row -- but rather preservation of your most valuable asset.