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Patriots Week 4 Report Card

USATSI_7464304_154511498_lowres-515x343The New England defense bent but did not break Sunday night as they held on to beat the struggling Falcons, 30-23, thanks to 17 fourth-quarter points from Tom Brady and the offense. As most of us have unfortunately learned by now, however, they did suffer the loss of Pro Bowl nose tackle Vince Wilfork for the remainder of the season with a torn right Achilles’ tendon, but the young guys behind him did enough to help the team get the win. Likewise, the offense responded to playing against a tough team in an even tougher environment with their highest points total of the year.

Tom Brady: B+. Brady nearly had a very costly turnover, but his hard work with his young receivers is starting to pay off as he logged another 300-yard passing game. Uncharacteristically, however, he was off on more than a couple throws on the night. Fourteen of his completions went for first downs, though. Not to mention, he threw a touchdown pass in his 52nd consecutive game.

Running backs: C+. The running backs were a little better than average on Sunday night aside from LeGarrette Blount’s 47-yard touchdown run. Stevan Ridley had just 53 yards and Brandon Bolden added 17 of his own. The threesome averaged 4.3 yards per carry, but that was due, in large part, to Blount’s burst. Without that run, they would have been under 100 yards.

Wide receivers: B. It still seems like Kenbrell Thompkins juggles half the balls he catches, but he is coming around. Obviously the connection between Brady and his young pass catchers has improved. Every wideout who caught a pass caught at least one for 10 yards and no major mistakes were made. Thompkins and Julian Edelman accounted for 13 of the team’s 20 receptions, but I will certainly take that right now as the pair were big on third down more than once on the night.

Tight ends: B+. It’s no secret that with Rob Gronkowski still out, Tom Brady has not exactly been looking in the direction of any of his tight ends. Matt Mulligan did catch the team’s first touchdown by a tight end this season, however, and, as usual, they were solid in the run game. Given they don’t get a lot of balls thrown at them, they are not a huge part of the team’s success or failure. Of course, one rough patch was Zach Sudfeld’s inability to hold onto the onside kick in the final minutes, which could have been costly. Brady targeted a tight end one time on the night, though. And Mulligan caught it for a touchdown.

Offensive line: A-. No sacks. One hundred thirty-two rushing yards. You can’t really ask for a whole lot more from your offensive line than that. Except maybe to recover Brady’s fumble, but that was his own fault. They didn’t dominate the Atlanta front seven, but they didn’t need to be spectacular to win the game either. They just simply did their job.

Defensive line: A-. With Wilfork out, the young guys up front had to step up and, considering who is now left to play up there, they did a pretty good job. Atlanta racked up just 58 rushing yards on the night on 15 carries (3.9 ypc). They even added in a couple of sacks of Matt Ryan. Basically, I was impressed that they played as well as they did once Wilfork left the game.

Linebackers: C-. It’s often the linebackers’ job to cover the tight end. In this case, the linebackers ran with the tight end, but didn’t do a whole lot of covering. Tony Gonzalez, often the responsibility of a linebacker, was able to haul in 12 passes and two touchdowns. It looked like some of the backers couldn’t even keep up with the aging tight end at times. Also, Brandon Spikes had just one tackle.

Secondary: B -. Despite Aqib Talib’s play, the group as a whole was not great. Ryan was able to throw for 421 yards in the loss as he spread the wealth to seven different targets. Alfonzo Dennard was burned a couple of times and looked a bit out of his league when he was matched up with Gonzalez and even Julio Jones while Devin McCourty was burned on the first play of the Falcons’ final drive for 49 huge yards. Gonzalez pretty much had his way with the Pats’ secondary when he went up against them.

Special teams: B+. That onside kick could have been disastrous and the good hands team might get a few extra reps this week courtesy of Sudfeld. Atlanta’s only kick return of the night did go for 29 yards from Jacquizz Rodgers, but then again, they had just one kick return – and one punt return. Ryan Allen averaged 55 yards on his two punts and Stephen Gostkowski was 3-for-3 kicking field goals. Allowing 35 return yards is pretty good overall and helped raised the grade of the special teams units.

Follow me on Twitter @RealAndyLarmand.

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