Patriots Report Card: Aaron Hernandez Breaks Out, Special Teams Deliver Against Broncos

Patriots Report Card: Aaron Hernandez Breaks Out, Special Teams Deliver Against BroncosThe Patriots overcame a slow start Sunday to roll through the Broncos, clinch the AFC East title and close in on a first-round bye. That's not a bad day's work.

There were also some coaching moves that paid off, timely plays by the special teams and a reminder that the Patriots' other tight end is pretty good, too. New England is now 11-3 and holds the top seed in the AFC playoff picture.

Let's break out the grades.

Offense

A

Tom Brady threw for 320 yards and two touchdowns, and he added another score on the ground.

What grade would you give the Patriots offense?

Defense

C+

The tackling and gap control in run defense was atrociously bad for the first three series, but the Patriots stepped up in a big way when they made the switch to a 3-4 in Andre Carter's absence. New England's defense was much, much better throughout the rest of the game as its offense went to work.

What grade would you give the Patriots defense?

Special Teams

A

Stephen Gostkowski kicked a pair of field goals, including one after the punting unit recovered a fumble at the end of the second quarter. Plus, the coverage units did a solid job, and Julian Edelman kept the Patriots from getting pinned deep by Broncos punter Britton Colquitt.

What grade would you give the Patriots special teams?

Coaching

A-

The defensive adjustment was impressive, particularly on the heels of Carter's injury. It's hard to fault the coaching staff for the defense's poor start out of the gate because that was mostly about tackling and execution. Lastly, the decision to fly the team to Denver on Friday appeared to pay dividends.

What grade would you give the Patriots coaching?

MVP

Mark Anderson

He's shifted to outside linebacker in recent weeks, and that's where he played Sunday in the 3-4. Anderson constantly brought pressure and had two sacks and a fumble recovery. His motor changed the pace of New England's defensive performance.

Unsung Hero

Aaron Hernandez

It's a tough week to dole out this honor because a lot of guys played at a high level and made some big plays. Brady was even considered for the way he ran the offense in the face of that pressure, but to call him unsung would be a reach. Hernandez had a career day and needed to be very good in the absence of wide receiver Deion Branch. Plus, the Broncos swarmed tight end Rob Gronkowski, so Hernandez stepped up and showed opposing defenses why the Patriots are so tough to stop.

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