Now that the New England Patriots? 2009 season is officially over, it?s time to hand out the grades. Check out below to see who on the offense will be hanging their report cards on the refrigerator and who will be forging their parents? signatures.
Make sure to come back to see the grades for the defense, special teams, coaching staff and front office.
Tom Brady came back from a knee injury, fought through an assortment of other physical issues and still had the second-best statistical season of his career. Brady wasn?t so hot in clutch situations — his only game-winning drive in the fourth quarter came in the season opener — and his late interception in Miami was downright inexcusable. Then, there was that four-turnover performance in the playoffs, which went against everything Brady built his legacy on. Still, the 32-year-old made strides after missing all of 2008, and he performed well despite working with a new offensive system that wasn?t very conducive to high levels of success.
Running backs: B
They had their moments, highlighted by Laurence Maroney?s career-best six-game touchdown streak when he found the end zone eight times. The fourth-year back reinvigorated his career with that midseason stretch, and there was also a stretch during Weeks 14-16 when the Patriots averaged 163.7 rushing yards per game. It looked like they found their stride at the most important moment of the season. While Maroney temporarily emerged as the lead back, Kevin Faulk, Sammy Morris and Fred Taylor did an ample job in their complementary roles. The Patriots were 12th in the NFL with 1,921 rushing yards and sixth with 19 rushing touchdowns.
However, Maroney fell out of favor with the coaching staff with his second goal-line fumble of the season in Week 16 against the Jaguars. He never returned after the Patriots? opening series, was inactive in Week 17 against the Texans and only received one carry in the playoffs against the Ravens. Maroney has had a murky career in Foxborough, and with one season remaining on his contract, this will be an interesting offseason storyline to follow.
Wide receivers: B+
Wes Welker was the team?s most valuable player this season, with a franchise-record 123 receptions for 1,348 yards and four touchdowns, despite missing nearly three full games due to injury. He was the heart and soul of the offense, and his work ethic and toughness might have made him the most admired player in the locker room. The Patriots can only hope Welker?s left knee injury doesn?t cause him to miss any regular-season action in 2010.
Randy Moss was up and down, but his low-effort performance against the Panthers in Week 14 turned out to be one of the most prevalent storylines of the season. Moss had 83 catches for 1,264 yards and was tied for the league lead with 13 touchdown receptions. He was an obvious asset for the offense, but for the first time in his Patriots career, opposing defenses were able to consistently take him out of the game.
The rest of the receiving crew was hit or miss. Julian Edelman showed some brilliant flashes but was hampered by injuries, and special teams captain Sam Aiken was probably asked to do a little too much in the offense after it was determined how useless Joey Galloway turned out to be. Welker and Moss are two of the best in the game, but they needed more help from the complementary pieces.
Tight ends: C
It wasn?t their fault they didn?t record many receptions, as the Patriots? new offensive system demanded more blocking responsibilities out of the tight ends. As a result, Ben Watson (29 catches, 404 yards, five touchdowns) and Chris Baker (14, 142, two) combined for 43 receptions, 546 yards and seven touchdowns this season, which means the Patriots? tight ends were good for 2.7 catches and 34.1 yards per game. Granted, they did a strong job blocking, but the offense needed to better utilize the tight ends as weapons in the passing attack.
Offensive line: A-
The line allowed a Patriots-record 18 sacks this season and was a driving force behind New England?s solid running game. Left guard Logan Mankins is heading to the Pro Bowl, and center Dan Koppen and right Stephen Neal (when healthy) played at that level. The emergence of rookie tackle Sebastian Vollmer was one of the bright spots for this year?s team, and the second-round draft pick will be an asset in Foxborough for years to come. Left tackle Matt Light got off to a slow start but was better after he returned from a right knee injury. And right tackle Nick Kaczur had it going in the opposite direction, starting out very strong but tailing off in the second half. The Patriots also have a pretty serviceable backup in Dan Connolly, who could potentially be Neal?s replacement if he retires this offseason.
Tune in to SportsDesk after the Bruins-Sharks game on Thursday night to get Ted Johnson's grades on the 2009 Patriots.