This year’s bye week couldn’t be coming at a better time for the Patriots.
The team has two full weeks to heal up for the stretch run of the season. And those 14 days of healing time will come in handy after two more key defenders went down against the Steelers.
Rob Ninkovich suffered a foot injury and Steve Gregory injured his thumb. It looked like Ninkovich could have returned to the game, but it was out of hand by the time the defensive end/outside linebacker had returned to the sideline and appeared ready.
Gregory was eventually ruled out of the game. There’s no full diagnosis for the injury, but Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reported the injury is not considered season-ending and that he should be able to play through it.
Luckily for the Patriots, Ninkovich and Gregory’s replacements played well on Sunday. Andre Carter had a big game in his second week with New England and Duron Harmon continues to look comfortable with the team.
The Patriots could get Shane Vereen, Aqib Talib, Ninkovich and Gregory back against the Panthers. That would be a big boost for the playoff run.
Check out this week’s five takeaways below.
1. Patriots missed Talib.
After it seemed New England didn’t skip a beat against Miami without their No. 1 cornerback, it was a little more glaring that Talib was not on the field against Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers. Big Ben completed 28-of-48 passes for 400 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions.
Talib probably would have done a better job against Antonio Brown than Alfonzo Dennard, who probably would have done a better job against Emmanuel Sanders than Kyle Arrington, who probably would have done a better job against Jerricho Cotchery than Logan Ryan or Marquice Cole.
The Patriots still won, so it doesn’t really matter in the long run, but their secondary did get torched on a couple plays. Arrington and Dennard both had their moments, positive and negative. Dont’a Hightower had a nice bounceback game, covering his targets well.
All three safeties continue to play well. Devin McCourty and Harmon had the interceptions and Gregory continued to be the hard-hitting presence in the middle of the defense.
Check out this week’s charting stats below.
Kyle Arrington: 6-11, 94 yards, TD, PBU
Alfonzo Dennard: 5-9, 63, TD, PBU
Marquice Cole: 3-3, 55 yards
Dont?a Hightower: 3-9, 35 yards
Brandon Spikes: 3-3, 32 yards, TD
Logan Ryan: 3-4, 32 yards, TD
Rob Ninkovich: 1-1, 9 yards
Dane Fletcher: 0-2
Devin McCourty: 0-1, INT
Isaac Sopoaga: PBU
Duron Harmon: INT
Check out the season charting stats below. Dennard is still allowing less than 50 percent of his targets to go for completions.
Dennard: 28-58, 434 yards, 2 TDs, INT
Arrington: 28-53, 374 yards, 3 TDs, INT, holding penalty
Ryan: 14-26, 182 yards, 2 TDs
Hightower: 17-31, 159 yards
Mayo: 14-27, 146 yards
Gregory: 10-22, 139 yards, TD, pass interference penalty
Talib: 9-29, 139 yards, 4 INTs, pass interference penalty
McCourty: 8-14, 99 yards, TD, INT
Spikes: 8-11, 91 yards, TD, INT
Cole: 7-12, 88 yards, TD, INT
Collins: 5-6, 53 yards
Ninkovich: 5-6, 29 yards
Fletcher: 1-3, 5 yards, TD
Harmon: 1-2, 3 yards, 2 INTs
2. Andre Carter knocks off the rust.
The Patriots as a whole looked good against the Dolphins in the second half last week, but Carter had a tough time getting started. That was not the case for the 34-year-old on Sunday.
Carter was second on the team with six total pressures, despite playing limited snaps. Chandler Jones led the way and while Chris Jones didn’t pick up any sacks, he did generate three pressures.
Chandler Jones also had a down game against Miami. He bounced back well.
Check out this week’s charting stats below.
Chandler Jones: 2 sacks, 1 QB hit, 4 hurries
Andre Carter: 1 sack, 2 QB hits, 3 hurries
Dont?a Hightower: 1 QB hit, 2 hurries
Chris Jones: 3 hurries
Dane Fletcher: 1 sack, 1 hurry
Brandon Spikes: 2 hurries
Rob Ninkovich: 1 sack
Joe Vellano: 1 hurry
Michael Buchanan: 1 hurry
Check out the season charting stats below.
Chandler Jones: 8 1/2 sacks, 29 hurries, 11 QB hits (49 pressures)
Ninkovich: 3 sack, 32 hurries, 8 QB hits (43 pressures)
Kelly: 2 1/2 sacks, 12 hurries, 2 QB hit (17 pressures)
Chris Jones: 5 sacks, 8 hurries, 2 QB hit (16 pressures)
Buchanan: 2 sacks, 10 hurries, 3 QB hits (15 pressures)
Hightower: 1 sack, 9 hurries, 3 QB hits (13 pressures)
Vellano: 1 sack, 9 hurries, 2 QB hit (12 pressures)
Carter: 1 sack, 3 hurries, 3 QB hit (7 pressure)
Spikes: 5 hurries, 1 QB hit (6 pressures)
Wilfork: 4 hurries, 1 QB hit (5 pressures)
Mayo: 1 1/2 sacks, 1 hurry, 1 QB hit (4 pressures)
Collins: 3 hurries (3 pressures)
Fletcher: 2 sacks, 1 hurry (3 pressure)
Ryan: 2 sacks, (2 pressures)
McCourty: 1 hurry, 1 QB hit (2 pressures)
Cole: 1 hurry (1 pressure)
Bequette: 1 QB hit (1 pressure)
Gregory: 1 QB hit (1 pressure)
3. Tom Brady shares blame for incompletions with receivers, offensive line.
Out of Brady’s 10 incompletions, four can be blamed on drops, one can be blamed squarely on the offensive line and five were inaccurate passes or throwaways. Brady and his receivers were solid throughout.
Julian Edelman and Michael Hoomanawanui had one drop apiece while Aaron Dobson had two drops. Dobson has a massive game otherwise, so his drops can be forgiven.
4. Bill Belichick correctly utilizes Stevan Ridley.
Not only did Belichick start Ridley, he also didn’t bench him after a third-quarter fumble. Belichick correctly noted in his press conference that it was a good play by Troy Polamalu rather than a bad play by the running back.
Ridley had his first 100-yard game of the season, carrying the ball a season-high 26 times for 115 yards and two touchdowns. The offense is better with Ridley. This is not a question anymore.
It’s also worth noting that LeGarrette Blount did a nice job in his clock-killing role and Brandon Bolden ripped off three big runs.
5. Patriots win turnover, penalty battle.
The Patriots have done a really nice job of limiting mistakes this season. New England is third in turnover ratio with nine more takeaways than giveaways. They’re also sixth in total number of penalties and 11th in penalty yards.
They’ve also done a nice job of forcing penalties. They’re third in opponent penalties with 66 and fourth in opponent penalty yards with 561.
On Sunday, Pittsburgh turned the ball over three times to New England’s 1. The Steelers were called for eight penalties for 96 yards while the Patriots were called for three for 30 yards. Even if an offense or defense is struggling, winning the turnover and penalty battle can be enough to take victories from the opposing team.