New England Patriots fans were disappointed Tuesday at 4 p.m., when the NFL trade deadline passed and Vincent Jackson stayed on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Jackson wouldn’t have hurt, but the Patriots’ offense is flourishing without the 6-foot-5, 241-pound receiver, as they showed Sunday in their 51-23 win over the Chicago Bears. Rob Gronkowski’s health is the biggest cause for the Patriots’ offensive success, but it’s also obvious that wide receiver Brandon LaFell and tight end Tim Wright are getting more comfortable in the offense and earning Brady’s trust.
Now the Patriots just have to cross their fingers and hope Gronkowski is fully healthy by the playoffs. The last time the Patriots had a healthy Gronk in the postseason was in 2010, his rookie season. Fantasy owners probably hate the idea, but now that Gronk is fully healthy, the Patriots should just take him out of the game when they have a big lead, as they did Sunday because of “dehydration.”
Check out NESN.com’s film review of the Patriots’ shellacking of the Bears:
Yeah, that Tom Brady guy was pretty good.
Brady threw five incompletions, and only one could be blamed on the Patriots QB. It wasn’t even an errant pass. Brady’s attempt to running back Shane Vereen was deflected by Bears linebacker D.J. Williams with 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter.
Pro Football Focus’ Steve Palazzolo tweeted out a fantastic statistic Tuesday, saying Brady threw 83 percent of his passes in 2.5 seconds or less. Brady beat the Bears’ Cover 3 defense by getting rid of the ball quickly, and trusting his receivers to see the same coverage as he did and react accordingly.
Brady’s best throw of the day came in the second quarter, when he hit Gronkowski over Bears linebacker Shea McClellin in the back corner of the end zone.
Brady talked last week about improving his mobility, extending plays and throwing on the move. He did a great job of that on another second-quarter completion to Gronk.
Jonas Gray impressed in just his second NFL game, running for 86 yards on 17 carries, including a perfectly blocked 19-yarder on the Patriots’ second offensive play.
Gray’s big run allowed the Patriots to keep the Bears on their toes with play-action passes for the rest of the game. Gray showed a nice burst hitting his rushing lanes, but he failed to get into the end zone on three carries inside the 5-yard line.
Shane Vereen was solid while dealing with an illness, but he dropped one of Brady’s five incompletions.
Rookie James White struggled to get going in his second NFL game, running the ball six times for 17 yards. It would have been nice to see White, who’s 5-foot-10 and 205 pounds, try to put a move on Bears safety Chris Conte for a possible big play rather than try to run through him.
Brandon LaFell had issues dropping passes during his time with the Carolina Panthers, but his hands have been a major strength during his time with the Patriots.
LaFell set career highs in catches (11) and yards (124) against the Bears and excelled on play-action passing plays.
Julian Edelman dropped two passes and has just five catches for 58 yards over the last two weeks. Brady stressed Monday on WEEI that he wants to involve Edelman more in the offense.
Gronkowski was impossible to cover, and after he had the ball in his hands, he was equally difficult to drag to the ground.
Two great things about that play:
1. When Gronk dives for the touchdown, Bears cornerback Al Louis-Jean, hanging off the tight end, comes completely off the ground.
2. Gronk fumbles the ball after the touchdown and quickly panics before Danny Amendola picks it up for him and hands it back over. It would have been funny if Amendola stole his spike.
Wright had another big day, receiving the most snaps (22) of his short Patriots career. Wright also has been a nice target in the red zone. He caught his second 1-yard TD pass of the season on a designed play to the flex tight end.
Michael Hoomanawanui did a nice job getting off his first block and reaching the second level, helping to spring Gray for a 17-yard run in the second quarter.
Nate Solder, Dan Connolly, Ryan Wendell and Sebastian Vollmer all had strong games. Brady barely was pressured, and the Patriots’ run-blocking fundamentals have improved tenfold since the start of the season.
Josh Kline rotated in for Connolly and Wendell in the second half, and Marcus Cannon saw time at both tackle positions.
Bryan Stork had a rough series at the beginning of the second quarter, when he fumbled a snap and was called for a false start.
Dominique Easley had the best game of his rookie season, starting at right defensive end for the injured Chandler Jones. Easley recorded half a sack and helped force a fumble, with fellow rookie Zach Moore, when Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower held up Bears quarterback Jay Cutler. Easley did a solid job holding his edge against the run.
Easley’s best, and most heads-up play, came in the Patriots’ first defensive series, when he sniffed out a screen and bumped Bears running back Matt Forte at the line. That forced Cutler to throw the ball into the turf on third down.
Defensive tackle Casey Walker had a down game after making impact plays in his first three games with the Patriots.
Rob Ninkovich was his typically solid self in pass rush and holding the edge against the run. Ninkovich also recovered a fumble for a touchdown.
Akeem Ayers, whom the Patriots acquired earlier in the week, received a lot of playing time in the fourth quarter after the game already was in hand. He was at his best when he was able to rush the passer, and he recorded a solo sack and four other pressures in his first game as a Patriot.
Forte burned Jamie Collins for a 20-yard touchdown, but the linebacker was better against the run than he was last week against the New York Jets.
Dont’a Hightower wasn’t able to make as much of an impact as usual, playing Jerod Mayo’s old middle linebacker role.
Deontae Skinner whiffed on a few tackles in the fourth quarter. He might not see much playing time after the Patriots acquired Ayers last week and Jonathan Casillas before the trade deadline.
Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner were very good as the Patriots mixed man and zone coverages. Many complained that the Patriots weren’t using Revis correctly when they ran zone looks early in the season, but he looked pretty good on this play, as the Patriots dropped into Cover 2.
Revis kept an eye on Brandon Marshall after bailing off the snap and broke on the ball as soon as Cutler started to throw, allowing the cornerback to swat it.
Browner did a great job against big tight end Martellus Bennett when the two were lined up across from one another. On this first-quarter play, the 6-foot-4, 225-pound Browner, positioned at the bottom of the field, out-muscled 6-foot-6, 265-pound Bennett over the middle of the field.
Browner was called for two penalties while covering Bennett. On an illegal contact call, it looked like Bennett ran into Browner and initiated contact, but the cornerback was penalized. On the second, Browner was called for pass interference, but it looked like Bennett should have been called for holding.
Devin McCourty was solid against the run and pass, and he had an interception, but it was called off on Browner’s illegal contact penalty.
Patrick Chung was slightly late on Browner’s pass interference play. Bennett caught that ball in the end zone, and if Chung had been on time, he could have broken up the pass. Chung was very good against the run, as he has been all season.
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