Welcome to 2019, New England Patriots fans.
As New England began preparations for its divisional-round playoff game against the Houston Texans, Baltimore Ravens or Los Angeles Chargers, NESN.com Patriots beat writers Doug Kyed and Zack Cox took a look back at the regular season that was to hand out a few year-end awards.
MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
Kyed: DE Trey Flowers
This was extremely difficult and came down to Flowers, cornerback Stephon Gilmore and quarterback Tom Brady. Gilmore probably had a better season than Flowers, but he really only makes a major impact in the passing game. Brady had, by his standards, a down season. Flowers is the Patriots’ best pass rusher and second-best run defender behind defensive tackle Lawrence Guy. We saw how poorly the Patriots’ defense played without Flowers in losses to the Jacksonville Jaguars and Detroit Lions. Flowers finished the season with nine sacks (six full sacks and three half-sacks), 65 total pressures and 37 tackles at, behind or near the line of scrimmage.
Cox: CB Stephon Gilmore
This award typically goes to an offensive player, but with Brady and Rob Gronkowski both posting abnormally pedestrian numbers this season and James White falling off in the second half, I’m giving the nod to Gilmore, who firmly established himself as one of the NFL’s premier cornerbacks. The list of opposing wideouts the Pro Bowler neutralized this season includes Davante Adams, Stefon Diggs, Allen Robinson, Sammy Watkins, Robby Anderson and Antonio Brown.
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Kyed: QB Tom Brady
Despite his down season, there’s no way the Patriots would have gone 11-5 without Brady at quarterback. He still completed 65.8 percent of his passes for 4,355 yards with 29 touchdowns and 11 interceptions for a 97.7 passer rating. Take out the four interceptions that careened off his receivers hands before being picked off, and Brady’s passer rating would be at least 101.3, or 1.5 points off last year’s mark.
Cox: WR Julian Edelman
Sure, he was suspended for the first four games, but Edelman has been excellent since the day he returned. He easily was Brady’s most consistent target during the regular season, averaging 6.2 catches and 70.8 yards per game — both team highs — and catching six touchdown passes, one shy of his career high. No bad for a 32-year-old who missed all last season with a torn ACL.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Kyed: CB Stephon Gilmore
We’ll give this one to Gilmore, who was one of two Patriots Pro Bowl selections. He allowed less than half of his targets to be caught, picked off two passes and finished second in the NFL with 20 pass breakups. He let up a passer rating of just 71.8 on the season despite giving up five touchdowns.
Cox: DE Trey Flowers
This was a toss-up between Gilmore and Flowers, so I’ll give some love to the criminally underrated pass rusher. Flowers led the Patriots in sacks (career-high 7 1/2), tackles for loss (career-high nine) and QB hits (20) for the third consecutive season. He’s in line for a massive payday when he hits free agency in March, and New England should do everything in its power to keep him around.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Kyed: CB JC Jackson
Jackson was unbelievable for the Patriots down the stretch. He showed off exceptional ball skills with three interceptions in limited snaps. He didn’t let up a touchdown all season and never allowed more than 49 yards in a game or 24 yards on a single catch.
Cox: CB JC Jackson
First-round draft pick Sony Michel had a fine rookie year with 931 rushing yards in just 13 games, but he struggled with injuries and wasn’t the most consistent contributor. So I’m also going with the undrafted Jackson, who didn’t allow a single touchdown in coverage this season and led all NFL cornerbacks with a 42.0 passer rating against. The sample size still is relatively small since Jackson didn’t become a starter until Week 13, but he and Gilmore have all the makings of an elite cornerback duo.
Kyed: LG Joe Thuney
Thuney entered the season as the perceived weak link on the Patriots’ offensive line. No one really realized how good of a season Thuney was having until Patriots head coach Bill Belichick called him one of the team’s best players. Then everyone collectively was like, “Huh, yeah, I guess he’s right.” Thuney didn’t let up a single sack from his left guard position this season. Linebacker Kyle Van Noy was our runner-up.
Cox: LB Elandon Roberts
Roberts always has been a devastating hitter, and he’s still best-served as a run defender, but the third-year pro became a better all-around linebacker this season, earning praise from Belichick and Brian Flores for his improved pass coverage. He’s been a solid No. 3 behind Dont’a Hightower and Kyle Van Noy.
Kyed: LT Trent Brown
When the Patriots acquired Brown, I falsely assumed he was only a right tackle due to his size. Brown proved he was more than adept and athletic enough to man the left side on one of the NFL’s best pass-protecting offensive lines. The Patriots allowed the third-lowest pressure percentage this season, and Brown consistently was taking on teams’ best pass rushers.
Cox: The Miami Miracle
Yeah, I can’t say I expected this:
Kyed: DE Adrian Clayborn
Clayborn was the team’s highest-profile free-agent addition, and he was a healthy scratch in their final two games. That pretty much says everything you need to know. Clayborn actually had a fairly high pressure percentage in the 14 games he played, but he was a liability against the run and scrambling quarterbacks.
Cox: Patriots tight ends
Gronkowski ranked sixth among NFL tight ends in receiving yards, 13th in catches and tied for 17th in touchdowns just one year after earning first-team All-Pro honors. And based on how he’s looked physically, it wouldn’t be at all surprising if he decides to call it a career this offseason. Beyond Gronk, Dwayne Allen has been a great run blocker but a zero in the passing game, and Jacob Hollister — whom we were very high on before the season — can’t stay on the field. He’s played in just eight games and caught four passes.
PLAY OF THE YEAR
Kyed: Devin McCourty’s 85-yard pick-six
He’s the fastest (man) alive!
Granted, it was against Bills quarterback Derek Anderson, but this was quite a play by a veteran safety many Patriots fans were convinced had lost a step entering this game.
Cox: Patriots stopping the Bears’ Hail Mary at the 1
It didn’t move the needle much at the time, but if the Patriots had lost this game, there’s a very good chance they’d be playing in a wild-card game this weekend. Credit to Duron Harmon and the McCourtys for keeping Kevin White out of the end zone.
Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images