Report Card: Patriots Lock Up Top Seed, Blowout Bills

Derek Havens
January 03, 2012 at 09:00am ET

Rob Gronkowski continues to dodge questions about Patriots future
Colleagues take to Twitter to praise ‘perfect’ play-by-play man
Year after year, Gil Santos delivered
Bill Belichick pays tribute to Patriots Hall of Fame broadcaster Gil Santos
Bill Belichick pays tribute to the late Gil Santos

The New England Patriots defeated the Buffalo Bills on Sunday afternoon 49 – 21. After the Bills started the game on fire, the Patriots made the necessary adjustments to get the victory. Here is my report card for week 17. -

Offense Grade: B+

This grade could be an "A", but I continue to be frustrated - along with many other fans - with the team's slow start to games. Whether this comes down to execution, play calling during games, or how the coaching staff prepares to start the game, something needs to change.

Patrick Chung returned to action Sunday and played in every defensive snap for New England. (FILE:Icon/SMI)

Tom Brady finishes the season with some incredible statistics. The future Hall of Fame quarterback finished with 39 touchdowns, 5, 235 passing yards and 12 interceptions. The question remains, can he continue to move this offense at the same level into the postseason; as the team may only go as far as Brady leads them. Another thought, is he healthy enough to do so? For that, only time will tell.

Rookie running back Stevan Ridley was given the nod by the Patriots coaching staff to carry the load on Sunday and he provided a spark. He carried the rock for a solid 5.4 average and showed why he should be the lead back in New England's committee approach. His ball security issue is a concern, which is something fans do not have to worry about with tailback BenJarvus Green-Ellis, but Ridley has shown to be more dynamic. If the Patriots have a threat in the backfield in the playoffs, opposing defenses will have a tough time slowing down the Pats at all.

Defense Grade: C+

Luckily for the Patriots defenders, this is not just a first quarter grade. I'm not sure the defense could play much worse than they did through the first 15 minutes of the contest Sunday afternoon. Similar to the offense, however, the unit started slow and then came on in the latter part of the game. We all know this defense will not be the reason this team wins in the post season, but their ability to create more opportunities for the team's offense is essential.

The one aspect of the game that really bothered me, was the poor tackling. It seems the Patriots have struggled with some basic fundamentals throughout the season and this game was no different. With many teams running the ball more as the weather gets colder, the defense must do a better job setting the edge and wrapping up opposing players.

Patrick Chung and Brandon Spikes returned to action for the first time in weeks on Sunday. Chung, thrown right into the mix playing every defensive snap in the game, seemed to make an impact right away. Spikes, however, looked very slow and obviously needs some more time. I believe both players can make the defense a better overall unit, but there is no telling how long each will need to get back to one hundred percent; if that is even a possibility this season.

Devin McCourty's move to free safety was an interesting aspect of the game. The second-year defensive back seemed to respond well to the position change and Sterling Moore had a career game at corner. While I still think McCourty will play mainly at safety in post season and into his career, the move should be interesting to monitor moving forward. Nevertheless, his versatility and production was a definite positive to take away from the game.

Special Teams Grade: A

This grade would be an A+, but the Patriots continue to struggle on kickoff and punt returns. I would love to see more of a threat in that area.

Stephen Gostkowski hit a pair of field goals as well as five extra points. Zoltan Mesko had two nice punts, including one that pinned Buffalo inside the 20. New England continues to play well on special teams, but like other areas of the team, there is room for improvement.

Overall Grade: B+

For the most part, I believe the Patriots played a complete game, with contributions from all three phases. Yes the game started ugly, but Patriots did a lot of things well. After the team got punched in the mouth in the beginning, their ability to adjust was outstanding. You have to like this game from a confidence and momentum standpoint going into the playoffs.

For now, New England finds themselves as the AFC's top seed going into the playoffs. There will be plenty to discuss in the coming weeks and it will be interesting to see who the team faces on Jan. 14 in the divisional round.

Do you have a Twitter account? Be sure to follow me: @PatriotsHaven!