The Patriots locked up a playoff berth and reclaimed the number one seed in the AFC with three games to go following their 27-6 victory over the Texans on Sunday night, ending a two game skid and getting back in the win column. Sunday night saw Rob Gronkowski return to the line-up but, once again, the Patriots didn’t escape unscathed after seeing some other key names go down with injuries.
Here’s a quick rundown of some things to take away from New England’s 11th win of the 2015 season
1) Loss of LeGarrette Blount is concerning: If the Patriots didn’t have bad luck, they’d have no luck at all after seeing LeGarrette Blount suffer a hip injury midway through the second quarter. Blount looked somewhat stunned after the play, sitting on the turf before getting up and leaving the field and shortly after he headed off to the locker room for x-rays and didn’t return to the game. Brandon Bolden performed well in his absence, carrying 16 times for 51 yards and had some good moments, but this is a team that is dangerously thin if Blount’s injury is significant and would leave just Bolden and James White as players who have played enough meaningful snaps heading into the final three weeks and the playoffs.
2) Patriots suffer three more injuries on defense: Along with Blount, the Patriots saw Jonathan Freeney, Dominique Easley, and Devin McCourty go down on the defensive side of the football, with two of them joining Blount among guys who left and didn’t come back. The good news so far seems at least to fall in McCourty’s favor, with Mike Reiss of ESPN Boston reporting that from what he’s heard, the injury isn’t “too serious”. That’s good news considering this defense is playing well right now and McCourty’s impact and experience back in the secondary has certainly been one of the big reasons why they’ve been so strong this season. The veteran reportedly rolled his ankle and fortunately seems to have avoided any significant setback, and that’s good news for a defensive group that doesn’t need any further losses. Easley was spotted pedaling on the stationary bike after he was hurt with what was later called a “thigh injury”, so it sounds like he avoided anything serious. However, Freeney’s injury was related to his wrist, and according to Tom Curran he was in a cast after the game and that could be a significant loss given his contributions.
3) Strong outing for newly signed Leonard Johnson – Johnson had a strong performance in his first outing, finishing the night with two pass break-ups and overall fit in pretty well for a player who hasn’t been here very long. Head coach Bill Belichick was pleased with how he played, but he wasn’t surprised. “He’s a pretty experienced player in the league,” said Belichick. “He’s been around a little bit and has played that position. But he worked hard. I mean, he worked really hard this week and so did his teammates, you know, Logan [Ryan], Devin [McCourty], Malcom [Butler], Duron [Harmon]. Pat [Chung], in terms of their communication.” It looks like he’ll potentially be a good addition and hopefully he’ll continue to improve on what was already a pretty good start in the coming weeks.
4) Rob Gronkowski’s return was good to see: Prior to Sunday night’s game the last vision that most fans saw as it pertained to Gronkowski was seeing the veteran writhing down on the field in agony out in Denver before being carted off the field for what many feared might have been for the last time of 2015 and potentially his career. Instead, Gronkowski avoided serious injury and missed just one game, and his return Sunday night was significant. He made a huge play to start New England’s second offensive possession, hauling in a 45-yard pass that helped set up their first touchdown, followed by the one-yard reception he had for a touchdown to close out the first half. He’s such a difference maker in this offense and it’s safe to say that most fans throughout New England likely breathed a sigh of relief knowing that Brady will still have his most effective weapon heading into the playoffs.
Sheard had a big performance Sunday night against the Texans. (USA TODAY Images)
5) Jabaal Sheard took over the game late: It’s hard not to appreciate the year Sheard has had to this point and on Sunday night he ended up being one of the key difference-makers in New England’s defense. Sheard finished with five tackles along with two sacks and three quarterback hits and really stepped up in a big way. One of the biggest reasons why New England’s secondary has been so effective is largely in part to how disruptive this group up front has been as a whole and his addition has certainly played a big role in that. He really seems like he’s been improving as the season has progressed and it’s going to be fun to see what he can do over these last few games and in the postseason.
6) Business as usual for Malcolm Butler: What else can you say, other than the fact Butler continues to be terrific. He stepped up in a big way Sunday night after making a key touchdown-saving play coming off of the muffed punt return by Keshawn Martin. That special teams breakdown had the look of “Here we go again” after what happened last week and certainly could have shifted the momentum, but Butler broke up a pass in the end zone from Brian Hoyer to Nate Washington that could have potentially turned the tide of the game and gotten Houston back into it. Instead, that didn’t happen and it’s hard not to appreciate just how consistent he continues to be.
7) Another good night for James White: – White had another good performance catching passes out of the backfield and obviously saw more time on the field after Blount went down. The Patriots don’t seem to have much confidence in him carrying the football but he’s gotten more targets in the passing game in recent weeks and has taken advantage of those opportunities. He’s not explosive by any means, but he’s been shifty and certainly seems like a decent enough option to hopefully help get the Patriots some production. After seeing what he’s done so far, as this group continues to get back to full strength with Julian Edelman hopefully returning soon, they should have enough firepower to hopefully be dangerous again in the postseason.
8) Again, Logan Ryan isn’t getting enough credit: It’s hard to believe people were calling for Logan Ryan’s head earlier this season and ready to ship him off to Siberia, with Sunday night being another great example of how bad that would have been. Ryan was one of the players matched up on DeAndre Hopkins and he completely shut him down, with Hopkins finishing the night with just three catches for 52 yards and was more or less a non-factor. Belichick talked about that battle after the game and he was pleased with what he saw. “Logan did a good job battling him. We left Malcolm in a lot of single situations and that was competitive but you know, you’ve got to double Hopkins. He’s a big receiver, he’s got strong hands, he’s really kind of always open because of his size, his length and his catching radius,” said Belichick. “But you know, we got good pass rush and I thought Logan did a good job of battling him, making him work to get open, making the quarterback hold the ball and sometimes we got some pass rush there. He got his hands on a couple balls so, I don’t know, it was a good battle.”
Needless to say it’s been great to see Ryan continue to improve and hopefully that continues heading into these final two months.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary