1) After missing practice this week due to an illness, Tom Brady went out and ended up having a pretty strong afternoon against Tennessee. He finished the day 23-of-35 for 267 yards and two touchdowns, and completed passes to seven different receivers. One notable stat was the fact that aside from Rob Gronkowski, Brady never missed more than one attempt to the other six receivers, with the numbers breaking down like this:
– James White: 7-of-8, 71yds, 1 TD
– Rob Gronkowski: 5-of-11, 54yds 1TD
– Brandon LaFell: 4-of-5, 88yds
– Keshawn Martin: 3-of-4, 26yds
– Brandon Bolden: 2-of-3, 18yds
– Michael Williams: 1-of-1, 7yds
– Danny Amendola: 1-of-2, 3yds
Brady’s 2nd-quarter touchdown pass to White marked his 35th touchdown pass of the season, his fourth career season with 35+ TD passes, tying an NFL record with Peyton Manning.
2) Seeing Dont’a Hightower return on Sunday was a big lift for a Patriots defense that finally had two of their most athletic linebackers on the field together for the first time in several weeks, with Hightower reuniting with Jamie Collins. However, Hightower went down again in the third quarter with another knee injury and left the game, although it sounds like he avoided serious injury after early reports seem to be positive. That’s good news, as watching him again on Sunday was a reminder of how much he’s been missed and how valuable he’s going to be when New England reaches the postseason.
3) After losing his late friend and trainer Dana Parenteau this week, it was touching to see Rob Gronkowski honor him after his touchdown on Sunday. After catching the pass from Tom Brady, the veteran tight end reached up with both arms and pointed to the sky before spiking the football. Following his signature spike, he walked over and picked up the ball and took it to the sideline, which, according to reports, he’ll be giving Parenteau’s family the football.
“I was just pointing up to him because I know he’s up there watching,” Gronkowski told reporters after the game. “He was at every game with my family, a close family friend. He loved the game of football, loved being at all my games, always had my back. I definitely made that score for him.”
Gronkowski finished the day with five receptions for 54-yards, including his touchdown.
Akiem Hicks has really played well recently, including a big fumble recovery Sunday.
4) Akiem Hicks is really coming on as of late, with Hicks finishing with four tackles including a sack, and also had a huge fumble recovery in the endzone on Sunday after a strip sack by Chandler Jones. Between the play of Jabaal Sheard and Hicks’ recent increased production, New England should be feeling pretty good about the defensive front they’ll be taking into the postseason compared to last year’s group. This year’s group seems faster, stronger and more athletic and have consistently done a great job in both stopping the run and being disruptive this season. With two games to go it’s going to be interesting to see how he progresses over these final match-ups, but after losing Dominique Easley, it’s another reminder of what a great job they’ve done in putting this group together.
5) Keshawn Martin continues to impress and he had some terrific moments again on Sunday. He had one reception where he ran an out pattern with just over 2-minutes to go in the first quarter and dove back to make the reception, which more or less encapsulates the way he plays. He’s a guy who attacks the football and his 75-yard kickoff return was another big play after it helped set-up their third touchdown of the day, which put them up 21-3 and helped New England regain the momentum after allowing a field goal following a muffed punt return by Danny Amendola where the Titans recovered. He’s been a great addition, and despite Julian Edelman’s absence, Martin has taken advantage of his opportunity and he’s added some terrific depth to that position.
6) Patrick Chung had one of his better games in recent memory, finishing second on the team in tackles but there were a couple of plays that stood out, including a big one early in the second quarter where he stood up Anthony Fasano, who outweighed him by 40 pounds, but Chung stopped him dead in his tracks and prevented any further yards. Seeing him take a shot from teammate Jon Bostic on the play where Tennessee’s Delanie Walker scored on a 57-yard touchdown was concerning, and it knocked Chung out of the game and sent him to the locker room. Reports after the game indicated that Chung appeared to be fine, and with Devin McCourty still sidelined, the Patriots are already thin at safety to begin with. Needless to say hopefully New England will have him next Sunday down in New York as they continue trying to lock up the number one seed.
Chandler Jones had two sacks, giving him a career-best 12.5 for 2015.
7) It was good to see Chandler Jones have a good game, after the veteran finished the day with two sacks, giving him a career-high 12.5 on the season. His strip was a big play and his sack total ended a drought and got him back on the right track heading into the playoffs. This is a team that has been productive getting pressure inside, but having Jones and teammate Rob Ninkovich start hitting their stride is going to be one of the big keys heading into the playoffs. Hopefully this is a sign of things to come from Jones, who is playing out a contract year in New England.
8) Joey Iosefa did a great job in his first outing for New England, carrying 14 times for 51 yards and gave the Patriots the added dimension of giving them a power back, which is certainly what they needed after losing LeGarrette Blount for the season. The good thing about Iosefa is he showed some explosion and was a great change of pace for a team that got some decent production from each of their backs on Sunday. As good as Brady is, running the football is going to be a big key in keeping opposing defenses from being able to tee off on him, and so far Iosefa appears to be a great addition to this offense.
James White has really stepped up in his increased role recently. (USA TODAY Images)
9) If you’re not on board the James White bandwagon, it’s safe to say that you may want to hop on after seeing him finish the day with another productive showing. His second quarter 30-yard touchdown following Martin’s big kick return was a big play, with White changing direction twice as he glided around his blocks and took off for the end zone. He played well again in the passing game, finishing the afternoon with 7 receptions on 8 targets for 71 yards, averaging 10.1 yards per reception and his touchdown gave him three on the year, tying Danny Amendola for 4th most on the team. Overall he has 33 receptions for 319 yards on the season, along with his three scores.
10) Brandon Bolden is starting to come around. For anyone who has watched Bolden carrying the football, he’s come a long way and on Sunday looked about as good as we’ve seen him running the ball. He had some great carries and did a great job reading his blocks and gaining positive yardage, carrying 10 times for 36 yards, averaging 3.6 yards per carry. He continues to improve, and he’s slowly gone from being a special teams standout to a pretty good all around back, also catching two passes for 18 yards. It’s been great to see, and it should be interesting to see what he can do over these final two weeks and in the postseason.
11) Brandon LaFell continues to settle in, with the veteran receiver finishing the afternoon with four receptions on five targets, including a couple of big plays. Of his four receptions, two came on 3rd down, including a 29-yard reception on a catch and run in the first quarter on a 3rd-and-5 that helped eventually lead to Gronkowski’s touchdown, as well as a 31-yard bomb on a 3rd-and-3 in the fourth quarter that lead to a 42-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski. But overall it was a productive day for a player who looks like he’s starting to get his confidence back and played much more aggressive on Sunday than he had in past weeks.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary