Coming off of last week’s frustrating loss against the Seahawks, the Patriots were in dire need of a game where they could start working on the shortcomings that cost them last Sunday night.
This week’s battle against the 49ers seemed like just the natch-up to allow them to take a step forward after the giant step back they took last weekend and there were some definite bright spots that occurred as the Patriots improved to 8-2 on the season after their 30-17 win.
Here’s a quick recap of what we came away with:
1) A Terrific Homecoming For Brady – Levis Stadium might be the home of the 49ers, but on Sunday it sounded more like a home game for Patriots quarterback Tom Brady given the “Brady! Brady!” chants coming from the stands.
And they were given plenty of reason to cheer given how Brady started the game. He marched them down the field on six plays to start on their opening drive, missing on his first pass to Dion Lewis before hitting his next four passes, the last of which was a 4-yard touchdown pass to fellow hometown teammate Julian Edelman to put them up 6-0 after Stephen Gostkowski missed the extra point.
Overall Brady finished 24-of-40 for 280 yards and four touchdowns, and also finished an impressive 8-of-11 on third down (73%) for 117-yards and two touchdowns, including five first downs. He was also 5-of-7 (71%) passing in the red zone with three touchdowns.
Brady said after the game that the experience was pretty special, and he was glad he played well enough to win.
“Yeah, I’ve got a lot of people out there waiting out there for me, so it was very cool, it doesn’t get any better than that. To have the first chance to ever do that was very special. I felt it in the pregame warm-ups and it carried right to the last play of the game. So it was pretty great.”
2) New England did a better job getting pressure – Looking back at Sunday’s contest, one of the things that was noticeable right away was the fact that the Patriots defense seemed intent on coming after 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick and it started from the first snap of the game. Malcolm Butler dropped Kaepernick on the first play from scrimmage after he tried to get away, and Patrick Chung got him again two plays later as the duo had two of what ended up being five first-half sacks, with Dont’a Hightower, Rob Ninkovich, and Kyle Van Noy joining Butler and Chung in that category. That number was the most by that unit this season, and it was definitely one of the most aggressive performances we’ve seen them be all year.
They made life difficult, forcing him out of the pocket and harassing him to the point where he went through a stretch where he missed on nine straight passes. Overall, they held San Francisco to just 5-of-14 (36%) on third down along with 0-for-1 in goal to go. It wasn’t perfect, but it was a pretty good start and hopefully the beginning of what will be an improvement over the remaining six games of the regular season.
Blount was terrific again on Sunday. (USA TODAY Images)
3) Another big day for Blount – In a game that was mostly played in the rain out in San Francisco, the Patriots needed some help from their ground game and LeGarrette Blount, as usual, was up for the task.
The veteran running back went out and carried 19 times for 124 yards, which helped keep the defense off balance enough for Brady to go out and throw for nearly 300 yards and four touchdowns. Enough can’t be said about the improvement in New England’s offensive line, which has played a big part in why they’re 8-2 at this point in the season. But Blount is also running with a lot of confidence and he’s also been sure-handed with the football, which given the fact that they’re not forcing turnovers defensively, has been important since they’re not offsetting that with giving the football away.
The great thing is, here we are at the end of November and Blount is running just as well now as he was back in the beginning of September. Between that, and the return of Dion Lewis, there’s plenty of reason to be feeling pretty good about how things are shaping up as the Patriots gear up for their playoff push.
4) Ryan Stepped Up – Logan Ryan had arguably one of his best performances of the season and looked about as confident as we’ve seen him in a long time. He’s a guy who has received a lot of criticism recently but he remains a pretty good asset in a group that is still better than many people give them credit for.
He was solid in coverage and finished the game with three tackles along with two passes defensed, which was another terrific step forward one week after he played in 68-of-70 snaps against the Seahawks.
Ryan may have his critics, but past history has shown that he tends to have more positive moments than negative and how he plays over the rest of the season will likely play a key part in how far the Patriots ultimately advance in the postseason.
Lewis’ return should be big for New England. (USA TODAY Images)
5) Not a bad start for Lewis – Speaking of Lewis, Sunday marked the first outing for Dion Lewis, who got his feet wet in his first game back since suffering his season-ending knee injury last November.
The Patriots are fortunate to have gotten terrific production from James White but Lewis’ impact was felt each time he touched the football despite the fact New England was clearly monitoring his workload. He rushed five times for 23 yards and he also caught 3 passes for 26-yards, but more importantly he showed terrific quickness, and also appeared to still have the same shiftiness and change of direction that he had prior to the injury.
While we only got to see a glimpse of the veteran, all signs seem to point to the fact that he’s pretty much back to where he was before he got hurt. That’s definitely good news as getting a player of his caliber back at the start of what’s an important stretch of football couldn’t be coming at a better time.
The Patriots have been a team who had previously had to deal with losing key players at inopportune times but instead, things are starting to shape up pretty well for this football team. With a tough battle looming next Sunday down at MetLife Stadium against the Jets and some pretty competitive games coming up over the next month, they at least appear to be better equipped offensively to hopefully be able to make another championship run and avoid what was definitely a frustrating end to their season back in January.
Lewis is simply a nice piece of a puzzle that no longer appears to be missing as many pieces as it once was. Now if their defense can continue to improve off Sunday’s win, fans should be feeling pretty good about their chances in the coming months.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary