Strong finish in the playoffs Nets Super Bowl Trophy #5
The Patriots finished the 2016-17 season in style with an incredible and improbable come from behind 34-28 win over the Atlanta Falcons. The Patriots scored 31 unanswered points to bring home the Lombardi Trophy for the fifth time in the Brady- Belichick era.
Now is the time to take a look at the roster and give our end of season grades by position. In the coming days, we’ll also begin to take a look at where the roster is terms of 2017 and where the team will begin to look where they can add depth during the free agency period. The NFL Combine and the draft are right around the corner. As Bill Belichick said on Monday, they’re five weeks behind the rest of the league in terms of preparation for next season, but here’s a final look at how the 2016 team graded out.
We’ll start with the offense and the players can come forward to pick up their grade sheets
What more can be said about Tom Brady? After an MVP-type season where he ended up finishing 2nd behind Matt Ryan, he topped it off with the biggest comeback in Super Bowl history by throwing for 466 yards and leading the Patriots to their fifth championship under his watch.
In 15 regular season and playoff games, Brady threw for 4691 yards 35 touchdowns and 5 interceptions. He averaged 379 yards per game in the playoffs and all at the age of 39. And yet still despite his fourth SB MVP trophy, the dweebs and naysayers rush to marginalize his accomplishments in a lame attempt to get spots on Boston sports radio. And they will. Signs of the times.
Tom Brady continues to defy Father Time with an outstanding season at age 39. (SBalestrieri photo)
Jimmy Garoppolo’s spot next to Brady on the duck boat in the parade may be our last look at him as a member of the Patriots. With the Patriots rumored to be looking to extend Brady for three more years, the time may be right to trade Jimmy G. while the interest for him is at its peak. If the reported interest includes a first round draft pick, there is no way that the Patriots could turn that down. In the two games, he was the starter (really a game and a half), he played very well, completing 68 percent of his throws with 4 TDs and 0 INTs.
Rookie Jacoby Brissett was forced into action when Garoppolo injured his shoulder. He played 2 full games before Brady came back from his suspension and played well considering how few snaps he got as the third QB during training camp. If indeed Jimmy G. is traded this spring, he’ll become the heir apparent to Brady and will have much more thrust on his plate. It is interesting to note that neither Brissett nor Garoppolo threw an interception this season.
Running Backs: B
LeGarrette Blount had a career-best 1161 yards and a league-leading 18 rushing touchdowns on the season. The team tried to limit his workload down the stretch but it seemed he wore down a bit by the playoffs, adding just 109 yards and a touchdown in three playoff games. He did a very good job of providing the team with a big back presence, especially early in the season when Brady was serving his suspension.
Dion Lewis missed the first half of the season, recovering from his torn ACL suffered in 2015 but was a valuable piece in both the running and passing game down the stretch and into the playoffs. It is interesting to note, that the Patriots have never lost when he’s on the field.
James White ably filled the third-down back role all season and he responded with his best year. He chipped in the running game a bit all season but his value is highest in the passing game as both a receiver and a pass blocker. He set a Super Bowl record with 14 receptions for 110 yards and three touchdowns both rushing and receiving.
James Develin really boosted the running game with his presence after missing 2015 with a broken leg. He’s a tremendous blocking fullback who can add the occasional run or catch. Being healthy for 16 games, he was a big factor in the running game being a true complimentary piece this season.
UDFA rookie D.J. Foster appeared in three games and got his feet wet. He does possess the shifty ability to make people miss.
Wide Receivers: B+
Julian Edelman had a fantastic 2016 regular season logging 98 catches for 1106 yards and three TDs. He topped that off with a terrific playoff run catching 21 passes for 342 yards (16.3 yards per catch average) and a score.
After starting slowly in training camp with a tweak of his injured foot, his status was a bit of a question mark entering the season. He not only answered the bell every week but continued to do the dirty work underneath providing Tom Brady with his most reliable receiver.
Combined regular season and playoff totals of 119 catches for 1448 yards with four TDs are up there at the elite level of wide receivers. Not bad for a guy who wouldn’t make another team’s 53-man roster, eh Keyshawn?
Chris Hogan was a steal for the Patriots during free agency. The Patriots signed the restricted free agent away from Buffalo and he immediately fit in seamlessly into the offense. Although he was moved around both inside and outside there, he was mainly an outside the numbers guy for the Pats.
His numbers were a solid 38 catches for 680 yards (17.9-yard average), with 4 TDs in the regular season. He capped that off with 17 catches for 332 yards (19.5-yard average) and 2 TDs in the postseason. With a combined regular and postseason total of 1012 yards and an 18.4-yard average, Hogan is set up for even more success in 2017.
Danny Amendola missed the final 4 regular season games but was on hand for the playoff run and as always provides tough, reliable, and sure hands when the game reaches crunch time. Although he caught no more than 4 passes in any game during the regular season, his catches always seem to be of the biggest.
When the Patriots were down in the Super Bowl, Amendola stepped up with his biggest game of the season. He had eight catches for 78 yards and a touchdown. He also added the two-point conversion that tied the game.
Malcolm Mitchell had a very solid rookie season in 2016. After shining early in training camp he injured his elbow during the preseason and missed some valuable time. After starting slowly in the regular season, he got better down the stretch and became a trusted member of the offense. He logged 26 of his 32 catches in the second half of the season. In the Super Bowl, he added six catches for 70 yards and is in the great position to make a big 2nd-year jump in production.
Michael Floyd was picked up late in the season after being released by Arizona and played sparingly down the stretch but was a healthy scratch for the final two playoff games. He’s a free agent this season and has mentioned that he’d like to come back. He has the size (6’3, 225) and speed that the Pats would love to keep on the roster but we’ll see how that plays out.
Tight Ends: B
Martellus Bennett was a great addition both on and off the field this season. Despite being banged up for most of the season, the physical and tough Bennett answered the bell every week and provided good production in the passing game and outstanding blocking in both the running game and in pass protection.
He logged 55 catches for 701 yards and 7 TDs during 2016 and added 11 more catches in the postseason, including five for 62 yards in the Super Bowl.
Rob Gronkowski played in eight games but really was himself for less than four. His season was one of injuries piled on top of one another. The Patriots most prolific receiver, he was missed down the stretch and into the playoffs. However, his absence forced them to find other ways to win, and they did. In limited action in 2016, Gronk caught 25 passes for 540 yards (21.6 average) and three TDs.
Matt Lengel was plucked off the Cincinnati practice squad and played sparingly.
Offensive Line: B+
The Patriots offensive line welcomed back Dante Scarnecchia this season and what a difference it made. Of course, the health of the unit and getting Nate Solder and Marcus Cannon all season on the edge was huge.
Cannon was easily the biggest and best surprise of the season. No one expected him to perform anywhere near what he did this season. Solder, back from a torn biceps in 2015 was very solid at left tackle. The interior of the line with C David Andrews, and guards Shaq Mason and Joe Thuney was solid.
Having the unit together all season cut down on the number of sacks allowed and the running game was much more effective. Thuney needs to get a bit stronger and I expect with the offseason strength and conditioning program he will do just that.
Next up is the Defense:
Defensive Line: B
The Patriots defensive line was a position of strength in 2016. Alan Branch and Malcolm Brown were fantastic in run support all season. They provided the consistent solid front that stopped opponents at the point of attack and frequently penetrated which greatly aided in bringing the Patriots to the #3 rush defense in the NFL. Vincent Valentine was their relief and played well if sparingly in his rookie season.
Trey Flowers has become an impact player both on the edge and as an interior pass rusher in 2016. He was arguably the best Patriots defensive lineman down the stretch and into the playoffs. Lost in the shuffle of the SB comeback was his 2.5 sacks, which greatly increased the Pats chances of winning.
Trey Flowers was outstanding in the second half of the season and into the playoffs for the Pats defense. (SBalestrieri photo)
Chris Long did the little things all season long and was a great veteran presence along the defensive line. He did a little bit of everything and frequently dropped into the passing lanes which greatly helped the defense.
Jabaal Sheard and Rob Ninkovich didn’t execute up to what we projected for them in the preseason. Sheard was the Pats best pass rusher in 2015. But he found himself a healthy scratch at times this season. He had his moments and had a sneaky good performance in the Super Bowl that went under the radar. Ninkovich bounced between the edge and linebacker this season and never quite got untracked after missing the first four games.
Dont’a Hightower was the glue that held the unit together and was outstanding in both run support and as a blitzer when tasked to get after the QB. For a man of his size, he moves extremely well. His strip sack of Matt Ryan in the Super Bowl was the turning point. His play led to the team trading Jamie Collins to Cleveland. He’s going to get paid.
Elandon Roberts is an undersized if very physical down-hill style player that is at his best in run support. He proved to be a liability in coverage and that will be something the rookie will have to work on this off-season.
Kyle Van Noy was a nice pickup from the Lions and he did a little bit of everything at linebacker. He played the run fairly well and was generally good in coverage. He also provided some nice blitzes off the edge on passing downs.
Shea McClellin was signed from the Bears and the Patriots used him much like Van Noy and he provided good run support, some coverage and was occasionally effective coming on blitzes.
Barkevious Mingo, much to people’s surprise, played very little defense in 2016, contributing mainly on Special Teams. The uber-athletic freak has the speed to rush off the edge, something they may opt to use more of in the future.
The Patriots secondary had a pretty, solid season in 2016. Despite being looked upon as a weak spot, they are better than what they’ve been given credit for.
Malcolm Butler played solid all season long. He is the guy that should prove to be a mainstay at the left cornerback position for the conceivable future. He was usually matched up with the opponent’s best receiver. He’s a free agent and will get paid.
Logan Ryan had a strong second half of the season, where he just got better and better. Ryan was particularly strong in the postseason and he too is a free agent. The Patriots should try to re-sign him if the price is right.
Eric Rowe was picked up from Philadelphia and played well for most of 2016. The third corner in the Pats rotation, he’s also the biggest CB on the roster. Justin Coleman, Cyrus Jones, and Jonathan Jones didn’t see the field much on defense this season and are, right now strictly depth players.
Devin McCourty had another outstanding season at safety for the Patriots. He’s the QB for the secondary and provides excellent deep help as the centerfielder in the secondary.
Pat Chung was solid once again for NE as the in-the-box safety who plays close to the line of scrimmage. Chung was very good in run support and his work against the tight ends and backs on the short routes was solid.
Duron Harmon is the third safety in the rotation when they go to their big nickel alignment. He excels in the role and has a great nose for the football. Jordan Richards is strictly depth and Nate Ebner and Brandon King are ST mavens.
Next up are the Special Teams and Coaches
Special Teams: B-
Stephen Gostkowski had a season that for him was well off from what we’ve come to expect after a decade of near perfection. He missed three extra points in the regular season and then missed two more in the playoffs. His miss in the Super Bowl nearly cost the team as dearly as 2015. But unlike the 2015 AFC Championship Game, the Patriots made the two-point conversion that sent the game into overtime.
His 84 percent on FGs was down slightly as well. But his short, mortar-style kickoffs were extremely effective this season, especially so in the Super Bowl, where the Patriots pinned Atlanta back time and again.
Ryan Allen had his best season in 2016 punting for the Pats. The 4th year pro was outstanding at pinning opponents inside the 20-yard line and had a career-best net punting average of 41.4 yards per punt.
Cyrus Jones was supposed to elevate the Patriots return game this season. The rookie from Alabama had 4 return TDs in his last season with the Crimson Tide and is electric with the ball in his hands. Instead, much of his season was a nightmare. His issues at holding onto the ball began back in minicamp and went right thru the regular season. He fumbled five times on the season.
Edelman and Amendola were forced back into returning punts and kicks because of this and that wasn’t in the cards when the team selected Jones. Dion Lewis was electric on kickoffs with a TD and a fumble in the playoffs. The return game was a disappointment in 2016 and needs an upgrade.
Bill Belichick did another masterful performance leading the team to a 14-2 record, the best in the NFL and followed that up with three excellent game plans for the playoffs which resulted in the Patriots securing their fifth Super Bowl win in their seventh game with Belichick as the head coach.
This was despite not having Brady for the first four game of the season due to his suspension and being forced to use three QBs. The Patriots went 3-1 to start the season without Brady and never looked back.
And once again, as it happens every season, Belichick was snubbed as the NFL Coach of the Year. It is amazing that this has become the yearly rewarding of the coach du jour when Belichick is clearly far ahead of his peers. Far…far ahead. (Semi-Star Wars ref.)
Josh McDaniels had an outstanding season as the Patriots offensive coordinator. He was the coach most affected by Brady’s early absence but he was able to play to his player’s strengths, going to a power running attack early in the season with LeGarrette Blount and seamlessly transitioned over from Garoppolo to Brissett to Brady without missing a beat.
He utilized his personnel to the best of their abilities and was consistently keeping the opponents off-balance and in a reactive mode, rather than allowing them to dictate the pace and the tempo of games. In the postseason, the Patriots averaged 33.3 points per game and 451 yards of offense per game.
Matt Patricia and his defense struggled early in the season, something that was unexpected when the season began. The defense with the additions early in the season was thought to be a Top 10 unit, but they struggled.
Patricia tinkered with the personnel groupings, finally finding a unit that played well not only individually but collectively. He had them playing excellent team defense and the team fundamentally was extremely sound. The Patriots defense was one of the best tackling units in the league and ended up as the #1 scoring defense in the NFL.
Despite what many pundits will say about the defense, the one thing they did all season was adjusting very effectively during the game. It was evident in the Super Bowl, where the defense stiffened in the second half and overall held the high-scoring Atlanta offense to 21 points. Patricia gets high marks as the defense performed greater than the sum of their parts.
Special Team’s coach Joe Judge had an up and down year. There were some struggles especially with ball security in the return game, and with the kicking game but his coverage units were very solid all season long. The Patriots have a number of standout players on the STs that totally buy into his approach including Matthew Slater, Mingo, Geneo Grissom, Ebner, and King.
Overall Judge gets solid marks for the season, despite the struggles at times. Expect the team to look to increase their level of play next season.
Follow me on Twitter @SteveB7SFG or email me at [email protected]
Listen to our Patriots 4th and 2 podcasts on blog talk radio as the writers Russ Goldman, Derek Havens and I from PatsFans.com discuss the latest Patriots news Wednesdays at 12 noon.