By Jack Belanger ’21
With the conclusion of Week 9, the NFL season is officially past the halfway point, and the Patriots are once again in first place in the AFC East at 6-2, though the team has not consistently performed to the expectations coming into the season. Here is a review of the season so far.
The first four games for the defense were rough. The Patriots gave up more than 33 or more points in each of their first four games. Cornerback Stephon Gilmore was the big name signing for the defense this off season and it was expected he would be a lock-down defender along with cornerback Malcolm Butler. So far, however, Gilmore has suffered miscommunications that have led to giving up multiple big plays.
Injuries have also been a big issue for the defense. Gilmore has missed a couple games with a concussion and an ankle injury. Linebacker Shea McClellin was initially on the injured reserve with an undisclosed injury, and now top linebacker Dont’a Hightower is out for the year with a torn pectoral muscle.
Through all the injuries and underperformances, defensive end Trey Flowers has been the MVP for this unit as he is tied for the team lead in sacks with 3.5 and leads the team with tackles for a loss with four. With Hightower out, he and LB Kyle Van Noy are the anchors for the front-seven.
While the defense has improved in the last two games by only giving up a combined 20 points, overall this season the Patriots have given up the most yards per game with 417. The defense seems to be improving, and a favorable upcoming schedule with two of the next three games against weak offenses in Denver and Miami should help this unit make some strides.
While it seems obvious, Tom Brady has been the reason this team is in first place in the division. While he looked mortal in the season opener (267 passing yards, 0 touchdowns), Brady has put his team in a position to win in every other game so far this year. He currently leads the NFL in passing yards with 2,541 and has 16 touchdown passes to only two interceptions.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski, has been healthy this season and has been Brady’s favorite target, leading the team in touchdown catches with five and second on the team in receptions with 34. New pickup Brandin Cooks has given Brady the deep target he has been missing leading the team in receiving yards with 563.
The one cause for concern for the offense is Brady’s protection. Brady has been sacked 21 times already (compared to 15 all of last year) and while Brady has been healthy so far, his 40-year-old body can take only so much punishment by the time the playoffs roll around.