Before the game, I wrote a bit about the Patriots' youth movement, particularly on defense. While the comments degenerated (elevated?) into a discussion on the lingo of cricket, the general consensus seemed to be that the Pats were considerably less experienced than the Jets. This lack of experience, some thought, would be our downfall.
Needless to say, this was not the case. The newest class of Patriots performed very well on both sides of the ball. Follow me over the jump for a look at how our rookies made out:
Zoltan Mesko, P. We didn't see to much of the Space Emperor (of Space!) last night. This is always a good thing -- but he made the most of his chances, striking 3 punts a total of 140 yards. This included a monster 52 yarder relatively early in the action, when momentum created by field position was still up for grabs.
Brandon Tate, WR/KR. Technically Tate's a sophomore, but we'll call him a redshirt freshman. Tate returned two Jets kickoffs an average of 21 yards against decent coverage. Not a bad trick on a windy night. His highlight was a four-yard touchdown reception requiring an acrobatic snag of a bullet from Brady. It got the microscope treatment from the network, but he managed to land on the field of play. It was his only target, making him 1-1 on the day. That's good hustle, kid!
Rob Gronkowski, TE. Gronk continues to be a factor. He was frequently called upon as a blocker in both run sets and in max-protect situations and performed well. In the passing game he was targeted twice with outstanding results. His 12-yard reception was a textbook "box-out" of a humorously smaller safety, using his body well to shield the defender from the ball and to present Brady with a big target. On the other play, he outran a safety to the endzone and drew a flagrant PI call, resulting in a 36 yard walk-off and a 1st-and-goal from Jets' one yard line. BJGE sealed that deal.
Aaron Hernandez, TE. After an explosive early season, Herndo caught only 1 ball in the last three games. Apparently, however, ol' Aaron likes to play the Jets. Both TE's were critical players on Monday, helping to fill a very full pattern for the Patriots and providing Brady with an embarrassment of riches. Hernandez was targeted 5 times, catching 3. His catches were highlighted by a brilliant 35-yard catch and run and a sweet touchdown from short range. On the long-distance play, Herndo snatched one out of the air, shook his defender and dashed across the middle of the field to gain an extra 15 yards. To be honest I'm not entirely thrilled by that instinct, as the ball seems ripe for the picking when he does that, but there's no denying his shear athleticism. Look for him to continue to improve. Kid's fast.
Patrick Chung, S. We figured Patrick would be an important feature if the Patriots wanted to win on Monday, but he didn't really crack the stat sheet. He's listed with two solo tackles and his name was rarely called. One was a mop-up of Greene after an 11 yard gain; the other a take-down of Keller on 3-and-3 after a catch for six yards and a first down.
Brandon Deaderick, DE. No tackles for Deaderick, but that doesn't mean he didn't do his job. He got close to Sanchez a couple of times but also tended to disappear when the Jets ran the ball -- which they did quite successfully, to the tune of 152 ground yards. We subbed at the line like crazy last night, and Mayo had the boys moving in and out of fronts constantly. It seemed to confuse Sanchez a bit, and it would appear that Deaderick played a solid role.
Jermaine Cunningham, OLB. He continues to make strides, but needs to finish the deal when he gets to the quarterback. Credited for 5 solo tackles and one hit on Sanchez. In an echo of the Steelers game, Cunningham got to or near Sanchez at least three separate occasions but failed to bring him down for a sack on any of them. C'mon man! You're so close. JC did a solid job setting the edge against the run most of the time, but was sealed inside on at least two occasions. Room for improvement, but a solid outing for a rook.
Brandon Spikes, ILB. Good game from Spikes. He was stoned by Richardson on a blitz at one point (it seemed almost half-hearted), but was better in coverage than he's been all year. He was credited with 7 tackles; 4 on his own. And he got one of the night's highlights by drifting into a throwing lane and snagging an ill-advised pass from Sanchez, stoning a Jets drive inside our redzone.
Devin McCourty, CB. McCourty is becoming one of the best corners in the NFL and one of the leaders on this defense. The "Old Soul" of the freshman class, he is reputed to prepare long hours, work hard, keep his head down and burn for greatness. It shows. He snagged an interception on Sanchez's only long attempt of the night -- and only one of the few times Mark looked in his direction. He more than did his part to tie up Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards. He's good. He's going to be stellar.
These players are the foundation of a strong future. Be cautious in using last night as a barometer for the team, though, particularly our defense. Sanchez is not especially accurate as a passer and he was really hurt by some glaring drops (Edwards' drop on Arrington's tackle is a prime example). Overall, however, this is an outrageous amount of production from first-year players. Looks like a great -- not good -- crop of talent.