1. Strengthen the Middle – I thought the Patriots definitely improved their performance in the middle of the field for most of the game. The safeties played well, until the final drive. The linebackers played well, until the final drive. Injuries derailed all of the hard work the defense put together in preparation for the game. Brandon Spikes and Jerod Mayo played well, but an injury to Spikes led to more play time for Gary Guyton, which weakened the defensive power. In the end, an additional injury to Guyton forced special teamer Tracy White to take the field for the final drive, and he was abused in coverage by Eli Manning, leading to almost half of tight end Jake Ballard's receiver yards, and the final touchdown of the game.
Safety Josh Barrett fell to the ground and caused the Patriots to take an injury timeout to stop the clock and allow the Giants to regroup. An injury to Pat Chung forced Sergio Brown to take the field who promptly forced a pass interference call, moving the ball 20 yards to the Patriots goal line.
For 59 minutes, the defensive middle played stellar football. Depth was an issue at the end of the day. Still, I'll call this a win for the Patriots because they played exceptionally well.
2. Slot Machine – The Patriots tried to open up the field by throwing the ball deep to Chad Ochocinco and Rob Gronkowski and, even though Ocho and Tom Brady didn't connect, the offense seemed a lot more willing to take the chance down field. Still, the Giants didn't really respect the deep ball and played single deep safety and focused on eliminating the short pass. As a result, the Patriots adjusted and sent the typically short/mid-range receiver Wes Welker down the field on a handful of occasions and saw some great pick-ups. Still, Deion Branch was nowhere to be seen and Aaron Hernandez was underutilized.
However, the Patriots did manage to find ways to get Welker involved in the offense and, when they did, they were better able to move the ball down the field. The offense needs to start connecting on the deep ball and a player other than Rob Gronkowski needs to emerge as a consistent threat. Half a win for the Patriots.
3. Being Brady – Brady was still horribly ineffective. He made some terrible throws and was painful to watch during the first three quarters. A lucky muffed punt led to the Patriots field goal in the third quarter, but beyond that, Brady could get nothing going on offense. Poor defensive reads and poor ball management. He was inaccurate by throwing balls all outside his receivers strike zone and just was off-target more than should be allowed. Something has to be up because his early-game struggles are a serious issue. However, Brady became Brady in the 4th quarter to almost salvage the game. Still, 4th quarter heroics typically stem from three quarters of ineptitude. He can't afford any more poor start. A loss for the Patriots.
4. O-no – The offense had another "average" game. They didn't do anything poorly, but they didn't open up the field and stonewall the pass rush to allow plays to develop. They did their job and nothing more. Center Dan Connolly had a poor game and was pulled for Ryan Wendell on a couple drives and helped push home the need for a new center for the future. So while I guess the offensive line wasn't terrible, they didn't go above and beyond their recent performances; and because of that, this is a loss for the Patriots.
5. Defensive Front – The defensive front was fantastic for the majority of the game. Vince Wilfork was a force and Ron Brace came back and played well in his first game. The pass rush was great with Andre Carter, Mark Anderson, and Rob Ninkovich being disruptive in the backfield. When Brandon Spikes was on the field, Brandon Jacobs' longest run was 6 yards, which is very good. There are some questions as to why the Patriots didn't have Wilfork on the field for Jacobs 10 yard touchdown run, but that's on the coaching staff. The coverage in the secondary definitely benefit from the great pass rush and, hopefully, that type of play will continue. It definitely felt as if the defense took a step forward, until the final drive brought everything crashing down. Still, a win for the Patriots.
The Patriots tie this game 2.5/5. That's a pretty fair score as the defense played exceptional football until the final drive, and the offense was miserable apart from their scoring drives (and one greatly benefit from Wes Welker being a superhero). The offense has been letting this team down the entire 2nd quarter of the season and it has to find its stride before the season's final stretch.
However, don't worry- this is the exact same issue as last season. A fantastic first quarter of offense, followed by a lackluster second quarter, as the defense developed. The Patriots scored 23, 23, 28, and 14 before tearing off on 30+ point games until the playoffs. 30, 20, 17, and 20. The Patriots posted 88 points in the 2nd quarter of the 2010 season. They've scored 87 points in the 2nd quarter of the 2011 season. Don't panic just yet.