Here are your winners and losers from the Patriots 27-16 victory over the Steelers.
Winner: RB LeGarrette Blount
Blount racked up 127 yards on 24 carries (5.3 YPA) and 2 touchdowns, in addition to an extra 7 receiving yards. He was the workhorse all day and he was the engine to the Patriots offense. Need to kickstart a drive? Give it to Blount. Need some yardage by the goal line? Give it to Blount.
7 of his carries went for 1 or fewer yards, including two as the Patriots were just running down the clock in the 4th quarter. 8 of his carries went for 7+ yards. That’s a good day for the running back.
Blount is tied for the league-lead with 8 rushing touchdowns on the year, which is also a career high. There are 9 more games to go. Blount has 566 rushing yards and is on pace for 1,356 total yards this year. He’s exceeding his contract in a major way.
Loser: RB Brandon Bolden
Bolden had three snaps on offense and he dropped an easy 3rd down conversion pass on one of those plays. This isn’t the first time the Patriots have tried to manufacture touches for Bolden. He played 3 snaps against the Cardinals and had 1 carry and 1 fumbled exchange. He saw 3 targets in the passing game for 15 yards and one major dropped touchdown on just 5 snaps against the Bills.
I feel like the risk/reward just isn’t there with Bolden. Why not give the passing downs to White?
Winner: TE Rob Gronkowski
Gronkowski picked up 93 yards and a touchdown on 4 receptions, while throwing some excellent blocks for Blount in the running game. That touchdown was #68 in Gronkowski’s career, tied for the Patriots franchise record. Gronk, your thoughts?
“One more and I got 69 touchdowns,” Gronkowski grinned. “You know what I mean. Only you know what I mean, baby!”
Gronkowski now has 375 receiving yards on the year and he just passed teammate Martellus Bennett with 367.
Winner: WR Julian Edelman
Edelman might not have been dominant- 60 yards is the 12th-least amount of production from any wide receiver with 9+ receptions dating back to 2000- but at least he was involved. Edelman combined for 65 yards on 9 receptions and 17 targets over the first two weeks of QB Tom Brady’s return. Catching 9 of 10 for 60 is a good way to get back into the groove on offense.
Loser: DC Matt Patricia (?)
I’m not convinced that Patricia should be here, but that was a bizarrely uninspired game. There was no pass rush, although that appeared to be on purpose as the Patriots regularly dropped eight into coverage in the hopes that Steelers QB Landry Jones would make a bad pass.
The Patriots struggled to defend the deep in cuts that Bengals WR A.J. Green showed could pick apart the Patriots secondary. They didn’t match-up well (at all?) against RB Le’Veon Bell as a receiver out of the backfield. The coaching staff decided to match the lanky CB Eric Rowe against the speedy WR Darrius Heyward-Bey.
There were some questionable decisions on the day and I’m not entirely sure that the Patriots defensive strategy was anything more than suggesting “Landry Jones can’t put together 10+ play scoring drives” and then sitting back to watch if that were true.
Winners: DT Alan Branch and DT Malcom Brown
Branch finished the day with 3 tackles (1 for loss) and a forced fumble. Brown picked up 5 solo tackles. Neither of those statlines are particularly powerful, but the duo was asked to stop the best running back in the NFL, Steelers RB Le’Veon Bell, without any back-up.
Sure, Anthony Johnson technically counts as a defensive tackle, but Branch and Brown had to shoulder the load with Vincent Valentine and Woodrow Hamilton sidelined.
Winner: CB Malcolm Butler
Butler didn’t shut down Brown, but he was extremely competitive with an interception in the end zone and two additional pass break-ups. This reminded me of his performance against Giants WR Odell Beckham Jr. last year, where Beckham made one giant play early on, but Butler set the tone for the rest of the game.
Outside of Brown’s 51-yard game, he was kept in check for most of the afternoon.
Winner: S Patrick Chung
Chung left the game temporarily with an injury. When he came back, he was a different player. He led the team with 10 tackles and chipped in 2 passes defended. He had a great wrap up tackle on 3rd down on Steelers opening drive to force a three-and-out and, outside of a missed tackle, he looked like the Chung of the past few years.
Losers: CB Cyrus Jones and S Jordan Richards
The Patriots past two 2nd round picks were both healthy scratches. Eric Rowe received the start over Logan Ryan, while Justin Coleman saw the field, too. This trio didn’t separate themselves- Rowe actually struggled against Steelers WR Darrius Heyward-Bey before redeeming himself with a dominant performance in coverage of the Steelers tight ends- but it’s not a good sign for Jones that he can’t crack the rotation.
As for Richards, his big value added to the team was that he could fill in if Chung was ever hurt. When Chung missed time, Richards wasn’t active and able to capitalize.
Loser: K Stephen Gostkowski
Gostkowski made three extra points on the day, but it was that miss that will deservedly catch the attention of the masses. He now has 5 missed kicks in the 2016 regular season, which is tied for the 3rd most in his career (6 missed kicks in 2012; 7 missed kicks in his 2006 rookie year). He missed 5 kicks in the 2014 and 2015 regular seasons combined. It’s time to worry, although his job won’t be in jeopardy.