The Pats Pulpit staff has compiled their midseason awards for the New England Patriots to figure out the most notable players, coaches, and plays over the first half of the season.
I only voted if we needed a tiebreaker. Feel free to give your own votes in the comments section!
First Half MVP: RB LeGarrette Blount
Alec: RB LeGarrette Blount
Michael: LT Nate Solder, his return from injury has helped stabilize an offensive line that was shaky in 2015.
Oliver: QB Tom Brady
SlotMachinePlayer: RB LeGarrette Blount - He's the workhorse that drove the offense with all three QB's.
Bernd: QB Tom Brady. If Bill Belichick is an architect, Tom Brady is a builder who guarantees that the building will look the way it should. The first half of the 2016 season is another testament for that: While New England went 3-1 without Brady, the offense is so much more productive, versatile and layered with #12 under center. He carries the unit just like he carries the entire team, and as such is its most valuable player.
Matthew: RB LeGarrette Blount. Just when you think you know the answers, LeGarrette Blount changes the questions. Running backs aren't supposed to be on pace to smash their own career records at 29 years old, but here we are - Blount already has 609 rushing yards and 9 scores on the season, which puts him well on his way to breaking his career high of 1007 yards - and, by the way, that was from his rookie season. Life is just better when you have a running back that's a legitimate threat to truck some of the linebackers trying to take him down.
SigUp: QB Tom Brady
Rich: Blount or Brady? I give MVP to the player that contributed in every game. Blount gets the edge because he was crucial to the team going 3-1 over the first quarter of the season.
Offensive Player of the First Half: QB Tom Brady
Alec: RB LeGarrette Blount
Michael: QB Tom Brady, I need not explain why.
Oliver: RB LeGarrette Blount
SlotMachinePlayer: TE Martellus Bennet - Came up big when Gronk was out, and hauled in 3 TD's in one game with Gronk on the field.
Bernd: QB Tom Brady. Brady just plays too well right now and is too much in command of the offense to not be voted as the offensive player of the first eight weeks. His individual statistics speak for themselves as does the fact that New England's points per game improved from 20.3 to 34.0 once Brady returned.
Matthew: QB Tom Brady. It's really a shame how Tom Brady can't put up rockstar numbers with properly inflated footballs, because man, was he good when the Patriots were cheating to win. (adjusts glasses) Wait a minute, he's leading the NFL in QBR, completion percentage, and yards per attempt - and STILL hasn't thrown a single pick? No wonder Rex Ryan said yesterday that the AFC East is pretty much already locked up
SigUp: RB LeGarrette Blount
Rich: Blount or Brady, again? I go with Brady here because while Blount has been more valuable over the first half of the season, no player has been better on offense than Tom Brady.
Defensive Player of the First Half: LB Dont’a Hightower
Alec: S Patrick Chung
Michael: LB Jamie Collins, he's having that big contract year season. (Editor’s note: TOO LATE NO BACKSIES)
Oliver: CB Malcolm Butler
SlotMachinePlayer: LB Dont'a Hightower - two safeties in back to back weeks. He's a beast.
Bernd: CB Malcolm Butler. His Super Bowl interception was no fluke; neither was his Pro Bowl selection after his first season as a starter. Malcolm Butler has become one of the NFL's top cornerbacks and proves it again in 2016. The coaching staff has regularly asked him to cover tough assignments – most of the time one-on-one – and Butler has answered every time.
Matthew: LB Dont'a Hightower. The Ringer recently had an excellent feature on just how much of a BAMF Boomtower has been this season, but here's the TL;DR version - a guy the same size as some defensive ends has no business being as all-around excellent as Hightower is in every part of the game. Coverage. Run-stuffing. Blitzing. Spying the quarterback. Creating turnovers. Did I mention blitzing already? With Jamie Collins now out of the picture, you can bet that Hightower will be a very, very rich young man before the end of the season.
SigUp: LB Dont’a Hightower
Rookie of the First Half: OG Joe Thuney
Alec: OG Joe Thuney
Michael: OG Joe Thuney, there isn't any competition for the title since he's the only one of the group starting.
Oliver: OG Joe Thuney
SlotMachinePlayer: OG Joe Thuney - starter and stalwart and a long way from his ceiling.
Bernd: OG Joe Thuney. The Patriots' interior offensive line is still a work in progress but that has little to do with the 78th overall pick's performance. He has been a consistent player, who has looked strong in both run and pass blocking and has the athleticism to pull or get to the second level. In short: Thuney has been New England's best rookie – and might even be in consideration for the offensive line's MVP trophy.
Matthew: OG Joe Thuney. Raise your hands, who thought the N.C. State lineman would have a bigger impact on the 2016 Patriots than cornerback Cyrus Jones, one of the better cornerback prospects in the draft and an alumni of football powerhouse Alabama? If anything, this season looked like we'd have a logjam at the interior offensive line, but Thuney grabbed the job early and proved that if you can play, Belichick will play you - regardless of what the name on the back of your jersey is.
SigUp: OG Joe Thuney
Most Improved Player of the First Half: OT Marcus Cannon
Alec: DT Malcom Brown
Michael: OT Marcus Cannon. After a crappy season marred by a turf toe injury, he's been more than acceptable this year.
Oliver: OT Marcus Cannon
SlotMachinePlayer: OT Marcus Cannon - went from four letter word to suitable starter in Vollmer's absence.
Bernd: DT Malcom Brown. While he does not have the flashy plays of Malcolm Butler or Dont'a Hightower, Brown has become a key member of the Patriots' defense by becoming the anchor of the defensive line. He has been able to do that by taking the famed second-year jump. He has reduced his mental and technique breakdowns to a minimum while simultaneously becoming stronger at the point of attack. Improvements all across the board.
Matthew: OT Marcus Cannon. Going into this season, the idea of Marcus Cannon as a starting tackle was scarier than any of the horror flicks in AMC's FearFest of Halloween movies, and all Cannon's done is blow any type of worries about him starting out of the water. Is he elite? No. Is he as good as Sebastian Vollmer was before Vollmer started to suffer more injuries? Probably not. Is some of his success due to the Patriots trimming down their offensive playbook for the first few games of the year? Maybe. For a guy that could have been a serious liability, he's been pretty decent - and that's more than anyone thought he'd ever do.
SigUp: OT Marcus Cannon
Best Game of the First Half: Week 1 vs Cardinals
Alec: Jimmy Garoppolo surprises everyone with a huge primetime road win over the Cardinals
Michael: Patriots whipping the Browns in Brady's return
Oliver: 23-21 win over Arizona Cardinals in Week 1
SlotMachinePlayer: I'd say the most complete game was the Texans game. All three phases clicked for 4 quarters.
Bernd: Week 1, Patriots at Cardinals. It might not have been the most complete game or the "best" by statistical or aesthetic measures but it set the tone for the season. Beating last year's NFC finalist on the road without your two best offensive players sure showed the world and the team that it is capable of winning even in the face of adversity.
Matthew: Patriots vs. Texans. This game just may be one of Bill Belichick's finest accomplishments - skunking the best team in the AFC South (don't laugh) with a third-string rookie quarterback. What DIDN'T the Patriots defense do in this game? They didn't allow a single point, barely allowed Houston to cross mid-field, erased DeAndre Hopkins and rookie speed demon Will Fuller, and created three turnovers. They made life miserable for Brock Osweiler, holding the $70 million quarterback to a pathetic 4.1 yards per attempt. Oh, and that was all on a short week - after their demolition of the Miami Dolphins, the Pats had 4 days to get ready for the Texans. Not too shabby.
SigUp: Week 1 at Arizona Cardinals
Best Play of the First Half: LB Dont’a Hightower’s safety against the Bengals
Alec: RB LeGarrette Blount hurdles over CB Byron Maxwell for a 26 yard gain vs. the Miami Dolphins
Michael: TE Rob Gronkowski’s 36-yard TD vs. Steelers, example of great routes beating a zone defense.
Oliver: LB Elandon Roberts bulldozing Cleveland Browns’ Joe Thomas
SlotMachinePlayer: The first score of the season- Jimmy Garoppolo's 37 yard TD to Chris Hogan that let me know the first month might not suck.
Bernd: Brady's first completion of the year. After four games out, Tom Brady returned to the field in week 5 and was greeted by cheers despite playing on the road. A quick two-step drop and a short pass to Julian Edelman for a 10-yard gain later, it was back to normal – as if Brady had never been forced to leave.
Matthew: TE Martellus Bennett's first touchdown against the Browns. For a guy second only to Gronk in yards after the catch since 2015, Marty had only logged one touchdown prior to Week 5's game against the Cleveland Browns, which had some people wondering if he was going to be mostly stuck on blocking duty instead of catching passes. On a red-zone play with two minutes left in the first quarter, Brady swung it out to Bennett in the flat - and then Marty literally jogged into the end zone untouched and offered his, um, interesting take on the Gronk spike. Oh well, practice makes perfect - and that was one of his THREE scores on the day.
SigUp: Dont'a Hightower's sack and safety of Andy Dalton against the Cincinnati Bengals
Rich: I’m siding with SigUp. While all the other plays were great, Hightower’s safety was game-changing and shifted the winds in the Patriots favor.
Assistant Coach of the First Half: OL Coach Dante Scarnecchia
Alec: OL Coach Dante Scarnecchia
Michael: OL Coach Dante Scarnecchia probably gets this, but I think Patriots OL improvements are more attributed to better health and talent.
Oliver: OC Josh McDaniels
SlotMachinePlayer: OC Josh McDaniels - The work he did with Jimmy and Jacoby was impressive.
Bernd: QB coach Jerry Schuplinski. Quarterback is the most important position on a football team and losing your starter for a quarter of the season is a blow hard to overcome. Luckily, the Patriots' coaching staff did a tremendous job of preparing both Jimmy Garoppolo and Jacoby Brissett. A lot of credit belongs to Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels for game planning but Jerry Schuplinski might have been the most instrumental as his sole responsibility is working with the quarterbacks. Schuplsinki was able to get his guys ready.
Matthew: OL Coach Dante Scarnecchia. Dante just can't come in and fix everything that's wrong with the Patriots offensive line, can he? Maybe not, but he sure can make them a hell of a lot better than last year, where the Patriots could have been staring at back-to-back Super Bowls if Denver hadn't absolutely teed off on Tom Brady play after play. With a rookie at left guard (Joe Thuney), a second-year undrafted free agent at center (David Andrews) that beat out starter Brian Stork, and Marcus Cannon suddenly playing like a pro tackle should, Scar may have fixed the Patriots' biggest problem from last year in just a few months. Or, in other words, "Happy learned how to putt...someone's in trouble!"
SigUp: OL Coach Dante Scarnecchia