For a record-breaking 17 years in a row, the New England Patriots have secured a 10-win regular season by beating the visiting Dallas Cowboys on Sunday. The game was dominated by defense, in part because of the inclement weather in which it was played, and ultimately ended with the Patriots prevailing 13-9. With that being said, let’s take a look at some of the players who stood out on Sunday — without the benefit of a film review, of course.
Winner: CB Stephon Gilmore
Despite primarily going up against one of the NFL’s top wide receivers, Stephon Gilmore showed why he has a strong case as the league’s best cornerback — and maybe even best defender as a whole. The 29-year-old erased Amari Cooper from the game, holding him without a catch for the first time since he joined the Cowboys last season. On top of it all, Gilmore also registered an interception that set up a field goal. He was outstanding.
Winner: OT Isaiah Wynn
After missing the previous eight games because of a toe injury, Isaiah Wynn was back in the starting left tackle spot on Sunday and looked like a definitive upgrade over stand-in Marshall Newhouse. While he started the game comparatively slowly, he settled down after a few series and got into a nice rhythm against Cowboys sack leader Robert Quinn. While it was not perfect, the offensive line looked much improved with Wynn in the lineup.
Loser: DE Deatrich Wise Jr.
Deatrich Wise Jr. suffers from the same problem that ultimately led to the Patriots’ decision to move on from Michael Bennett: his role as a 4-3 defensive end is no longer a true part of the defense, which has led to him becoming more of a role player in his third year with the team. On Sunday, he failed to take advantage of his limited opportunities as he was called for roughing the passer on what would eventually turn into a field goal drive for the Cowboys. Wise needs to be smarter than that.
Winner: RB Sony Michel
For most of the season, Sony Michel has been a relative no-factor. Against Dallas and with Isaiah Wynn back in the lineup in front of him, however, the second-year back delivered arguably his best game of the season. He was handed the football 20 times, and finished the game with 85 combined yards and a solid average of 4.3-per-carry. While there is still obvious room for improvement, Michel was trending in the right direction against a challenging defense.
Winner: WR Matthew Slater
Matthew Slater is currently leading the Pro Bowl vote for special teamers, and on Sunday he once again showed why. The veteran blocked a Cowboys punt attempt in the first quarter when he burst around the edge to get his fingertips onto the football — a play that set up the game’s only touchdown two plays later. As usual, he was among the first men down the field on kicking attempts which played a big role in New England winning the field position battle on a difficult day to move the ball.
Winner: CB Jonathan Jones
While Stephon Gilmore will get most of the headlines for his outstanding outing against Amari Cooper, Jonathan Jones’ performance was equally impressive. Playing in the slot and mostly shadowing Randall Cobb, the former undrafted free agent made two big plays to end two Cowboys possessions: he broke up a third down pass on Dallas’ first drive of the day, and in the third quarter came back to make an impressive open-field tackle to force another punt.
Loser: RB James White
James White is one of the better receiving backs in football, but he failed to get going against a Cowboys team that was inconsistent entering the game covering with its linebackers. He was targeted three times, but had only one catch on a screen pass that was quickly blown up for a 6-yard loss. The 27-year-old also did not fare much better as a ball carrier and ran the football only twice for a combined gain of just five yards. White was essentially a non-factor.
Loser: OG Shaq Mason
The Patriots got some strong play from their offensive line at times, but there is still considerable room for improvement. Take right guard Shaq Mason, who was arguably the team’s best blocker last season but had an inconsistent day versus Dallas’ talented defensive front and finished the day with three negative plays: Mason was flagged twice on first down to put the team behind the sticks, and also surrendered a 6-yard sack in the third quarter.
Winner: The linebackers (Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy, Jamie Collins Sr.)
New England fields one of the best linebacker groups in the NFL, and the Cowboys found that out on Sunday. The unit’s top three options — Dont’a Hightower, Kyle Van Noy and Jamie Collins — were their usual active selves all day long and quick to the football in both the running and the passing game. The three played an enormous role in holding the NFL’s top scoring offense without a touchdown, even though the stat sheet only partially reflects it.
Loser: P Jake Bailey
The AFC’s reigning Special Teams Player of the Week will likely not defend his title this week. While Jake Bailey did have some good moments and found himself in a tough spot given the conditions, he also failed to consistently hit the football well and adapt to the surroundings. On the day, the rookie punted the football six times for a 43.8-yard gross average but a net of only 33.8 — by far the biggest difference of his season and reflective of how he struggled to place the football well and kicked three touchbacks.
Winner: WR: Julian Edelman
With Mohamed Sanu and Phillip Dorsett both inactive, the Patriots had to rely on two rookies — N’Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers — and veteran Julian Edelman to carry the load at wide receiver. While the youngsters were promising but inconsistent, Edelman was his usual productive self and finished the day as the team-leader in targets (12), receptions (8) and yards (93). Even though he was the only proven wideout in New England’s lineup, Dallas failed to slow him down.