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Pats Pulpit Midseason Awards: Patriots MVP, rookie of the half-year, biggest surprise, and more

With the bye week in the books, it’s time to hand out some awards.

Buffalo Bills v New England Patriots Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The New England Patriots players and coaches returned to the facility on Monday following the bye week. Before the page is officially flipped to the second-half of the season, it’s first time to deliver some mid-season awards.

While things certainly haven't gone to plan for the 2-8 Patriots, there still have been players worth highlighting. So, here are our Pats Pulpit Midseason Awards.

Make sure to head down to the comments to share your own winners, or any other thoughts you have on the topic.

Patriots MVP so far

Bernd Buchmasser: Jabrill Peppers. The former first-round draft pick, who originally arrived in New England as a free agent last spring, has developed into a key member of the Patriots defense and its efforts to replace long-time safety Devin McCourty. Peppers has proven himself a playmaker, and a tone-setter on and off the field. The two-year, $9 million contract he signed in March is increasingly looking like a bargain.

Brian Hines: Christian Barmore. The third-year defensive tackle has been one of the best lineman in football of late. Back healthy, Barmore has once again flashed his pass rushing skillset while also taking a major step forward in the run game. He should be a prime extension candidate this offseason.

Oliver Thomas: Mike Onwenu. The starting combinations have changed by the week. But after offseason ankle surgery resulted in a stint on the physically unable to perform list, Onwenu now leads an embattled offensive line in snaps played once again. What would it look like without the former No. 182 overall pick out of Michigan? A stabilizer from right guard to right tackle, the Patriots would be fortunate not to find out.

Alec Shane: Bryce Baringer. Yep, this is the kind of season we’re having. The punter is our best chance of scoring points, as Barringer consistently booms them deep to force offenses to attack a long field. Maybe the D gets a turnover and the O goes three and out in field goal range.

Matthew Rewinski: Michael Onwenu. I’m not even kidding. Without Mike, the right side of the offensive line is the big blinking red spot on a Super Nintendo game boss screaming “SHOOT ME HERE”. When Onwenu’s in there, he’s only allowed one sack all year long, while toggling between guard and tackle, and he’s also clearly helped rookie Sidy Sow settle in and play smarter ball the last few weeks. That’s where we’re at. A guard/tackle may be the most vital player on this team right now.

Patriots Offensive Player of the Half-Year

Bernd Buchmasser: Kendrick Bourne. Yes, he was lost to a season-ending ACL tear in Week 8. That said, on the whole, Bourne was still the Patriots’ best and most reliable offensive skill position player over the first half of the season. He still leads the team in receptions, yards and touchdowns.

Brian Hines: Pop Douglas. Where would New England’s offense be without Pop? The sixth-round rookie is the only receiver on the roster who can consistently get open and create after the catch now that Bourne is sidelined. While there are still some route running issues at times, Douglas has been the lone bright spot in an all-around disappointing receiver room.

Oliver Thomas: Kendrick Bourne. Two games have passed since Bourne played his final down of the year. On injured reserve due to a torn ACL, the dynamic wide receiver remains atop New England’s totals with 55 targets, 37 receptions, 406 receiving yards and four receiving touchdowns. He was on track to eclipse career bests across the board after an underutilized 2022.

Alec Shane: Pharaoh Brown. I only say because I figured all of my other colleagues would pick Pop Douglas, and I want to add a little variety here. But the bottom line is that every time Brown gets the ball, magic happens.

Matthew Rewinski: Kendrick Bourne. Keep in mind the defenses that the Patriots played the first 8 weeks of the season, and how pass protection has been on a milk carton all year. KB was still on pace for 864 yards, 9 touchdowns, and had the 3rd-most Yards Per Target on the team, behind only rookie sparkplug Demario Douglas and.....Pharoah Brown. He’s arguably been the only pass-catcher on the team that can be trusted to not look back after a failed 3rd and 13 like “......what?”

Patriots Defensive Player of the Half-Year

Bernd Buchmasser: Jahlani Tavai. Obviously, half-year MVP Jabrill Peppers is deserving of this honor as well. For the sake of diversity, however, let’s give the nod to Jahlani Tavai here. Now in his third year as a Patriot, Tavai is playing the best football of his career. He is one of only two players on the team to have registered at least one interception, forced fumble and sack (the other being Myles Bryant), has played well both on and off the line, and is a reliable running mate next to fellow starting linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley.

Brian Hines: Jabrill Peppers. With Barmore taking my MVP honors, we’ll pivot to Peppers here. The hard hitting safety has looked at home in his second-year in New England’s defense. Peppers has been one of the top run defenders in football and has been directly involved with a handful of turnovers.

Oliver Thomas: Kyle Dugger. A toss-up with signal-calling captain Ja’Whaun Bentley, the Lenoir-Rhyne product in the final year of his rookie contract has played a Patriots-high 96.6 percent of the defensive snaps. While starting all 10 games and logging his second career sack, Dugger leads the unit in interceptions, solo tackles and is tied for the lead in tackles for loss.

Alec Shane: Jabrill Peppers. Peppers is having arguably his best season as a Patriot. Hard hitting, tackle making, turnover generating badassery. One of the poke legitimate bright spots on this team.

Matthew Rewinski: It’s a coin flip for me between Christian Barmore, who is probably the objectively correct choice, and Jabrill Peppers, who plays so violent it’s a miracle the NFL hasn’t banned him already. Our pal Evan Lazar noted that in the last 5 games, Barmore’s delivered 15 QB pressures and 15 run stuffs, which rank 9th and 1st in the league, respectively (among interior defensive linemen). Peppers, meanwhile, not only plays the run like Spider-man chasing down a thief with a stolen purse, but may be the purest Football Guy on the team - the guy who can line up anywhere from linebacker to deep safety and still make offensive players think twice before coming over the middle.

Patriots Rookie of the Half-Year

Bernd Buchmasser: Demario Douglas. The Patriots’ sixth-round rookie has been one of the few bright spots on the offensive side of the ball due to his impressive quickness and ability to generate yards after the catch. Although fourth-round guard Sidy Sow and since-injured first-rounder Christian Gonzalez also deserve special mention, Douglas takes home the honors in this category.

Brian Hines: Bryce Baringer. New England’s rookie punter has been awesome this season while helping both the offense and defense. Baringer is tied for the league-high with 24 punts inside the 20 and also added the longest punt in the league (79 yards) to his rookie resume against Indianapolis. Also give him his credit for handling some shaky snaps at times as a holder as well.

Oliver Thomas: Demario Douglas. It’s a different conversation if September’s NFL Defensive Rookie of the Month, Christian Gonzalez, hadn’t seen his season end on injured reserve with a torn labrum. But the wideout out of Liberty shouldn’t have been waiting until the sixth round, either. Douglas stands in a starting spot now as the home stretch begins. An undersized jolt, he has totaled 30 catches for 361 yards and is atop the depth chart in yards per reception. There’s been a long of 42 as a receiver, 20 as a rusher and 25 as a punt returner.

Alec Shane: Keion White. Pop Douglas is again the obvious choice here, but White has had a very solid rookie campaign so far and is hopefully in the process of establishing himself as a force along the line. Looking forward to seeing him and Judon at the same time.

Matthew Rewinski: Christian Gonzalez. No hipster picks here. Christian Gonzalez was having the kind of rookie campaign that makes you wonder “maybe Bill drafted so many bad cornerbacks that now we can finally have nice things?” before his shoulder exploded on a routine tackle. He tackles, he plays the run, he plays press, he almost never gets turned around like so many rookies do, and he looks at All-Pro coverage assignments like Tyreek Hill and AJ Brown like “all in a day’s work”. I miss him.

Biggest Surprise of the Half-Year

Bernd Buchmasser: Mac Jones. Nobody expected the Patriots’ starting quarterback to suddenly turn into an All-Pro, but few if anybody would have predicted that. Obviously, Jones is not the only one to blame for New England’s offensive struggles this year, and the circumstances do him no favors either, but his regression has still been the team’s most notable issue – to a point where there are serious questions about his future.

Brian Hines: Mac Jones and Bill O’Brien. The Patriots new offensive coordinator was brought in to help get Mac Jones back on track after a rocky 2022 campaign. While nobody expected them to lead the league in scoring, Jones and the entire unit has regressed (31st in the league in points). The quarterback has been benched three times this season and looks broken from a mental/mechanical standpoint, with his time in New England appearing to be running out.

Oliver Thomas: Pharaoh Brown. Currently Pro Football Focus’ top-graded player on New England’s offense – snap minimums aside – the veteran blocking tight end joined the practice squad at its formation. A promotion the active roster followed days later. Brown has started half of the games since then. He’s turned seven targets into seven catches for 170 yards and his first touchdown since 2020. Pickups of 24, 25, 26 and 58 stand among them.

Alec Shane: Um, everything? Is there a single thing happening with this 2023 team that any of us saw coming? But if that’s a cop-out, I’ll say yet another season of horrendous special teams play. What used to be a constant strength has become a major liability.

Matthew Rewinski: There’s no qualifier that this has to be a good surprise, so it has to be just how sloppy, undisciplined, and completely devoid of situational awareness this team is. The Patriots have been quietly getting worse at the little parts of the game for years now, but basically every situational football advantage New England thrived on for years appears to be another distant memory. All 3 phases of the game shoot themselves in the foot time and time again with penalties, discombobulated assignments and routes, and generally looking hung over almost all the time. They’re not finding hidden yards anymore; they’re giving them away in plain sight.

Biggest Disappointment of the Half-Year

Bernd Buchmasser: Injury issues. Four of the Patriots’ five originally projected starting offensive linemen, the top three wide receivers, the top two pass rushers, and four of the top five cornerbacks have missed extensive time so far this season or are out for the year entirely. For a team that already is not among the most talented in the NFL on paper, losing that many – and some of its best – players to injury has been a major blow.

Brian Hines: Christian Gonzalez’s injury. The Patriots finally got what appeared to be a surefire first-round pick with Gonzalez playing strong football in his first three games against some of the top receivers in football. Then an injury against Dallas put him on injured reserve for the season. To now make the losing even worse, we couldn't even watch the rookie continue to stand out.

Oliver Thomas: Mac Jones. Among many, the first-rounder from the 2021 draft has likely played his way out of the organization’s future and present by making the same mistakes. Last season’s arrangement at offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach made for a difficult evaluation, but it’s become clearer under Bill O’Brien. The third benching of the fall was unlike the previous.

Alec Shane: JuJu Smith-Schuster. Again, just trying to break up the Mac Jones anti-hype train. But the Patriots let Jakobi Meyers walk and replaced him with JuJu. Meyers currently has 42 catches for 463 yards and 5 TDs on the season. Smith-Schuster has 22 for 149 and 1. But he has absolutely mastered the art of falling down when a pass comes his way on 3rd and medium.

Matthew Rewinski: Bill O’Brien. We were promised an offensive coordinator that could be a quarterback’s best sensei, and instead, it’s become a situation where we can measure the time between touchdowns in games, not quarters. In a way, it’s almost reminiscent of PatriciaBall, in the sense that the offense requires everyone to be perfect on every play for a 15-play drive, and....yeah.

Best Moment/Play of the Half-Year

Bernd Buchmasser: Jabrill Peppers’ forced fumble against the Eagles. While the Patriots’ comeback win over Buffalo is probably the most memorable moment, this vote goes to Peppers knocking the ball loose late against Philadelphia QB. At that particular point in the season, there was so much hope and optimism. How things can change within a few weeks.

Brian Hines: Field goal block against Miami. While Mac Jones’ game-winning drive against Buffalo is definitely up there, Brenden Schooler’s field goal block was one of the best individual plays in the league this year. Execution, design, everything.

Oliver Thomas: Game-winning drive against the Bills. The early 10-point lead evaporated. And down 25-22 after a Josh Allen touchdown run and two-point conversion to Dawson Knox, 1:58 remained at Gillette Stadium in October. By the time 12 seconds did, New England’s offense had responded by going 75 yards and into the end zone in eight plays.

Alec Shane: This bye week. What a wonderful relief to spend a weekend not waiting around for Mac to throw a pick.

Matthew Rewinski: Beating the Bills for Bill Belichick’s 300th career regular season W. Even though this game turned out to be fool’s gold and not the beginning of a Rocky improvement montage, at least we got to ruin our enemies’ day with a L that could very well be crucial to Buffalo making the playoffs, and make a little history in the process.