By: Jake Perda
Following Sunday’s win in Buffalo, the New England Patriots have moved to 10-2 and are one win away from clinching the AFC East for the 9th consecutive season. In other news, the sky is blue, and the grass is green. As Bill Belichick and his quarterback, Number 12, continue to work towards making their 12th appearance in an AFC Championship game, I want to take a moment to reflect and give you my 12 takeaways from the Patriots first 12 games.
1. The TB12 Method is real.
Despite being sacked 9 more times, Tom Brady has managed to put up stats that are eerily similar to the numbers that he put up in his 12 regular season games in 2016. Coming into Week 13, Brady ranked first in the NFL in passing yards, second in yards per attempt, second in touchdowns, first in interceptions, first in rating, and first in yards per game. THE MAN IS 40 YEARS OLD. 40 YEAR OLD QUARTERBACKS ARE NOT SUPPOSED TO LEAD THE NFL IS PASSING YARDS. If you don’t believe in the TB12 method by now, you’re a special kind of stupid.
2. Kyle Van Noy is the team's most underrated player.
Although he’s received more credit as of late, Kyle Van Noy leading the team in tackles has to be one of the biggest surprises of the season. Prior the this season, Van Noy appeared to be just another ‘Do Your Job’ type of player who would play a certain role in Matt Patricia’s trademark “Bend don’t break” defense, but Dont’a Hightower’s injury in addition to some dreadful play from some members of the Pats defensive line have forced Van Noy to do a little bit of everything this season. And no matter how you feel about that Patriots defensive unit, it’s undeniable that Number 53 deserves a whole lotta love for getting the job done.
3. Stephon Gilmore is actually good.
Since his Week 10 return against Denver, Gilmore has turned above-average receivers such as Demaryius Thomas and DeVante Parker into complete non-factors. More importantly, he has done so without committing any costly penalties. After the Patriots first 4 games, it looked to me as though they had just shelled out $65 million dollars to Brandon Browner’s long lost twin. But now I’m ready to admit that Stephon Gilmore may have been worth the money. We’ll see if he can keep this up come playoff time.
4. The Patriots defense is good……...enough.
As well as they’ve played over the last 4 weeks, I’m not ready to say that this defense is good. However, I will say that they’re good enough. If they are able to maintain the “Bend don’t break” ability that we’ve seen from them recently, Tom Brady’s hopes for a 6th Super Bowl ring should remain intact. Do I trust that this will be the case? Maybe. Am I going to lay awake at night worrying about it regardless? You’re damn right I will.
5. Dion Lewis deserves some respect.
People forget that, coming into this season, the Patriots had not lost a single game in which Dion Lewis was getting consistent carries. Coincidentally, the Patriots have yet to lose a game this year in which Dion Lewis has carried the ball more than 4 times. Before the season, I predicted that Lewis’ role would be reduced to kick returning. Shame on me. The 6th year back out of Pitt has proven that he deserves to be Josh McDaniels go-to guy moving forward.
6. Brandin Cooks knows the Patriot Way.
I’m not gonna lie, I was a little worried about Cooks coming over from New Orleans. It’s no secret that elite wide receivers can be diva’s who whine whenever they don’t get their touches, and I knew that wouldn’t go over well in Foxboro. Luckily, Cooks has been everything Pats fans could have hoped for. He’s the dynamic player that he was advertised as, he adds an element to this offense that has been absent for a decade, and he has bought into Bill Belichick’s philosophy of winning being more important than personal glory. If him saying that he wanted to spend the rest of his career in New England after just 11 games didn’t get you fired up, then you’re probably dead inside.
7. Stephen Gostkowski is back.
No, jinx’s are not real. Anyway, Stephen Gostkowski has returned to form after an uncharacteristic 2016 season. Despite the constant narrative that we need to bring in someone to compete with him, Gostkowski has made nearly 90% of his kicks and only missed one of his 34 PAT’s. That’s pretty damn good if you ask me.
8. Danny Amendola doesn’t know when to hold ‘em and when to fold ‘em.
Amendola is averaging 9.5 yards per punt return, but his decision making as of late has been questionable to say the least. It seems as though for every one solid return, he takes about six unnecessary risks when deciding not to fair catch the ball. In case he hasn’t noticed, it doesn’t matter where the offense starts with the ball. As long as TB12 is the quarterback, they won’t have much of a problem driving the ball toward the other end zone. Then again, let’s just be grateful that it’s not Cyrus Jones back there.
9. Rex Burkehead might just be the Kyle Van Noy of the offense.
Earlier in the list, I talked about how Kyle Van Noy has done a little bit of everything for the Pats D. The same goes for Rex Burkehead on the offensive side of the ball. He doesn’t fit the James White mold as White is far more shifty, but he isn’t your typical running back. He runs with more power than an elusive back, more finesse than a power back, and runs routes likes a slot receiver. I don’t want to compare him to Van Noy in terms of importance, but he deserves a lot of credit for doing whatever Bill Belichick has asked of him.
10. Mike Gillislee could be the team’s 3rd best pick up from Buffalo.
Gillislee came to Foxboro with some lofty expectations as he had developed a reputation as one of the league’s most efficient rushers. Unfortunately, this has not been the case this season. After averaging 3.6 yards per carry through his first 98 carries with the team, Gillislee has been a healthy scratch in each of the last 4 games. Conversely, Ex-Buffalo cornerback Stephon Gilmore has stepped up to prove his worth, and now Ex-Bills practice squader Eric Lee has surpassed Gillislee’s value to this team in just 2 weeks. In 2 games as a Patriot, Lee has racked up 3.5 sacks, 4 tackles, and picked off Tyrod Taylor just like the good old days on the Buffalo practice field. Unless Gillislee can manage to earn his starting job back, it appears as though he will remain the least valuable Ex-Bill that Coach Bill has at his disposal.
11. Injuries are the Patriots biggest enemy.
The Patriots are currently 10-2 without Julian Edelman, Derek Rivers, Dont’a Hightower, Martellus Bennett (if you count him), and now Nate Ebner. If they continue to drop like flies, TB12 and company may be forced to limp into a playoff run rather than thrust their way into the Super Bowl with a full head of steam as they have in years prior. That being said, this has been the case around the entire league. Yes, it’s fair to worry about the Steelers, but beyond them, who should we really fear? Carson Wentz and his beat up offensive line? I guess. Russell Wilson and the Legion of season-ending injuries? Probably not.
12. Tom Brady and Bill Belichick will be headed to their 12th AFC Championship game.
Ordinarily, I’d take the leap and say that they’ll be in the Super Bowl once again, but I’ll play it safe for now. New England hasn’t yet gone toe to toe with the Pittsburgh’s knock off Killers B’s (Ben, Brown, Bell), so Week 15 will be a major indicator of what’s to come. But if I had to guess, a well-rested Gronk coming off of a one-game suspension and a December matchup against the Greatest Quarterback of All-Time does not bode well for the men in Black in Yellow.
Photo: (Boston Herald)