1. Julian Edelman — Closed out his Patriots’ MVP season with a solid performance, 10 catches for 89 yards and a touchdown … with the asterisk that his and most of the Pats’ offensive numbers were built up when the game was already basically decided.
2. Dont’a Hightower — On a day the defense got absolutely torched, he was a bright spot with seven solo tackles.
3. Austin Collie — Again, anything you got from this guy is an absolute bonus. He caught four passes for 57 yards … again with the asterisk that his and most of the Pats’ offensive numbers were built up when the game was already basically decided.
1. Danny Amendola — Five million plus a year? For what? An oft-injured, big-game bust of a wide receiver. No catches on one target in the biggest game of his life. Potentially the worst deal Bill Belichick has ever made.
2. Alfonzo Dennard — Why was he asked to cover Demaryius Thomas alone with no help within 20 yards? Potentially, the dumbest individual defensive decision this team has made in the Belichick era.
3. Logan Mankins — To think he and his offensive line were overwhelmed by these softies from Denver. Got beat up the gut much too often. There was nothing in the run game. Awful day for Mankins and his guys.
GRADING THE GROUPS
Line (F) … New England managed 320 yards of offense, but 160 of those came in the fourth quarter after Denver had built a two-score lead. There was no room to run (2.3 yards a carry combined by Blount and Ridley). And Tom Brady got belted relentlessly by 3- and 4-man rushes. The right side fared better than the left, but Nate Solder, Logan Mankins and Ryan Wendell clearly suffered through career-worst days. Shades of the Giants and the February ’08 Super Bowl come to mind.
Running Backs (C-) … Shane Vereen’s production was a nice addition, but it came in the fourth quarter when Denver had lightened up the coverage. Stevan Ridley and LeGarrette Blount were non-factors, but much of that had to do with the lack of running room.
Wide Receivers (D-) … Remember back in August when you folks all had Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins and Danny Amendola saving the world? Back to square one at this position, especially if Julian Edelman skips town for greener pastures.
Tight Ends (C ) ... To think this football team entered an AFC title game with the likes of Matt Mulligan and Michael Hoomanawanui. That disgusts me, although the Hawaiian had a nice chain-moving catch.
Quarterback (C+) … Yeah, he missed open receivers. But the guy worked with an amateur cast of weapons all year long and got his team into a position for greatness. Loses on the grade because of the point output. But he can’t get open and throw the football too.
Line (F) … The Broncos dropped back 43 times and Peyton Manning wasn’t touched.
Linebackers (F) … Denver possessed the football for 35:44, clicked on 8 of 14 3rd- or 4th-down conversions.
Secondary (F) … Piling up 400 passing yards and 507 yards overall, the Broncos averaged 7.1 yards per play.
Shades of January 2007 in Indy
Imagine you are Tom Brady and you look at Peyton Manning’s huddle and see Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, Eric Decker and Julius Thomas. Then you peek into your own huddle and see Julian Edelman, Dan Amendola, Aaron Dobson and Mike Hoomanawanui.
Wouldn’t you be a bit discouraged?
All I could think about was January 2007 when the Pats melted in the AFC title game at Indy with Reche Caldwell and Jabar Gaffney failing at receiver.
And here we are, no Super Bowl titles later, with Brady now at age 36 and climbing, his window closing fast and a potential lead-receiving trio of Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins and Danny Amendola.
We all saw the way Rob Gronkowski’s knee exploded, too. Can you count on him, having missed 14 games in four years?
You thought the Pats had learned from 2007.
Brady needs weapons again. He has no Wes Welker or Randy Moss. He has no Aaron Hernandez, either.
Build around him, or as one crazy beat writer suggested in the last off-season, deal him and get back everything you possibly can.
To send Brady into battle, real battle, with these non-pros as weapons, is like giving Secretariat some fair-circuit journeyman as a jockey.
And what about Brady?
The bottom line is that after a 10-0 start to his playoff career, Tom Brady fell to 8-8 in his last 16 playoff starts.
Are we seeing him in decline? Has the air of invincibility been totally eviscerated?
In the coming days, we will look at the current Patriots roster, where the football team has made strides and where it continues to wallow.
But again, at some point in the offseason, you have to wonder if it is worth wasting year after year on Brady’s playing life, with abbreviated, short, unfulfilling playoff campaigns.
Brady’s final passer rating in the game is 93.9, not bad when you look at it. But remember it was 73.1 through three quarters with the game on the line.
So, let’s say it here. Brady’s presence in New England again has to be looked at with an open mind.
Finally, lay off Welker
To blame Wes Welker for a “dirty hit” knocking out Aqib Talib is simply ignorant. That was a full-speed collision for two guys not looking at each other as they ran full speed across the football field.
Welker ducked. Talib didn’t.
And that was it.