Here is my final Patriots report card, reflecting back on the entire season… I will get to the defense tomorrow.
QB: A It wasn’t Tom Brady’s best year in terms of statistics, but it was a very mistake free year. He tied a carreer low with only 12 interceptions. Although he was shaky to start the year (completion %), he turned it around as he began to grow with his reformed receiving corps. Matt Cassel showed improved accuracy in his brief appearences… And who couldn’t love Vinny Testaverde throwing that TD pass at the end of the game against Tennessee? Unbelievable, the man has thrown a TD pass in every year for 20 years, that record is older than around 1/3 the people of the world.
RB: A- This year, the runningback duo of veteran Corey Dillon and rookie Laurence Maroney worked to perfection (unlike that of Antowain Smith and Kevin Faulk in 2003). Clock Killin’ Corey Dillon averaged 4.1 yards a carry, surpassing preseason expectations, and meeting his personal standard of 12 touchdowns. Laurence “Kool-Aid” Maroney showed a burst to the line like no other running back in Patriots history. His big play ability reminded Patriots fan of a young Curtis Martin or Robert Edwards. Kevin Faulk and Patrick Pass continued to contribute as receivers and occasional runners. Heath Evans provided an unexpected boost at the fullback position, providing some key first downs and receptions late in the year.
WR/TE: B Yeah, I admit this wasn’t the Patriots strongest area, but there were definately some bright spots. Reche Caldwell developed into a nice threat, recording 2 100 yard games near the end of the season. Long tenured Troy Brown also played well, recording another 40+ catch season. Even though Doug Gabriel didn’t quite work out, the Patriots signed free agent Jabar Gaffney who came in and contributed early and well. Even 2nd round pick Chad Jackson provided some bright spots for this team, and opened some eyes in the special teams area, and for his knack to keep fighting for extra yards. The tight ends had a nice year as well, despite some key injuries. Ben Watson was having a carreer year (forget the fumbles that is) until the leg injury, and should provide a spark in the postseason. Veteran Daniel Graham was still a force, despite being injured most of the year, hauling in 21 catches. Rookie David Thomas showed why he was a 3rd round pick, showing phenominal hands and uncoachable effort.
OL: B+ Wow, it was another stellar for this completely unheralded Patriots offensive line. The only place I can see improvement is in the pass protection game, as Brady was often getting sacked and pressured. Matt Light, Stephen Neal, Logan Mankins, and Daniel Koppen all really deserve pro bowls (especially Matt). Rookie Ryan O’Callaghan had an impressive debut, before suffering injury, then Nick Kazcur stepped in and was productive. Billy Yates, Ross Hochstein, and Gene Mruczkowski (yes… I had to look up the spelling on that) were also good rotation and fill-in men along the line.