3 Up, 3 Down: Studs and Duds from the Regular Season

3 Up, 3 Down: Studs and Duds from the Regular Season

by December 31, 2018 0 comments

This season was full of ups and downs for the New England Patriots. Not as dominant as in years past, the Patriots still were able to overcome their deficiencies in order to finish at 11-5.

The problems began before training camp did, as news broke that Julian Edelman would be suspended for the first four games of the regular season due to failing a drug test for a banned substance. The Patriots failed to re-sign Danny Amendola and traded Brandin Cooks in the offseason and had a thin receiving corps as the season started.

The Patriots began 1-2 and saw the likes of Ja’Whaun Bentley and Rex Burkhead get put on IR. The dynasty appeared to be over for the fifth year in a row as the talking heads predicted doom for New England.

Wrong again. While it wasn’t always pretty, the Patriots were still the same juggernaut they’ve always been at home in the Tom Brady era, going a perfect 8-0; and even with the 3-5 road record, they were a tackle away from 4-4, and a couple calls from a winning record away from Gillette Stadium.

A lot of players did perform above expectations in the 2018 regular season, and definitely helped improve their stock for the future. Starting with player number one, who definitely took a slight step back in Week 17, but still had a very strong season overall: J.C. Jackson.

Jackson wasn’t very strong in his Week 17 showing against the Jets. That being said, he still entered play with the giving up the lowest passer rating in the NFL for qualified cornerbacks at 38.9. He did have a bit of a learning curve early on when he seemed to be flagged on every other passing play against the Chicago Bears, but he was able to shake those off and make an impressive interception on Mitch Trubisky.

Jackson’s development should have Patriots fans feeling pretty excited about the future of the New England secondary as a compliment to Stephon Gilmore.

Another stud is Trey Flowers. The 25-year-old defensive end played a pivotal role in a New England pass rush which failed to produce a double-digit sack-getter for the third consecutive year. Leading the way with 7.5 sacks in 15 games this season, Flowers’s impact was surely felt on a weekly basis.

In fact, two of the three brutally ugly losses New England took this season were against the Jaguars in Week 2, and the Lions in Week 3; both games Flowers either left early or was out altogether.

Truth be told, the Patriots need to reach an agreement on an extension for the Arkansas product as soon as possible, because if he hits the open market the odds of retaining him certainly could plummet.

Stud number three: Stephon Gilmore. 

Kind of ironic to be giving the three studs to a defense that was middle of the pack in football right? Well, when looking at how instrumental these three have been to the success of the New England Patriots, it really shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.

But as for Gilmore; remember last season when everyone was calling for his head after the first four weeks of the season? He didn’t know the system and oftentimes he would just flat out ignore coverages and get burned for chunk plays like it was his job.

Well, talk about a guy who turned it around. Gilmore was borderline flawless in 2018, despite netting just two interceptions. He also was among the league-leaders in pass-deflections with 19, and it got him elected to his third Pro Bowl, his first with New England.

But of course, in a season where the Patriots were expected to win 13, if not 14 games, there will be some underachievers that might’ve been key contributors as to why the Patriots were only able to muster up 11 wins.

Starting with dud number one: Adrian Clayborn.

The Patriots signed Adrian Clayborn to a two-year deal this past offseason, worth $10 million overall. This season, he’s making $6 million, and he turned out to be nothing special. In fact, he was benched for Derek Rivers in the regular season finale against the Jets, who managed to register a sack; something Clayborn only got credited for on 2.5 occasions in 2018.

Clayborn had 9.5 sacks last season for the Atlanta Falcons, and while six of them came in one game, he still appeared to be an impressive signing for Bill Belichick last offseason. It just hasn’t worked out so far. But if he can have an impressive postseason, nail down a couple of key sacks, the perception of him certainly will change in New England.

Dud number two goes to wide receiver Chris Hogan. As alluded to earlier, the Patriots didn’t have the luxury of Julian Edelman until Week 5 this season, and even though they were able to acquire Josh Gordon before the Week 3 matchup against the Lions, he wasn’t really an integral part of the offense until a few weeks later.

This meant that Hogan would be the top wideout for the first four weeks of the season, and he did anything but impress.

Sure, he had a two-touchdown game against the Jaguars in Week 2, but he only had eight receptions on 15 targets in the first four weeks of the season. Yes, you can blame Brady for not looking his way more; but for someone who started the year as the number one receiver on the depth chart, you have to put up better numbers than 35 receptions for 532 yards and three touchdowns.

Last but not least, the big fella, Rob Gronkowski.

Gronk was able to piece together a couple of impressive games this season, but overall it just didn’t seem like he looked right.

Two receptions and 24 yards against the Jets in Week 17 helped Gronkowski finish with a career-low 47 receptions, 682 yards, and three touchdowns–– minimum 10 games played. He had flashes, and he showed he had a little bit of gas left against the Jets when he cracked off a 30-yard catch-and-run that was negated by a horrendous offensive pass interference call against Dwayne Allen, but there’s a lot of miles and a lot of injuries in the big man.

His stock certainly has dropped significantly, and it’s to the point where people are questioning Gronkowski’s future in the NFL for the second season in a row.

Good news, though. The Patriots still clinched a first-round bye with their 11-5 record and will play host to the second-lowest remaining seed after the AFC Wild Card round. The bad news, however, is that they will likely have to go through Kansas City if they want to give Brady another shot at his sixth Super Bowl, and take the Patriots 3-5 road record to arguably the toughest place for a visitor to play.

But, they’ve gotten to the dance again. That’s something some people were questioning following that ugly loss at the hands of the Detroit Lions.

 

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