1. Wes Welker - Another "Pay me now" kind of week for the Patriots superstar receiver. Catches nine balls for 158 yards and a TD. Keep this up and Welker will have the Pats muttering the words, "salary cap jail, salary cap jail..." 2. Vince Wilfork - It's more for his effort and heart than his numbers or anything else. Plays inside and out. Stuffs up anything coming his way. And he grabbed his second interception of the season. 3. Stevan Ridley - I Tweeted it (@mvcreature) Sunday and I will say it again. Every carry that BJG-E gets is a missed opportunity for this rookie. Give Ridley the ball more. He gained 97 yards, with a TD on 10 carries. 4. Devin McCourty - A quiet day in zone coverage, which means that we didn't hear McCourty get burned at all. I know the stat sheet says he led the team in tackles, which is never good for a corner, but I think this was a positive step.
1. Josh Barrett - How is this guy starting in the NFL? His angles make those of Brandon Meriweather look efficient. 2. Pat Chung - The 15-yard penalty wasn't just stupid, it was malicious. He launched himself head first and was trying to hurt the Oakland receiver. 3. Matt Light - When the game mattered and Oakland still tried, Light was tossed around a bit by Jarvis Moss. 4. Kyle Arrington/Antwaun Molden - The Pats corners might have the worst ball skills in the NFL.
GRADING THE GROUPS
Line (B+) ... Big holes to run through all day, and Tom Brady (sacked once) had eons to survey the field and throw. Running backs (B+) ... Stevan Ridley (10-97, 1 TD) has to get the football more. He has a burst that the rest of these guys only dream of. Still, a solid day for BJG-E, too. Receivers (B) ... A very quiet day, strangely quiet, for Rob Gronkowski, who had one 15-yard catch. Wes Welker is simply unstoppable. Deion Branch caught a TD. A couple insignificant receptions for Chad Ochocinco, and Julian Edelman delivered a rare grab. Quarterback (A) ... Tom Brady was efficient and effective, extremely precise, hitting 16 of 30 passes.
DEFENSE Line (B-) ... I'd love to say this group has taken a step forward, but there isn't much pressure, and there's very little playmaking. Shaun Ellis was in position to make at least two or three stops behind the line of scrimmage but somehow came up empty. Linebackers (C-) ... Brandon Spikes can play the run. Of course, Darren McFadden's big run was right off Spikes' shoulder. Jerod Mayo was a step behind before he injured his knee. Gary Guyton, Dane Fletcher and Rob Ninkovich tried. Secondary (D) ... Again, it's never a good day when Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington combine for 12 solo tackles. Special Teams (B) ... The coverage in the kicking game has been solid, as has been the kicking and punting. Wouldn't it be nice if Julian Edelman did more than dance in the return game? Coaching (B+) ... This one was all about preparation. And when his team needs him, nobody prepares a football team better than Bill Belichick.
WHY BELICHICK'S BETTER
With the Patriots' psyche reeling from a wild loss in Buffalo, Bill Belichick again got his team to bounce back with a professional effort. The Pats still can't play defense but Belichick knew if he took away Darren McFadden from Oakland's offense and put the ball in Jason Campbell's hands, the Raiders would self-destruct. They did. Belichick stacked the line with five big bodies, allowing his linebackers to fill. That switch, combined with the Raiders' early hole, was enough for Hue Jackson to trust in Jason Campbell.
COMMITMENT TO MEDIOCRITY
Perhaps Oakland coach Hue Jackson doesn't watch ESPN or read the weekly NFL statistics. Maybe, he hasn't noticed the run of 11 straight regular season games of the Pats scoring 30 points or more coming in. Either way, when Jackson doesn't go for it on 4th-and-3, late in the third quarter with Pats up 24-10, I know he is not ready for prime time. The Raiders actually huddled several times with the clock running in the fourth quarter, down by 18 points. Coach, field goals in the red zone are like turnovers when you are playing Tom Brady. You get the feeling that last year's 8-8 will be the high-water mark under the Hue Jackson regime.
I will be nice, because it looks like Pats' linebacker Jerod Mayo suffered an MCL injury that didn't look good. Can I ask you though? Has a good linebacker ever looked like Mayo did on Michael Bush's TD run. Forget the fact that Bush steamrolled Mayo in a head-on collision. It's the idea that the collision took place 2 yards deep in the end zone that scares me. But, in this case, we may not have Mayo to kick around in the near future.
The potential loss of Mayo will translate to a three-headed monster of Dane Fletcher, Gary Guyton and Brandon Spikes picking up extra situational snaps. Honestly, Spikes has the ability to fill the void on running plays. And Fletcher will blitz more, while Guyton will be called on to cover. Hey, it's not like this defense has been good at all with Mayo anyway. As for Danny Woodhead's tender ankle, it will mean more time for the rookie Ridley, which again, might be a good thing.
5 FINAL OBSERVATIONS
1. It didn't take long for the Pats to screech back into first place, capitalizing on the Bills' tough loss to Cincinnati. 2. Even forgetting Oakland's yardage totals, bloated by the Raiders' final drive in the last two minutes, New England's defense continues to surrender meekly in the passing game. 3. Stevan Ridley is explosive and should scare the rest of the AFC immensely. 4. Vince Wilfork's two interceptions are a bad thing. The guy is supposed to be rushing the passer and is still yards off the line of scrimmage. 5. Will somebody please talk contract extension with Wes Welker?