With nine games in the books the Patriots are slightly past the official midway point of the 2019 season, but since the team is entering its bye week it’s the perfect time to stop and take a look at what’s transpired thus far.
Let’s call it Patriots Unfiltered Midseason-(ish) Awards.
There were certainly plenty of highlights during New England’s 8-1 start, mostly on defense where the Patriots terrified opponents to the tune of 27 turnovers. But there were many more memorable moments and performances to look back on during the first two-plus months. Here’s Patriots Unfiltered’s look back:
Few players have less to say and few did more than Gilmore during the first half. His ability to completely eliminate the opponent’s top receiver, as he did most weeks, is instrumental in what the Patriots do on defense. Many of the exotic schemes and cover-zero blitzes are made possible by the ability of the corners to lock up and defend one on one. No one does that better than Gilmore.
A lot is made of Tom Brady’s advanced age but the 33-year-old Edelman may be even more impressive given the punishment he absorbs on a weekly basis. He leads the team with 63 receptions for 663 yards and four touchdowns despite spending significant chunks of the season as the lone true receiving threat at Brady’s disposal. He also gets points for fighting through painful injuries, specifically a chest issue that clearly has caused him a great deal of discomfort. The offense hasn’t been as productive as in years past but it’s scary to wonder what it would look like without Edelman.
While Gilmore’s excellence set the tone, Collins’ playmaking was tough to ignore. The linebacker’s second stint in New England is off to a flying start with three interceptions, a fumble recovery and a touchdown to go with 48 tackles and a team-high 6 sacks. Collins’s athleticism has been on full display and has been one of the keys to New England’s defensive dominance.
This is one of those good news/bad news situations. Bailey’s punting has been excellent. He averaged 44.6 yards and a 42 net over the first nine games with 21 kicks downed inside the 20 against just two touchbacks. The bad news is Bailey saw way too much action, being called upon 48 times in nine games. Bailey also earns points for stepping in to handle kickoffs following the loss of Stephen Gostkowski to a hip injury. Bailey got the job done in the first half.
Guy quietly took over a leadership role among the defensive linemen and his steady play was a big part of the team’s defensive success. Guy isn’t a flashy guy who racks up gaudy numbers in terms of sacks, but the veteran handles his run-stopping duties well with 29 tackles, a sack, an interception and a fumble recovery. He doesn’t get a lot of attention but Guy has been a solid presence in the middle all season.
James White’s 59-yard screen against Cleveland
The offense struggled at times in the first half and it was struggling big time in the third quarter of the Patriots Week 8 win over Cleveland. After building a 17-0 lead thanks to the defense, the offense couldn’t muster anything and watched the lead get cut to 17-10. That’s when Brady faced a third-and-10 from his own 16, and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels dialed up the perfect play call. Brady’s screen to White was executed to perfection, picking up 59 yards to set up an Edelman touchdown that regained the momentum.
Jonathan Jones’ strip of Nick Chubb
The key plays against Cleveland didn’t just come on offense. The defense forced a pair of Nick Chubb fumbles, one of which was returned for a touchdown and the other representing one of the finest plays of the season. With the Browns trailing 10-0, Chubb broke free and took off on a 44-yard run deep into Patriots territory. It appeared as if he might score, but Jones not only chased him down but he also stripped the ball with a chop from behind to cause the fumble. Devin McCourty recovered at the Patriots 4 and the Browns lost a chance to get back in the game.
Special Teams play
J.C. Jackson’s blocked punt/Matthew Slater TD
The Patriots offense couldn’t get anything going in the Week 4 showdown on the road in Buffalo. Fortunately the special teams provided a boost. Jackson recognized a flaw in the Bills protection and came off the edge untouched, blocking Corey Bojorquez’ kick and allowing Slater to scoop it up and run 11 yards for the first touchdown of his career. The play also provided the margin of victory in the 16-10 win.
After more than two months of dominance we’ve come to expect the kind of play the Patriots defense turned in on virtually a weekly basis. But before the season started few envisioned the turnover-creating machine we’ve witnessed in the first nine weeks. New England caused 27 turnovers, including a mind-numbing 19 interceptions, during that span. That’s an average of three takeaways per game, which has the Patriots on pace for 48 for the season. Even those who expected an improved defense have to be surprised by that.
When the Patriots traded for Bennett the idea of adding a pure pass rusher to the mix was exciting. Turned out to be one of the few major disappointments of the first half. Bennett played well when he was on the field, but his snaps gradually decreased each week before culminating with a team-induced suspension in Week 8. A few days later he was dealt to Dallas for a late-round pick. We’ll never know what a productive and motivated Bennett up front may have done.
While there weren’t many things to be disappointed in, Michel’s lack of production deserves a mention. He was a huge part of the Patriots postseason run in 2018, and he was expected to continue where he left off. Instead he averaged 3.3 yards per carry and has just 482 yards through nine games. That’s not what anyone expected back in August.