It's been an interesting couple months in New England. From an opening day loss in Miami through an embarrassing debacle in Kansas City to hitting the Week 10 bye as arguably the best team in football, the Patriots packed a lot of action into the first nine games of the season.
With the players enjoying some well-deserved time off and the coaches preparing for a stretch run toward the postseason, "Patriots Football Weekly" takes a look back at the first half of the season and hands out some awards based on two-plus months of interesting action in New England.
MVP – Rob Gronkowski:
The Pro Bowl tight end was not his dominant self to open the year coming back from a torn ACL and the Patriots offense struggled as a result with Gronkowski playing about half the snaps the first month. But once he hit his stride physically and took a full role on the field, he and the offense took off. Gronkowski leads New England at the break with 663 yards and eight touchdown catches among his 49 receptions. Since Gronk – the panic-inducing alter-ego of Gronkowski who rules the football field – returned, Tom Brady and the of the offense have exploded to average 40 points a game and get back to putting huge numbers. Gronkowski has once again proven himself as arguably the most valuable Patriots player and the most irreplaceable force in the game today.
Offensive Player of the Half-Year – Tom Brady:
Brady worked behind a suspect offensive line through the first month and with a limited Gronkowski. Things were a struggle for No. 12 and some began to question whether the 37-year-old quarterback was in decline. Since then he's thrown 18 touchdowns and one interception for an offense that's averaging 40 points a game. Some decline! Through nine games Brady is completing 64.1 percent of his passes for 2,392 yards with 22 touchdowns and just three interceptions for a 103.5 passer rating. He ranks in the top five in the NFL in attempts, completions, yards, touchdown percentage, interceptions, interception percentage and ranks sixth in passer rating.
Defensive Player of the Half-Year – Darrelle Revis:
Picking out just one name from the Patriots new-look defense that's dealt with injury and personnel change isn't easy. There have been big contributions from a number of different players along the way. But through it all the veteran cornerback has been playing solid to, at times, spectacular football on the outside. The pass defense, in many ways, has been built around the former All-Pro. He leads the team with two interceptions but his contributions run much deeper than that, whether it was shutting down the likes of A.J. Green or helping the Patriots avoid giving up a 40-yard pass through the first eight weeks. Maybe the scariest thing for opposing passers is that Revis and the overall Patriots pass defense has room to be even better in the second half of the year.
Rookie of the Half-Year – Bryan Stork:
Though he missed time in camp to injury and two games during the season due to a concussion, the fourth-round center has been a solid contributor in the middle of an offensive line that's settled into its own in recent weeks. Stork is a strong, intelligent player learning on the run, but he's also been a solidifying force in the middle between veterans Dan Connolly and Ryan Wendell. The Patriots have gotten very limited contributions from rookies so far, but Stork's work has delivered.
Assistant Coach of the Half-Year – Josh McDaniels:
Similar to what his quarterback was dealing with, New England's offensive coordinator dealt with uncertainty/poor play on the offensive line, limited early production from Gronkowski, receivers trying to find their roles and a running game that battled inconsistency and then injury. Through it all McDaniels worked hard to tweak his game plans and once the personnel came together he was back pushing the right buttons on what's become one of the best offenses in the game the last month-plus. McDaniels is once again showing why he's one of the best offensive minds in the game today.
Most Improved – Brandon LaFell:
After admitting to being overwhelmed by the Patriots offense during the offseason, the veteran free agent wide receiver has come a long way in just a couple months of regular-season action. LaFell did not have a catch despite six Brady targets on opening day in Miami. A week later he was not thrown to at all. But he started to make plays in what might be referred to as garbage time in the loss at Kansas City and built on that success. In the last five games he has 25 catches and four touchdowns. He's fit in well as a complementary target working with Gronkowski and Julian Edelman. LaFell has shown more speed and playmaking ability than many in Carolina gave him credit for in recent years and has shown he can be a key cog in the Patriots passing attack after a very slow start to his career in New England.
Biggest Surprise – Patrick Chung:
When Chung re-signed with the Patriots this spring, following one year with the Eagles, many assumed the former second-round pick would have a special teams and backup role in his return to New England. That was a major undersell of the veteran's potential contributions. Chung has started all nine games of the season, staying healthy, while serving as a physical force that ranks third on the team with 52 tackles. He had maybe the best game in coverage of his career in the win over the Broncos. He also led the team with seven kickoff returns through the first half of the season. Chung's role has been far bigger and his contributions far more positive than seemingly anyone could have expected at a safety position that seemed a major question mark heading into the season.
Catch of the Half-Year:
Gronkowski's one-handed, left-handed grab at the goal line against the Broncos almost defied the laws of physics. The catch was so impressive that even the guy who threw it, Brady, was left only to say, 'How the [expletive] did he catch that?"
Best Impression of Randy Moss – Brian Tyms:
Tyms missed the first four weeks to an NFL suspension after showing a knack for the big play this summer while working in preseason action with Jimmy Garoppolo. Tyms then made the most of his Patriots debut in Week 6 at Buffalo with a 43-yard touchdown, the first of his career. He looked a bit like his idol, Moss, on the play, bringing the Brady deep ball in despite tight coverage from multiple Bills defenders that bordered on pass interference.
Instant Impact Award – Akeem Ayers:
The former second-round pick had played less than a dozen defensive snaps this season in Tennessee before joining the Patriots via trade. A few days later he saw significant action in a reserve role against the Bears and notched a sack. A week later Ayers was a starter against the Broncos in the midst of New England's multi-faceted defensive game plan and recorded another sack. As far as fast-learners go, Ayers has to be near the top of the list.
Bottoms Up Award – Patriots loss at Kansas City:
From the owner's box all the way down through the practice squad, New England's 41-14 embarrassment on "Monday Night Football" in front of the world's loudest crowd sent shockwaves through Patriot Nation. It also ignited a fire that fueled a five-game winning streak into the bye. From bottoming out to the top of the NFL power rankings in just more than a month.
What do you think of PFW's bye-week awards? Disagree with any? Any additions? Let us know with a comment below!