A quick rundown of the personnel highs and lows from the Patriots 30-17 win over the 49ers in San Francisco (well, Santa Clara).
*Tom Brady – *His first-ever start in San Francisco in front of a large group of family and friends was far from easy but TB12 fought through the rain and the 49ers pressure to put up an impressive day. Brady finished completing 24 of 40 passes for 280 yards and four touchdown passes, his 26th four-TD game of his career. His 114.6 passer rating was his second-lowest of the season, but he made key plays with his arm and his feet when his team needed him in a surprisingly-difficult road game. His 56-yard touchdown, throwing on the move to Malcolm Mitchell was a thing of beauty, while his touchdown to Danny Amendola was also a pretty impressive connection.
*Patrick Chung – *The veteran safety had a big sack on the first series to force a punt, used more as a blitzer to help New England get early pressure. Chung finished with a game-high eight tackles, including the 12-yard sack. There were plenty of three-safety looks with Chung in the box in a linebacker-like role and the veteran threw his body around.
*LeGarrette Blount – *Even with a 35-yard touchdown called back for holding, Blount rumbled for 124 yards on his 19 attempts, including a 44-yard long. Like the rest of the offense Blount had his ups and downs at various points. He tacked on runs of 11 and 18 yards with a big lead late, but it was still a solid all-around day for the big back to notch fourth 100-yard game of the season, third over 120 yards.
Dont'a Hightower – New England's defense is clearly going through its issues right now, but Hightower and Malcolm Butler are probably the two foundation players the group needs to build on at this point. The linebacker had six tackles, including a sack and forced fumble. Maybe most notably, the New England struggled mightily when he went to the sideline in the first half as the Patriots rotated some players through the front seven to less than desirably results.
Malcolm Mitchell – The rookie receiver had by far his biggest game of the season helping pick up the slack of Rob Gronkowski and Chris Hogan being inactive. His 56-yard catch-and-run touchdown from Brady was one of the prettier plays of the year, even if a bit improvised. Mitchell finished with four catches for 98 yards, more than his yardage total from the rest of the season.
Jabaal Sheard – The veteran defensive end, expected to step up this season in the wake of the Chandler Jones trade, did not travel with the Patriots to San Francisco. That came a week after Sheard basically sat out the first quarter and only played 16 snaps against the Seahawks. Sheard's decent down the depth chart has been eye-opening in recent weeks.
Stephen Gostkowski – The former All-Pro joined the ranks of a terrible day for kickers when he missed his first PAT of the day, the 10th miss of the day for NFL kickers at that point. It was Gostkowski's third missed PAT of the season as he continues to struggle through an inconsistent campaign. He finished hitting the rest of his PATs and a 38-yard field goal in wet conditions, but Gostkowski still needs to clean things up. He should be better than the average NFL kicker, but right now he isn't.
Nate Solder – New England's offensive line did anything but dominate the trenches in pass protection, forcing Brady to make plays on the move yet again. Even while paving the way for a 124-yard rusher, it wasn't dominant against an historically-bad 49ers run defense. Solder is the leader and face of the line, he also had a couple key penalties, most notably a holding call to wipe out a would-be 35-yard touchdown run for Blount.
*Kyle Van Noy – *The newcomer made his Patriots debut and joined the pass rush fun by notching a sack of Colin Kaepernick in the second quarter. Van Noy finished with three tackles, seeing the bulk of his action off the line at linebacker as the Patriots continue to rotate through in the post-Jamie Collins era.
*Devin McCourty – *New England's Pro Bowl safety is the leader and highest-paid member of the back end by far. McCourty allowed an 18-yard touchdown in the second quarter to Vance McDonald. He allowed the middling tight end to get a nice completion down the seam later. McCourty is far from the biggest problem on defense, but the captain hasn't been enough a part of the playmaking solution, either.
*Julian Edelman – *The slot receiver from the Bay Area was the focal point of the Patriots offense. It wasn't overly efficient at times, especially on deep balls. Edelman caught eight of the 17 passes thrown his way for 77 yards. He also had two rushes for 12 yards. He also was too nonchalant with his feet on a possible big catch down the deep left sideline on a Brady scramble. With Gronkowski out of action, Edelman was the centerpiece of the passing attack and ran hard after every reception, as he always does.
Dion Lewis – The passing back put forth a solid day in his return after missing a year-plus to a torn ACL Lewis had five rushes for 23 yards, including a long of 12 yards. He also had three catches for 26 yards. Lewis showed no obvious signs of rust or physical limitations, which is a good sign moving forward down the stretch for the Patriots offense.
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