Here are some of the personnel highs and lows as the Patriots (10-2) returned to Gillette Stadium and took full advantage of a young, lackluster L.A. team on the way to a 26-10 victory.
LeGarrette Blount – New England's big back continued his career year with an impressive day against the Rams. Blount got that going early with a 43-yard touchdown drive to open the scoring on the opening drive. Blount bounced outside on a fourth-and1 from the Rams 43, spinning around L.A. safety Maurice Alexander in Barry Sander's fashion on the way to the score. Blount finished the day with 18 carries for 88 yards for a 4.9-yard average that was greatly boosted by the big play early. Blount has now had at least 18 attempts in nine of 12 games this season to balance out the attack.
Malcolm Butler – The Pro Bowl cornerback bounced back from maybe his worst game of the season. He had nice coverage to break up a deep ball to Kenny Britt early and then was able to take advantage of a deflection/drop by Rams tight end Lance Kendricks for his second interception of the year on the final play of the first quarter. Butler also had a funny commercial with Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown that aired on Fox during the telecast. He gave up a long completion late, which may have been some miscommunication, but overall had a strong, physical day.
Alan Branch –* *A couple days after being notified that he'd won his appeal of a four-game NFL suspension, the veteran defensive tackle led a Patriots run defense that did the job against the Rams. Todd Gurley came in averaging just 3.2 yard per carry on the season. He had just 38 yards on 11 attempts with no run longer than 9 yards. Branch notched a tackle for a loss on Gurley's first carry of the day to set the tone.
Sacks up – For the second time in three weeks the Patriots notched at least four sacks. Sure the unit took advantage of a rookie quarterback Jared Goff holding onto the ball. But the group turned up the heat a bit, including corner blitzes out of the slot by Logan Ryan that led to one sack. Rob Ninkovich, Chris Long and Shea McClellin also got home for sacks, among the nine times the defense hit the No. 1 overall pick. Long, Ninkovich (3) and Ryan all had multiple hits on the passer.
Cyrus Jones – Returning from an illness, the rookie returner continues to struggle. He bobbled the game's opening kickoff in the end zone before returning it 24 yards. He then muffed Johnny Hekker's second punt of the day, though New England was fortunate Patrick Chung fell on the ball to retain possession. Danny Amendola was back deep for New England's ensuing punt return in the second quarter as Jones' troubling rookie season stumbles on, even though he did get some rotational work at cornerback in the second half in the place of an injured Eric Rowe.
Jerome Boger – The referee not only struggled on the microphone, stumbling through one penalty explanation after another, but also led a crew that had one questionable call after another all afternoon. Both teams benefited from some pretty poor officiating, though hard to figure out how the guys in stripes missed an obvious face mask at the end of Blount run in front of the Rams bench.
Screen blocking –The Patriots tried to establish a variety of screens, often a staple of the New England offense, but failed for the most part against the Rams. The blocking just wasn't good enough. That included whiffs from all different types of players including guard Shaq Mason, tackle Marcus Cannon, fullback James Develin and wide receiver Chris Hogan.
Tom Brady – The good news is that Brady looked a bit more comfortable in regards to his right knee injury on the way to his record-setting 201st career victory. The bad was that the New England passing attack wasn't exactly at its best in its first game since Rob Gronkowksi landed on injured reserve. The aforementioned screen game never really got going and even Brady's longest play of the day – a 32-yard completion to Julian Edelman – was under pressure with him throwing back across the field into tight coverage, somewhat lucky to get away with the decision. Brady completed 33 of 46 passes for 269 yards with the one really pretty touchdown to Chris Hogan for a 93.5 rating that was his third lowest of the season.
Stephen Gostkowski – The kicker may not be back to full strength or have the full confidence of Patriots Nation yet, but his work against the Rams was a step in the right direction. Gostkowski hit four field goals – from 28, 48, 45 and 45 yards. For a guy with seven misses (field goals and PATs combined) a perfect day that includes three field goals form at least 45 yards is a nice sign as the season heads toward the often-tight times of the postseason.
Jabaal Sheard/Kyle Van Noy –* *Two defenders with very different personal stories combined for a big play. Sheard, who's seen his playing time fall off the map, and Van Noy, who's seen his role increasing since arriving via trade from the Lions in October, created an interception in the third quarter. Sheard hit Goff as he threw, altering the flight of the ball, while Van Noy made a nice leaping grab. Sheard also made nice plays dropping into coverage on a couple different occasions.
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