12-4. That was my prediction going into the season but if I knew the Patriots would be without so many key players I probably would have adjusted downward. Then again, if I knew teams like the Falcons and Texans would not be who we thought they were, I might have adjusted up. So maybe 12-4 is just right.
Every year there are moments when the referees screw things up but it seems league-wide this should grade out as one of their worst performances – and that includes last season with the replacements. In Patriots games alone we saw more than our share of, to be nice, questionable calls. The two most egregious of course were the Carolina Recall and the never-called-before-or-since second level push on the field goal attempt in New Jersey. Of those two I pick the Carolina Recall as the winner. Particularly because no explanation was given at the time and then each time it was later explained, the reasoning changed.
It's true that when Stevan Ridley's name is mentioned, fumbling comes to mind. But it is also true that Ridley has come a long way in his patience, vision and explosiveness to the hole. It shows whenever he gets an opportunity. LeGarrette Blount's amazing game aside, Ridley is the Patriots best back.
Other than the Bengals game in Week 5, we really haven't had a reason to talk about Ryan Wendell. That's a very good thing for the center.
Between Vince Wilfork and Jerod Mayo, I can't decide who was the bigger loss for the Patriots defense. I do know this: many who questioned the size of their contracts at the time they were signed have come around to understand that these two guys were well worth it now that they're gone.
It's a shame that injuries derailed the momentum we saw with the Patriots secondary in the first part of the season. For the first time in several years it looked like we were going to enjoy some solid, consistent play back there. That said, injuries to corners and safeties in the NFL are pretty much inevitable. So, assuming the Patriots re-sign Aqib Talib and everything else stays the same, building quality depth in the defensive backfield should be a priority.
It wasn't one of the better offseasons in recent Patriots history, to say the least. We all know what the changes were but let's not forget a couple of players who the Patriots were interested in but didn't wind up here. Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders was offered a restricted free agent deal but the Steelers matched it. And many reports had the Patriots making an offer to John Abraham who wound up in Arizona with 11.5 sacks and four forced fumbles. Might both of those players have helped the cause this season?
On to the regular season superlatives…
Kickstarters: Not enough can be said for Stephan Gostkowski and Ryan Allen this season. Were it not for Gost, the Patriots would not have been able to weather the early season offensive struggles. Allen came in as a rookie and performed like a vet in the punting game, something he had to do much too often this season.
Wildest of the wild: That comeback win against the Broncos has to go down as one of the most improbable wins I've ever seen. Think about it; you're told the Patriots would be down 24-0 at the half to Peyton Manning and the best offense in the NFL. You have to admit that, OK, Manning finally gets the better of the Patriots in Gillette Stadium. Then you look at the final stats and Manning only has 150 yards passing and the Patriots win. No one, and I mean no one, could have predicted that scenario.
Appetizer of the Year: Logan Ryan. The rookie has a nose for the ball and making plays but he's a long way from being an entrée. Still, the future seems bright for the third round pick out of Rutgers.
Second Year Jump Big Step:** Chandler Jones. While he didn't make the leap that someone like J.J. Watt made in his sophomore season, Jones showed steady improvement in his game. He's added more moves to his rushing repertoire and sets the edge effectively. The sky's the limit.
What Are They Going To Do With All Those Backs? Award: Nick Caserio and Ivan Fears. It seems like every year we hear people asking that question and every year all those backs are needed at some point and in some fashion. Credit director of player personnel Caserio for keeping that unit stockpiled and running backs coach Fears for keeping them ready.
Offensive MVP: Julian Edelman. It's not that Edelman was the answer to the question, where is all Wes Welker's production going to come from? At times he was the answer to where any offensive production coming from. He was the year-long constant aside from Gostkowski. And you know, Tom Brady, that guy.
Defensive MVP: Rob Ninkovich. He was the glue and keeping things stuck together was critical this season. Whenever the big play was needed around the line, Ninko was right there.