Hard to believe the 2013 season is over for the New England Patriots. The team that felt like it had a date with destiny couldn’t find the magic and fell to the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship Game, 26-16. Time to look back at the season and assess the teams performance, position-by-position. Let’s go.
Quarterbacks: Tom Brady’s worst statistical season since the year he took over for Drew Bledsoe was, with apologies to the record-setting 2007 campaign, the best performance of his career. For years, the core of the Patriot passing attack was Gronk, Welker, Hernandez. Well, all three were gone in 2013, replaced with an injury-prone slot guy, a replacement-level slot guy, and three rookie wide receivers. And we know the track-record of Tom helping to develop rookie wide receivers. The fact that this offense was functional with some of the greenest talent anywhere in the league is a miracle. The 2013 Patriots finished with the third most points in the NFL. Go ahead. Take a moment to digest that. Tom Brady deserves a medal and to be enshrined in Canton immediately.
Running Backs: Stevan Ridley won a few fantasy leagues for people last year. But a case of fumble-itis reduced the Patriots best pure runner to a bit role. Then, Shane Vereen proved that he is brittle, much like WR Danny Amendola. LeGarrette Blount was the primary beneficiary of the extra workload and over-performed. Blount, for all of the fun he generated, is not a starting caliber back for a good team. His stretch run took the backs up a full letter grade. However, if Blount wants significantly more than the veterans’ minimum to re-sign, he’ll be allowed to leave – and with good reason.
Wide Receivers: Julian Edelman just earned himself a nice payday. Unfortunately for Jules fans in the northeast, that payday won’t be as a Patriot. Edelman is a replacement-level receiver and a premium punt returner. He’ll get millions. And he’ll be overpaid. Danny Amendola got injured early and was little more than a walker after that. The rest of the receiving corps showed promise and potential but was on and off the trainers table. And green as grass.
Tight Ends: Hooman, Develin, Mulligan. That’s your tight end group this year. A blocking ‘move’ TE, a blocking FB, and an in-line blocking TE. After being treated to two of the five top players at the position the last couple years, this year’s group was … lacking. Effort was certainly there. Talent was not.
Offensive Line: The O-Line was the strength of the offense, outside of Brady. They were heroes, despite losing many games to injury, including a trip to IR for Sebastian Vollmer. The sloppy, lackluster performance they turned in against the Broncos in the AFC title game hurts the final grade.
Defensive Line: Is it really fair to grade them when the anchor player missed most of the season with injury? Vince Wilfork is irreplaceable in this defense, and yet, the team plugged the hole by the end of the season. And they did so without Tommy Kelly and Armond Armstead who were also unable to play even half of the year. The impressive work of youngsters Chandler Jones, Sealver Siliga, and Chris Jones, along with veteran end, Rob Ninkovich, saved the grade.
Linebackers: This injury thing is becoming a drag. The loss of Jerod Mayo is yet another Pro-Bowl player lost to injury for most of the season. However, there was good depth at the position and the combination of Hightower, Spikes, and rookie Jaime Collins produced.
Secondary: All-world CB Aqib Talib got nicked up after a stellar first half of the season and wasn’t quite the same. Similar story could be told about S Dev McCourty. The pass defense went from a Rutgers-powered strength to a bit of a liability by the time the AFC title game rolled around.
Special Teams: K Stephen Gostkowski, rookie P Ryan Allen, specialist Matthew Slater and this special teams unit performed beautifully this season. They were a real bright spot for a memorable Patriot team.
All told, the 2013 Patriots (including the best coaching performance to date by The Boss of NFL head coaches, Bill Belichick) earned a solid A- for a mentally-tough, hard-nosed effort that was easy for its fans to love.
As an analyst, I see the flaws in this team. As a fan and a member of PatriotsNation, I see one of the teams I will most remember and be proud of. This team overcame and overcame and overcame. It replaced all-star after all-star. It fought past the loss of old friends and the betrayal of a criminal in its midst. It fought and it won more than its fair share. This team was special. And worthy.