With the Patriots on their bye week, Mike Reiss and Field Yates hand out some midseason awards for the team while also looking ahead to the second half:
Reiss: Receiver Julian Edelman
With Danny Amendola missing four-and-a-half games with a groin injury and concussion, and rookies mostly filling out the rest of the depth chart, more was asked of Edelman. He delivered, playing 81 percent of the snaps and hitting the midpoint with a team-high 49 receptions for 473 yards.
Yates: Left tackle Nate Solder
The Patriots offensive line has endured some struggles this season, but Solder has raised his play during his third pro season. The towering left tackle has neutralized several tough challenges from opposing rushers, while also holding his own in the running game. One would be hard pressed to find a major limitation in Solder’s game, and he may well remain as a top left tackle for the next several years.
Reiss: Cornerback Aqib Talib
Even in missing three-and-a-half games, we feel strong enough to put the shutdown cornerback in this category. What he did from Week 3-6 was as impressive of a stretch of cornerback play as has been seen around these parts in recent memory.
Yates: Safety Devin McCourty
When he was on the field, no player performed at a higher level than Aqib Talib, but three and a half games missed gives the edge to McCourty. McCourty’s ability to defend the deep half of the field is simply sensational, as there have been numerous occasions where he’s glided from his middle of the field alignment to the sideline to break up a shot down the field. He’s a communicator and leader of a group that has played as well as any for the team this season, and is on track to earn postseason individual honors in the form of a Pro Bowl selection.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Reiss: Defensive tackle Chris Jones
Claimed on waivers from the Buccaneers on Sept. 11, he has filled in admirably in a starting role after the Patriots lost Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly to season-ending injuries. His costly penalty in overtime against the Jets was one downer, but he still does enough (five sacks) to edge receiver Aaron Dobson to get the vote.
Yates: Defensive tackle Chris Jones
It sounds crazy to say, but where would the Patriots be without Jones, who was cut not once but twice before he landed in New England via the league’s waiver system? The Bowling Green product has admirably filled in to help alleviate the loss of Wilfork, providing interior pass rush and at-times steady moments against the run. Jones may not be a familiar name or flashy, but Bill Belichick has often said you can never have enough good defensive linemen, and that’s exactly what Jones is.
GAME OF THE YEAR
Reiss: Oct. 13 vs. Saints
They don't get much more exciting than that finish ... even if many of the fans in attendance that day didn't see it.
Yates: Oct. 13 vs. Saints
This game had all the elements of a thriller, including the swing of emotions late in the affair when the Patriots seemingly had no hope after a failed fourth-down conversion. Tom Brady was at his best in orchestrating a late-game comeback and finding rookie wideout Kenbrell Thompkins for the game-winning score in the closing seconds, completing the unlikely win.
BEST COACHING DECISION
Reiss: Third-quarter timeout vs. Miami
Bill Belichick preaches situational football to his players, and his "situational coaching" on a windy day against the Dolphins showed he practices what he preaches. Using a timeout before third down, so kicker Stephen Gostkowski could ultimately attempt a 48-yard field goal with the wind at his back, was reflective of a coach who is always thinking. It also helped that Gostkowski could kick off with the wind at his back, helping the Patriots in the field-position game in the fourth quarter as they pulled away.
Yates: Shadowing Jimmy Graham
Conventional wisdom suggests cornerbacks are too small to hold their own against tight ends, especially one like Jimmy Graham who stands 6-foot-7 and has terrific athleticism. But Bill Belichick and defensive coordinator Matt Patricia entrusted Aqib Talib to shadow Jimmy Graham in Week 6, catalyzing an effort to keep Graham out of the stat book and without a catch.
Reiss: Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui
The four-year veteran beat out Daniel Fells and Jake Ballard in a training camp competition and then held the fort admirably until Rob Gronkowski returned in Week 7. He has played 71.1 percent of the offensive snaps after playing 22.8 percent all of last season, and has nine catches for 112 yards while holding up well as a run-blocker as well.
Yates: Kicker Stephen Gostkowski
This may be Gostkowski's best season yet, as he's connected on 22 of 23 field goals, with his lone miss coming all the way back in Week 2. He's made a pair of kicks from over 50 yards and absolutely punished kickoffs throughout the first half of the season. Gostkowski ranks fourth in the NFL with a touchback percentage of 70.4, aiding the Patriots in controlling the field position battle.
SECOND-HALF PLAYER TO WATCH
Reiss: Running back Shane Vereen
The third-year running back looked explosive in the season opener before a broken wrist landed him on the injured reserve list with a designation to return. Vereen is eligible and on track to come back Nov. 18 against Carolina and should provide a big boost to the team's attack.
Yates: Wide receiver Aaron Dobson
The rookie has come on of late and had his best game of his young career in Week 9. The Patriots appear to be trending closer to having Dobson and Amendola as their top two receivers, with Edelman as the third wideout to complement the top group. Dobson has shown the skill set that made him so intriguing during the pre-draft process, and if he can develop consistency, a big second half should be in store.