Report card: Patriots-Rams
This category didn't look promising for the Patriots early, when Rams QB Sam Bradford completed a 50-yard touchdown pass, seemingly proving that nothing had changed after another week of the secondary trying to "get better." But after that early hiccup, the Patriots played an exceptional game. Credit to Bill Belichick and his staff in preparing their team to play despite difficult travel and scheduling conditions.
This unit did what it needed to do -- dominate -- even without Aaron Hernandez. Tom Brady went 23-of-35 for 304 yards, four touchdowns -- and most importantly -- no interceptions. He was able to get Rob Gronkowski involved more downfield for the second straight game, while also throwing two touchdown passes to Brandon Lloyd, with whom he struggled to connect last week.
The impressive early-season ground attack returned to form and proved even more explosive. Stevan Ridley had a career day, rushing for 127 yards on just 15 carries, an 8.5-yard average that was buttressed by runs of 40, 31 and 20 yards. For the second straight game, Shane Vereen received a notable workload, but was less effective, averaging just 3.1 yards per carry, despite a 14-yard run on his second attempt.
A considerable improvement, although allowing a 50-yard TD on the first drive prevents them from getting a perfect grade. Unlike the last two games, the secondary (despite several injuries) was able to keep a below-average passing offense from looking larger than life. On the negative end, Sam Bradford, an underrated passer, had a 73 percent completion rate (22-of-30). The unit's two interceptions came at the end of the game when the result was already in hand.
A tough unit to judge, given such a small sample size: Rams running backs only had 17 carries in the game, and some of those came when the Patriots' defense was expecting the pass. It's hard to knock the Patriots in that case, since they knew the Rams weren't going to win on the ground. Still, Daryl Richardson and Isaiah Pead combined for 85 yards on 10 carries, including runs of 20 and 19 yards. Some room for improvement.
An easy day for punter Zoltan Mesko, who only punted twice. The Patriots kicked off eight times and the Rams averaged just 18.6 yards on the five kicks that were returned. Meanwhile, coming off his fumbled kick return last week, Devin McCourty returned one kickoff for 19 yards. Overall, a good day for Scott O'Brien's group.