Editor’s Note: Andy Gresh will be part of The Providence Journal’s Patriots coverage for the season. “Gresh’s Grades” will appear each week in print, on providencejournal.com/sports, and on 630wpro.com following a Patriots game.
This one should shut some critics and worrywarts up. A good win against a team that analysts respect. The Patriots ran the ball against a Minnesota Vikings team that has been good against the run all year. And defensively they played smart, disciplined, and limited the big plays. I’ve been on record that the Patriots will win out after the bye and this win gives me confidence that it will happen.
This was an efficient, poised, unselfish performance by the career 1,000-yard rusher. The first drive was magnificent. Tom Brady distributed the ball to multiple receivers while remaining patient and taking the throws that were there. He didn’t force the ball and was protected very well. The big hit from Harrison Smith caused the interception, but otherwise, this was a great game by TB12.
RUNNING BACKS: A
On certain plays, James Develin lined up as the tight end on the line of scrimmage, and on certain plays, he was a fantasy football touchdown shark. I LOVE that offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels gave the ball to the fullback around the goal line to change their red-zone fortunes. Sony Michel turned in another grinding performance as did James White catching the ball. Rex Burkhead was eased back into the mix with some work in the receiving game and a couple of welcome-back carries.
WIDE RECEIVERS: B-
This grade was affected by Julian Edelman’s performance — too many drops and inconsistency in getting open. The third-down drop on the second drive in the first quarter took some steam out of the offensive sails. Josh Gordon continues to play steady football and is gaining Brady’s trust. He also works hard blocking in the running and screen game. Chris Hogan took advantage of his opportunities and chipped in nicely. “The Experiment” — Cordarrelle Patterson — made chunk plays that continue to keep him a factor in this offense.
TIGHT END: B
Rob Gronkowski is being used as much for his blocking as he is for his ability to catch the ball. He was the personal escort on Edelman’s two carries and can assist in pass protection when needed. This game wasn’t about him catching the ball. There will be some of those, but what’s important is that the Patriots keep stacking up wins and getting 87 more rest as the playoffs approach.
OFFENSIVE LINE: A+
The biggest story up front was their ability to run the ball against a very good Vikings defense. I thought they changed up the running game with Edelman and Patterson taking advantage of this group and Gronk’s athleticism. Brady had plenty of time as the line rose to the occasion and kept him clean all night long. Fantastic effort.
DEFENSIVE LINE: A
The Vikings second-half running game was non-existent and wasn’t really a factor all night long. The pass rush was consistent and the inside rushers did a great job up the middle. Adam Butler was very active and the coaching decision to line up Trey Flowers over the nose for middle pressure was a good one. Lawrence Guy was fantastic. There are no stars, but a lot of versatile guys with length and strength.
I liked Dont’a Hightower’s game in the first half as he was flying around like it was 2014. I’m not a fan of Elandon Roberts in coverage and playing in space, but he played remarkably well in both. And Kyle Van Noy is having a career year. It was also great to see Van Noy jump into that Adam Thelin vs. Bill Belichick bickering match.
DEFENSIVE BACKS: A+
A LOT of solid play against a group of big and productive receivers. Diggs, Robinson, and Theilen were shutdown on the whole, with only two, 20-plus yard plays from the Vikings wide receivers. J.C. Jackson continues to get better and better. I like his physical style. The McCourtys have been pretty consistent all year long. And Stephon Gilmore is quietly playing at a Pro Bowl level. The blitz percentage on the season is around 36-38 percent, which means that coach Brian Flores trusts these guys in coverage enough to bring pressure on a consistent basis.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B-
Stephen Gostkowski missed a field goal, which felt like it would be a big momentum swing, but it didn’t adversely affect the offense or the team. Ryan Allen did a nice job pinning punts inside the 20, and the coverage units didn’t give up any big returns. The Brandon King holding on the long return by Edelman was disappointing. He’s a special-teams-only guy who gets about 15 snaps a game, he can’t make a mistake like that.
THREE THINGS TO LOOK FOR
1) Defenses around the goal line getting beat on a play fake where James Develin is involved.
2) Don’t get sucked into the “Gronk is old” camp. All he has to do is have three great games this season — in January and February.
3) I like the versatility of the defense. They’re rounding into shape on that side of the ball.
“The Gresh Show” airs each weeknight on 99.7FM and AM 630 WPRO from 6 to 9 p.m.