EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 9, 2013

Hector Longo's Two-Minute Drill

Hector Longo
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — BIG SHOWS

1. Shane Vereen — Became the offense when Gronk went down. At one point, he carried the ball or was thrown to on seven straight downs. Finished with 12 big catches for 153 yards, 11-for-150 coming after halftime. Explosive, uncoverable, but can he play every down and remain healthy for the playoff run?

2. Rob Gronkowski — Makes the supreme sacrifice by putting his body on the line for a 21-yard catch downfield that might have ended his season. Two catches for 32 yards, but the kid laid it on the line. Warrior, through and through.

3. Tom Brady — Look, the guy took a beating all day and still threw for 418 yards. It was loathsome early, but he competes like no other human on the planet. Went 16 of 20 in the fourth quarter for 142 yards and two TDs. Yeah, I like the kid a little bit.

NO SHOWS

1. Ryan Wendell — Swallows the cyanide pill for the entire offensive line, which allowed for six QB hits on Brady and four sacks. He’s getting destroyed too often inside, but he was not alone as Logan Mankins, Nate Solder and Will Svitek surrendered sacks as well.

2. Aqib Talib — Shut up and cover. With Jason Campbell tossing the pill, Josh Gordon catches seven balls for 151 yards and a TD. Remember when you people called him a shut-down corner?

3. Dont’a Hightower — Forget the numbers on your side (7 solos, 4 assists), and I will forget them on mine (Cleveland gained an average of 8.0 yards on his seven solos). The guy had 6 solos at the half and ran out of gas again. Is it coincidence this defense melts when you do? I think not. Where does this guy go when he gets tired? He hides. Doesn’t Matt Patricia see this on film? Oh yeah, Dont’a? Maybe you wouldn’t be so winded if you stopped celebrating unsuccessful two-point conversion tries. Didn’t you notice that the two-point try comes after the other team scores a TD on you?

GRADING THE GROUPS

OFFENSE

Line (C-) ... Fellas, have you noticed your teammates dropping like flies? Allowing the opposition free blindside shots on Tom Brady is not the correct track to the Super Bowl. No excuse for Logan Mankins taking a bad angle on a pull. Or Nate Solder getting beaten with speed on the edge. Tough day.

Running backs (B+) ... Stevan Ridley’s two-handed tippy-toe aside, it was a great day. Shane Vereen was uncoverable. Unfortunately, Ridley is masquerading here as a lead rusher. Where is my guy, reliable Brandon Bolden?

Tight Ends (A+) ... Potentially the last high mark here for a long, long time — all depending on how bad Rob Gronkowski is injured. Bill Belichick is no doctor, but when he admits that Gronk, “was taken to the hospital for observation and evaluation of his injury,” something is wrong.

Wide Receivers (B) ... Admirable efforts from all. Yes, even rookie Josh Boyce. He, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Austin Collie played and combined for 14 catches for 153 yards — basically Josh Gordon’s (7 for-151) day — but what do you expect from this bargain basement group?

Quarterback (A-) ... Like the kid who dawdles for three quarters of the semester then crams for the final, we give you this day for Tom Brady. He slept through the first semester and still lives to tell about it in the win. Good for the highly-talented types like you Brady.

DEFENSE

Line (B+) ... When they needed a play, it came from Rob Ninkovich, who had five solos, a sack, two tackles for loss and two hits on the QB. The rest did a nice job disarming that notorious game-breaking threat Willis McGahee. That’s kind of like beating your 90-year-old in an arm-wrestling match. Didn’t McGahee play at “The U” with Michael Irvin? How is he only 32? Hey, Chandler Jones, this has been back-to-back weeks where you’ve taken a nap while the defense is on the field. Put the binkie aside and re-engage. This defense needs you.

Linebackers (C-) ... Jamie Collins had a tackle for loss? Yes, I had to look that one up to believe it, too. Dont’a Hightower’s stamina right now is Longo-esque. Brandon Spikes stuffed the run when needed.

Secondary (D-) ... If Billy Cundiff’s 58-yarder at the buzzer swishes, this is the worst “F” I’ve delivered in the history of the Drill. As it is, this was a mediocre day. Jason Campbell has seen better days. His career passer rating is 82.3, yet he managed a gaudy 116.8 yesterday. Wow.

MONEY PLAY

How about Stephen Gostkowski’s game-turning onside kick!

“My job is to give the team a chance,” said Gostkowski, who was told to attempt the “middle bunt” onside kick. “The percentage of successful onside kicks is not good. This one was pretty amazing.”

Gostkowski, who if he lags with his putter as well as he does with his right foot must be a heck of a golfer, dribbled the ball forward, then slid ahead of it at the 10-yard mark to try an corral the pumpkin.

He didn’t, but off a Cleveland deflection, Kyle Arrington did, putting the Pats in position to win it.

“I’ve never been that jacked up,” said Gostkowski. I was all over the place. I probably looked like an idiot out there.”

One guy who was certainly impressed on the play was Tom Brady.

“It was unbelievable. It was a great – I came over to the sideline after we scored and Josh (McDaniels) said, ‘We’re going for the middle bunt.’ So I kind of stood up to get a good look and he kicked a perfect ball,” said Brady. “That was awesome. You know, we work on that all the time and if it comes up once a year, great. If it works, I mean, it’s incredible.”

WHY BELICHICK’S (the coach) IS BETTER

Bill Belichick said it himself, “We made just about every play we had to make at the end there.”

Are you sure, Bill?

But those plays, the Stephen Gostkowski onside kick, Brady’s amazing fourth-quarter throws, etc., they are a product of coaching. This team practices situations and are ready for anything. These wins are not by accident.

WHY BELICHICK (the GM) MIGHT NOT BE

As a Patriots fan, when a kid like Josh Gordon comes in and not only rips up your secondary but looks amazing doing it, doesn’t that get under your skin a little bit.

This team has tried so hard over the years to draft and develop a “stud” receiver, only to come up with a sea of Bethel Johnsons, Chad Jacksons, Aaron Dobsons and Kenbrell Thompkinses.

Gordon was no high-untouchable super talent. He came out in the 2012 supplemental draft and went in the second round, meaning any team could have had him for a first-round pick out of Baylor. The Pats and everyone passed.

It has to be frustrating, especially when Belichick dresses Danny Amendola, Austin Collie, Julian Edelman and Josh Boyce yesterday.

ROGER AND OUT. NFL, YOU ASKED FOR THIS

The NFL’s first move, penalizing defensive backs for those wild, Brandon Meriweather-type head shots was admirable. But when the league took it a step further, allowing the refs to penalize for shoulder-to-shoulder contact, it was asking for trouble.

The league found it yesterday when a heat-seeking missile known as safety T.J. Ward launched himself into Rob Gronkowski’s legs to take the big man down.

“That wasn’t a dirty hit,” said Patriots safety Devin McCourty.

The fact is, the NFL has forced the safeties low.

“I try to aim at the thigh area,” said McCourty. “You can’t aim high, up by the head.”

And now you can’t even aim high. Careers will end with hits to the legs that we saw yesterday. And there won’t even be penalties enforced.

This is only going to get more ugly. Now, let’s hope that Gronk is OK.

MONEY PLAY

How about Stephen Gostkowski’s game-turning onside kick!

“My job is to give the team a chance,” said Gostkowski, who was told to attempt the “middle bunt” onside kick. “The percentage of successful onside kicks is not good. This one was pretty amazing.”

Gostkowski, who if he lags with his putter as well as he does with his right foot must be a heck of a golfer, dribbled the ball forward, then slid ahead of it at the 10-yard mark to try an corral the pumpkin.

He didn’t, but off a Cleveland deflection, Kyle Arrington did, putting the Pats in position to win it.

“I’ve never been that jacked up,” said Gostkowski. I was all over the place. I probably looked like an idiot out there.”

One guy who was certainly impressed on the play was Tom Brady.

“It was unbelievable. It was a great – I came over to the sideline after we scored and Josh (McDaniels) said, ‘We’re going for the middle bunt.’ So I kind of stood up to get a good look and he kicked a perfect ball,” said Brady. “That was awesome. You know, we work on that all the time and if it comes up once a year, great. If it works, I mean, it’s incredible.”