EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 17, 2012

Two-minute drill

Hector Longo
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — BIG SHOWS

1. Danny Woodhead – Nearly orchestrated the comeback of the ages. Ran hard. Never gave up. Caught the football. And most importantly, never put it on the turf. You could see early Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen weren’t ready. Shame on the Pats for not making the move to strictly Woodhead earlier. I usually hate that, but in this case, it was all the Pats had. The other two were junk. Woodhead was your only shot. Delivered stability in the backfield with 77 huge yards from scrimmage.

2. Brandon Lloyd – Stepped up when Tom Brady needed a threat. Finished with 10 catches for 190 yards. Drew PI calls, just a huge night.

NO SHOWS

1. Tom Brady – The professional targets in his arsenal are limited, and for a while, it looked like he was the target for laser-guided Niner-missiles. But Brady delivered one of the worst efforts in his pro career to put the Pats in an inescapable hole. Before the score got to 31-3, he was 13 of 25 for 125 yards with two picks. All the late completions can’t hide this misery.

2. Stevan Ridley/Shane Vereen – Did we mention that BJG-E, the guy you two are replacing at halfback, never fumbled as a Patriot? He played in the rain, too. The performance of these two was pathetic. After Ridley coughed up his first, a play that was overturned and called down, he ran like a timid poodle. Vereen attempted to seize the chance but was all too hyped. He forgot that ball security was part of the job.

3. Wes Welker – First catch of the day came at 9:06 of the third. Sure, they bracketed him with a linebacker and a safety, but Welker usually finds a way. Finished with five grabs for 56 yards.

4. Jerod Mayo – Yep, the captain is the first defender to feel the wrath in this drill. Anybody happen to catch the way Pat Willis and NaVorro Bowman pursued the football for the Niners? Mr. Impact disappeared again when it mattered, finishing with five solo tackles and seven assists.

5. Alonzo Dennard – I had one fellow sports scribe tell me this past week that he reminded him of a young Ty Law. Perhaps, that person meant in the womb. Dennard was roasted early and often, yielding a pair of scores.

6. Aaron Hernandez – How many drops can you have?

7. Kyle Arrington – Nope. He can’t cover Mike Crabtree either.

8. Nate Solder/Sebastian Vollmer – With the Pats down 38-31 in the final 6 minutes, each took turns getting Brady drilled for sacks.

GRADING THE GROUPS

OFFENSE

Line (D) … Dominated whenever it mattered by the San Fran front, a la the last two Super Bowls. Tom Brady has been pounded in back-to-back weeks. Nice to see that Jacksonville and Miami are coming up. With the difference between the 3 and 4 seed very minimal, it might be time for a little bit of conservatism in the offense for Brady’s sake.

Running backs (D) … Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen earned their spots on the bench with fumbles. Absolsute F’s for those two. They get saved by Danny Woodhead’s incredible effort with 12 runs for 61 yards and two TDs, plus four catches for 17 yards.

Receivers (C+) … You have to look at the total picture here, weighing heavily the offensive ineptitude when the Pats fell into a 31-3 hole. The receivers were lost early, swarmed under in coverage. Brandon Lloyd helped save the day with a huge second half (7 for 150) in a 10-catch, 190-yard night. The Niners took Wes Welker away with a physical two-man bracket. Aaron Hernandez finished with decent numbers (10 catches, 92 yards, 1 TD), but the four or five drops were excruciating.

Tight ends (D) … Michael Hoomanawanui had one sweet 41-yard catch, but that’s all I’ve got to say about that. Best thing that happened here is that Rob Gronkowski remained inactive and continues to get healthier.

Quarterback (C-) … In the end, the numbers aren’t atrocious, with Tom Brady hitting 36 of 65 for 443 yards with a TD and a pair of interceptions. The bottom line is that this offense, and the QB specifically, let this game slip away at 31-3. And that was all she wrote, despite some amazing heroics late.

DEFENSE

Line (C-) … The Niners only had 19 first downs and were only 5 of 14 on third downs. But the defense allowed 180 yards on 39 carries, a 4.6 yard a carry average. The front got no pressure on a clearly panicking Colin Kaepernick.

Linebackers (D-) … Totally outclassed by their playmaking counterparts. Brandon Spikes’ attempts to cover were only so laughable. Seeing Dont’a Hightower try to cover brought on bouts of mass hysteria. Yes, that was interference on him, when the refs were too timid to throw the flag at Bill Belichick’s feet late in the fourth quarter. And that was the only time he was actually near his assignment.

Secondary (F) … Alonzo Dennard and Kyle Arrington were singed badly for TDs. The no-look coverage on the corner returned, and it even afflicted the new guy Aqib Talib. Yes, Devin McCourty picked off an atrocious late throw down the middle by Kaepernick. But that was it.

BIG UPS TO THE BOSS

Look, Bill Belichick’s team was due for a flat performance. There was the short week, the bounce off a huge win over Houston, the run of solid performances that somehow had to end.

But down 31-3 in the third, Belichick didn’t allow his troops to pack it in, a la Gary Kubiak and the Texans last week. They went hurry-up, threw it every down and clawed into the game.

This team lost last night, but they learned a lesson in character from their coach. This is why this football team averages over 12 wins a season since 2001. The coach will not let them have a bad night without exhausting every option available.

SLIM PICKINGS FOR BRADY

When the hard-hitting Niners forced the Pats out of the run game, they mauled Wes Welker with a bracket and sent Tom Brady looking elsewhere for options.

At that point, things became evident just how thin this receiving corps really is.

Aaron Hernandez remains reliable as the next option, and Brandon Lloyd erupted with a monster night … albeit one in which he saw nothing but single coverage.

But without Rob Gronkowski, the options are scarce. And that could be a problem as we saw last night against real defenses.

NO SILVER LINING

The silver lining?

Sorry, there isn’t one.

A Houston win against either Minnesota or at Indy locks up the top seed. And Denver has Cleveland and Kansas City left to lock up the No. 2.

At this rate, you’re looking the No. 3, which means a home date with someone like Pittsburgh, the suddenly scary Bengals or hopefully the New York Jets, before a trip out to Houston or Mile High.

FIVE THOUGHTS AFTER THE PATS EXIT A MARATHON NIGHT AT 10-4

1. The bye was there to be had, but it wasn’t lost this week. It was cooked in Week 2, back here in the loss to Arizona, an awful, awful Arizona team.

2. I watch these NFC teams cross over, and it feels like the AFC is the Big-12 in college football – kind of soft – while the NFC is the SEC – with monsters on every defensive front to cause trouble.

3. Could Romeo Crennell and the boys in Kansas City save face in their final game of the season at Denver? It’s most likely the Pats only chance at the bye.

4. Stevan Ridley has scared me from the moment he got here, so has Shane Vereen. Great players don’t fumble. Right now, there are nothing but question marks in this running game.

5. The good news is the Pats have handled the punches from Houston, Baltimore and Denver this year. And they can handle Pittsburgh, too. The team that actually scares me in December, and I can’t believe I am about to type this word: Cincinnati.