Tom E. Curran, Phil Perry give out Patriots midseason awards at bye week

Curran, Perry give out Patriots midseason awards at bye week originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

Nine games in, the yin-and-yang of the 2022 Patriots season has left them in near perfect balance. They are 5-4. Win a couple. Lose a couple. Nice defense. Horrible offense. Great kicker. Horrible punter. High-priced players doing diddly. Low-priced players ripping it up.

The constant struggle between the light and the dark. Which side will win out between now and the end of the year? Or do they remain in a state of stable chaos?????

(I googled “yin and yang” and the Wikipedia page gave me this whole sermon so don’t give me crap. We needed an intro for the Bye Week Awards …)

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We will learn more in the next eight games. Or maybe we learn nothing at all. CHAOS!!!!

Offensive MVP

Tom E. Curran

Jakobi Meyers. He’s got 40 catches for 457 yards and a career-high three TDs. He’s catching a career-high 77 percent of the balls he’s targeted with. Passer rating when targeted is 122, which is off the charts. DeVante Parker, Nelson Agholor and Kendrick Bourne have 44 catches combined. Meyers is indispensable.

Phil Perry

Rhamondre Stevenson. And I'm not sure it's all that close. Jakobi Meyers is the clear No. 2, but he's in a separate tier. What Stevenson has done to create yardage on his own -- over the last month a whopping 79 percent of his yards have come after contact -- has been remarkable. No wonder Bill Belichick is willing to profess his love for the second-year back at the podium.

Defensive MVP

Tom E. Curran

Deatrich Wise. Matt Judon is the obvious choice. Had to zag to avoid repetition. But I happily nominate Deatrich Wise for what he’s giving the defense and the front-seven. Versatile. Long. And out there all the time. Wise played 521 snaps of defense and 45 on special teams last year. This year, he’s already at 461 and 71. The team leans on him and he’s delivered.

Phil Perry

Matthew Judon. He's right to credit his teammates, which he does, after big games like Sunday's against Indy. Sometimes they're the ones creating open lanes for him to rush through on his way to the quarterback. But he's been a complete player -- his run stuff in a fourth-and-one situation last week was recent evidence of that -- and if the team can continue to limit his workload, he should be good for the stretch run. He's exceeded 50 snaps just once this season. Last week, through nine games, he exceeded 50 six times and hit 50 on the nose twice more.

Most pleasant surprise

Tom E. Curran

Jonathan Jones. A lot of directions to go, especially with the fleet of capable rookies making impacts. But I settle on another guy who, like the undrafted Meyers or the fourth-round pick Wise, has been a hidden diamond discovered by the Patriots. Transitioning to full-time starter and playing more on the outside, Jones is playing a career-high percentage of snaps and has two picks. He’s allowing 46.7 percent completions and a passer rating of 55.4.

Phil Perry

Jack Jones. Jon Jones has acquitted himself nicely on the outside after making a name for himself as a slot defender, but it's Jack Jones who has been the biggest surprise. Entering the draft, he looked undersized and not blazing. But he's excellent at changing direction and finding the football. He's Pro Football Focus' highest-graded corner through nine weeks, and he's fifth among qualifying corners in quarterback rating allowed (49.4). What a find.

Biggest disappointment

Tom E. Curran

Jonnu Smith. I can’t imagine anyone’s more disappointed about being a disappointment than Smith. And I’m sure if we hit him with the truth serum we’d get a better read on why he’s got 44 catches and a single touchdown in 24 games with the Patriots. He’s only out there for 50 percent of the offensive snaps. Why purchase the man’s services if you’re not going to utilize them?

Phil Perry

Kendrick Bourne. We thought Bourne was on his way to a monster season in Year 2 in Foxboro. Not the case. He began the season marooned on the bench, playing in just two plays against the Dolphins in the season-opener. Since then he's slowly worked his way back onto the field on a more regular basis -- thanks in part to injuries (DeVante Parker) and ineffectiveness (Nelson Agholor) -- but his level of production has been a massive disappointment. He has just 14 catches for 167 yards. That would've sounded like three games of work for Bourne before the season. Not eight (he missed one due to injury).

Most improved

Tom E. Curran

Bailey Zappe. I wasn’t over-the-moon with him in the summer. He was inoffensive but certainly not worth projecting as a capable fill-in if worse came to worst. I was not a Zappidian. But in his 36 drives over the better part of four games, Zappe was composed, decisive, accurate and never – not once – seemingly overwhelmed. Even when he was getting his passes blasted back at him when he was forced to throw against the Bears, he kept poise. I put his ceiling at Heinicke.

Phil Perry

Jon Jones. He's an accomplished player. He was already good. This isn't some miraculous turnaround. But given where he's been asked to play -- aligning outside consistently in Belichick's defense after shining in the "star" role inside -- he's had a remarkable year. "I cannot say enough about him," Devin McCourty said recently. "Now going outside, which is not easy to do when you are inside and have made a name for yourself playing inside and playing good football, and to then go outside and play at a high level. Then he showed out today blocking a punt, intercepting a pass, scoring. He is one of our best players.”

Best value

Tom E. Curran

Mike Onwenu. He’s like the Rock of Gibraltar on an offensive line that’s a sea of penalties, missed assignments and overwhelmed protectors. Between Trent Brown, Cole Strange, David Andrews and Isaiah Wynn, the Patriots have $21 million in cap hits. Onwenu, the right guard, has a cap hit of $945,000 and a salary of $895,000. He’s got to have more coming his way soon.

Phil Perry

David Andrews. In a year when the Patriots haven't had a lot of continuity along the offensive line -- both on the depth chart and on the coaching staff -- having Andrews around has been a godsend. In Week 1, when Belichick had Billy Yates up in the press box for the first half and when Matt Patricia was working with quarterbacks, it was Andrews who appeared to be leading the way for his unit on the bench, talking over the pictures they saw on the sideline tablets. With Andrews out recently, rookie Cole Strange has had issues. His backup, James Ferentz, is a smart and tough football player. But in Andrews the team has a top-end starter, part-time coach and captain. Pretty good value for less than $5 million per year.

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Worst value

Tom E. Curran

Nelson Agholor. Panic purchase in 2021. Forced to overspend for whatever wideouts were on the shelf because of bad drafting/planning at the position, the Patriots (who were flush at the time) were also shopping in a seller’s market during that free agent period. There weren’t a lot of good wideouts available. So Agholor got a two-year, $22 million deal. He’s making $9 million this year. Patriots barely use him. Fifteen catches. One in the entire month of October.

Phil Perry

Isaiah Wynn. Don't have to go too far to find the opposite end of the value spectrum... When the Patriots picked up Wynn's fifth-year option, he was guaranteed $10 million for this season. That made him the 13th most expensive tackle in 2022. Then the Patriots moved him to right tackle. Then he was benched in favor of Marcus Cannon, who was a free agent well into the season. Now he's bouncing in and out of the lineup with Strange, and he's leading the NFL in penalties (8). Not what you're looking for.

Coach of the half-year

Tom E. Curran

Mike Pellegrino. The cornerbacks coach has got his kids playing at a … high level (Mark Jackson voice).

Phil Perry

Jerod Mayo. The Patriots defense has come together better and more quickly than many expected. They’ll be tested over and over again in the second half of the year with two games against Josh Allen, one against a turbo-charged Tua Tagovailoa and one against Joe Burrow. But, for now, the defensive staff deserves some credit. And Mayo is the one oftentimes charged with taking the lead behind the scenes.

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Saw it coming

Tom E. Curran

The slide of the Mac. I didn’t think Michael McCorkle would have four touchdowns and seven picks at the bye. I didn’t think he’d be under constant siege. I didn’t think he’d look as squirrely and world-weary as he’s become. But I absolutely knew it would be a very hard slog for the boy. And it has been.

Phil Perry

Nick Folk. OK… Maybe no one saw this coming, where Folk is among the team’s best and most dependable players. But kicker was also far from a major concern headed into the year. Maybe it’s just a New England thing, but people expect their kickers to be good. And they are. Generally speaking. For more than two decades now. People assumed Folk would be good. And he’s been great.

Surprised to see

Tom E. Curran

Jake Bailey coming completely undone. The league’s All-Pro punter in 2020 is averaging 42.1 yards per punt with a 35.3 net on 37 punts with five touchbacks. He had five touchbacks on 55 punts in 2020 with an average of 48.7 and a net of 45.6. Whappen?

Phil Perry

Hunter Henry. After sharing the league lead for touchdowns scored among tight ends, the assumption was Year 2 would only mean bigger and better things for the team’s best receiving tight end. It hasn’t. Henry has been relatively quiet, particularly in the red zone where the Patriots have struggled compared to the rest of the league; he has just one touchdown to this point in the season, which was thrown to him by Bailey Zappe. Henry hasn’t exceeded four catches or 61 yards in any game to this point in the year.

Best offensive play

Tom E. Curran

Nelson Agholor's 44-yard touchdown vs. Pittsburgh. For one shining moment, it all came together as Mac Jones picked on a 1-on-1 matchup and his receiver went up the ladder to bail him out, winning the 50-50 ball and scurrying in for the score.

Phil Perry

Rhamondre Stevenson's 35-yard run vs. Jets. Stevenson was met at the line of scrimmage early in the second half at MetLife Stadium. Not all that different from large portions of the rest of the season. Then he broke a couple tackles, found open space and got on his horse to pick up 35 total yards.

Worst offensive play

Tom E. Curran

Mac Jones’ fourth-quarter end zone pick vs. Ravens. This frigging thing.

Phil Perry

Mac Jones hurts his back. That play at the end of the team's Week 1 game in Miami encompassed a lot of what has gone wrong for the Patriots offense. Bad omen. Can't protect. Can't seemingly scheme up a sound protection play. (Nelson Agholor was asked to help secure Jones' pocket on that one...) And Jones reacts by flipping a pass dangerously down the field. Not a great sign of what was to come for the remainder of the first half.

Best defensive play

Tom E. Curran

Jack Jones sideline pick vs. Lions.

Phil Perry

Matt Judon destroying Jets. Judon has had a number of impressive plays as one of the league's best defensive players to this point in the season. And while he's maybe had a handful of lapses in the running game, he's been fairly consistent as an all-around defender this season. This play, highlighted by Brian Baldinger of NFL Media, serves as a brief summary of all the things he's able to do to make the Patriots a better defense. Effort. Effort. Effort.

Worst defensive play

Tom E. Curran

Jaylen Waddle’s long catch-and-run touchdown on fourth-and-7 just before the half in the season opener.

Phil Perry

Justin Fields runs for a massive gain on third down. Not easy to find a whole mess of terrible Patriots defensive plays. But they got gashed on the ground by both Justin Fields and Lamar Jackson. One of their worst plays had to be a third-and-14 situation again against Chicago with the Patriots down, 17-14, late in the first half. They had an opportunity to potentially force a punt, but instead they let Fields scramble for 20 yards, extend the drive, and they gave up a field goal going into halftime. Deflating. Bad.

Short answers

Tom E. Curran

  • In the final eight games, Mac Jones will ... continue to show incremental almost imperceptible improvement behind an OL that never really gets right.

  • The Patriots' best game of the second half will be ... at home vs. the Bengals on Christmas Eve. The pass rush and defense slow down Joe and Cincy.

  • The Patriots' worst game of the second half will be ... at Las Vegas on December 18 at the back end of a West Coast trip. The record of former Patriots coaches against their old team is not encouraging.

  • Will the Patriots make the playoffs? In a word. No.

Phil Perry

  • In the final eight games, Mac Jones will ... do everything he can not to turn over the football.

  • The Patriots' best game of the second half will be ... at Arizona. Cardinals are sinking fast.

  • The Patriots' worst game of the second half will be ... at Buffalo. Time for Josh Allen's elbow to heal.

  • Will the Patriots make the playoffs? No. Eight or nine wins. That enough?