Will Smith: B+ (2.88) Early in the game, Laurence Maroney ripped off a 22 yard run, and Will Smith had a clear shot at him around the line of scrimmage. Sometimes I feel like he's focused on improving his sack total and his run defense has suffered from it. That said, he did a good job of staying in Brady's face despite double teams for a good portion of the game. He finished with 4 tackles, hit Brady 3 times, and ended with 1.5 sacks. He was the beneficiary of a stat padding sack at the end of the game, and that sack gave him 10 for the season. It's been a while since we've had a double digit sack guy, so that's nice to see 11 games into the season. After having a lower GPA early in the season, Smith's grades have been rising steadily and he continues to pile up consistent performances.
Charles Grant: D (2.24) For an extended portion of the game, Grant was nowhere to be found. He was manhandled anytime a play came his way, and he was unable to get any pressure whatsoever on Brady. On an end around to Welker at one point, Grant showed ZERO pursuit or effort. I was pretty disheartened to see on tape what I concluded was a lazy performance. He did finally get good pressure on a 3rd down play in 4th quarter, though, hitting Brady as he released the ball. It was tough sledding for the Saints' pass rushers though, as they dropped most players they had and often rushed only 4 or sometimes even 3. He finished with 2 tackles.
Sedrick Ellis: C+ (2.71) Nice to have the big man back, and his presence against the run game was felt. He was rusty, though, so I'll expect better things as he gets more reps. I'm sure everyone remembers the fumble fiasco. Hey Sedrick, YOU ARE A DEFENSIVE TACKLE. Fall on the ball already. The fact that he picked up the ball and tried to shimmy his way to the open field like Barry Sanders was laughable. I give him credit for a good all around effort, though. He was sloppy in his tackling at times, but he was also disruptive. He had a terrific tackle at the line of scrimmage at one point on Kevin Faulk. On the Darren Sharper interception, Ellis put nice pressure on Brady to force a bad pass. He finished with 4 tackles.
Remi Ayodele: C- (2.14) Ayodele really didn't play much, surprisingly. When he did, I thought he did an ok job of congesting the middle and forcing Maroney outside. The Saints spent a large part of the game either with a 3 man front, or using Hargrove more because of his superior pass rushing ability and the decreasing threat that the Patriots would run.
Anthony Hargrove: C+ (2.43) As much as Hargrove played he was rather quiet, but he did show terrific effort and a good motor. The plays just didn't really come his way. He finished with 2 tackles, and he did get a chance to force an incompletion by poppin' Brady pretty good right as he released the ball.
Bobby McCray: B (2.00) Finally I saw McCray come in and show me some of those pass rushing skills. Finally! McCray got the other half of the sack with Will Smith, but I felt McCray got the better pressure on that play. He was often coming off the edge and drawing either a double team or a chip block. On one play he absolutely CRUSHED Brady as he released the ball. He also had very good pressure on the long pass to Moss and almost got a sack but Brady evaded him before getting rid of the ball off his back foot. He finished with just 1 tackle, but given the limited help he got rushing the passer I thought his performance was much improved.
Scott Fujita: B+ (2.81) Fujita played MUCH better in the second half. In the first half he was mostly quiet, and I saw him stand out on a play he got beat with on pass play over middle. In the second half, Fujita was dominant. He made a terrific play to force the fumble that Ellis recovered, and he got terrific penetration on that same drive to nail Sammy Morris in the backfield. Kevin Faulk did beat him to the outside on one run, but he was very aggressive and all over the field. He finished with 7 tackles.
Scott Shanle: C- (2.67) Pretty forgettable performance from Shanle who is losing his early season form. He was burned badly by Kevin Faulk on the opening drive of the gain to convert a 3rd down. Then, he was blown up on the 4th down touchdown run by Maroney. He had an absolutely miserable first half. As the game progressed he got more involved and absorbed blocks better, but he was unusually mediocre in pass coverage. He finished with just 3 tackles.
Jonathan Vilma: C+ (2.94) Vilma was up and down during the game. He had 9 tackles, which would lead you to believe he was active and all over the field, but he was also involved in way too many negative plays. Vilma was blown up on first run of the game. Later, he whiffed on Maroney badly to allow the back to get big yardarge. On a pass to Welker, Vilma showed poor awareness. While Welker wasn't his assignment, he had a chance to jump that throw and break up the play or maybe intercept the ball. Instead it was a completion. Like Shanle, his first half was by and large dismal. He did get good pressure on Brady a couple of times blitzing right up the middle. He made up for a shaky start when he BLEW UP Maroney in backfield shooting the gap in the second half. Just when he got on my good side again, though, there was that moronic late hit on Welker out of bounds to give the Patriots 15 free yards. He did get better as game progressed.
Malcolm Jenkins: B (3.06) He was often lined up against Wes Welker and he did an admirable job. He was very physical with Welker, sometimes getting away with possible penalties, and you could tell Welker got frustrated by it. He was PHENOMENAL with tackling all day long, and any time he had a shot at Welker he made sure the slippery receiver went down. He was caught holding twice, once negating an intentional grounding by Brady and another time giving the Patriots a first down - but that was all part of him roughing up Welker. Great job, and I'm glad we have him. Did I already mention he's a terrific tackler?
Chris McAlister: B- (2.67) McAlister was pretty solid all day in coverage, especially in the first half. Despite being matched up against Randy Moss, he didn't allow the future hall of famer to catch a ball until very late in the second quarter. He was however responsible for the long pass to Moss in the second half, and he was fortunate that Brady overthrew a long ball intended for Aiken because McAlister was beaten badly and it would have been a touchdown. He finished with just 1 tackle and he didn't offer much support against the run. Give him credit though, he's only been with the Saints 2 weeks and his he's obviously still capable of covering elite receivers.
Mike McKenzie: A- (3.67) Per Jon Gruden on Monday Night Football "he has guts". I thought that described McKenzie best. He gambled and occasionally lost, but his aggressiveness and fire was instrumental in the win. It was clear the Patriots were going to attack him, and he responded present. It was almost like he never missed a beat from his peak performances 2 years ago. His interception was a HUGE momentum changing play. Later in the game, he had a 3rd down tackle short of 1st down, forcing the Patriots to punt. At one point, beaten by Moss, he dove to make the tackle and somehow jarred the ball loose for a forced fumbled. It was a suspect play, but he saved the Saints from Moss getting major yardage after the catch. He did give too much cushion at times, and was beat on a 3rd and 9 throw curl route to Aiken. The Patriots tried to run that same play soon after and McKenzie jumped the route and almost had another pick. He allowed a first down late by missing a tackle I've seen him make countless times, but he redeemed himself moments later by killing the game with a BIG 4th down play breakup on a pass intended for Moss. He finished with 3 tackles, an interception and 3 defended passes. It's nothing short of incredible that this guy could play at this level after being out of football for a year. The Saints are very fortunate he was available. The welcome back party was in full effect for #34.
Pierson Prioleau: B- (2.67) Prioleau was used as the dime back on some passing downs, and had awesome coverage on a deep pass to Ben Watson down the seam for a breakup. He did a pretty good job in coverage when he was in.
Roman Harper: B (3.21) I have no earthly idea how Harper totaled 10 tackles. He seemed to have a very quiet game, but somehow Harper gets his nose in a lot of plays. He was quiet about his business, but I did notice a big hit he put on Wes Welker on a crossing route early that slowed the receiver down just enough to allow Malcolm Jenkins to knock him down and force the Patriots to kick a field goal. He did get flagged for an illegal contact on a 3rd down to give the Patriots an easy 1st down, which was stupid and negated a good pass rush by Bobby McCray.
Darren Sharper: A- (3.20) Sharper seemed more interested in laying the wood early than getting himself another pick. It seemed like there were passes out there he could have tried to make a play on, but he was focused on crushing anyone that came over the middle. I liked the change in philosophy because he knew he had corners that needed help and he let Pats know early, you go over middle, you pay. Specifically he had a DISGUSTING hit on Faulk that I'm not quite sure how the LSU product got up from. He was very solid all day in coverage and he was a good security blanket limiting the damage when a play would break open. He finished with 6 tackles and was rewarded for his good play with an interception late on a gift wrapped terrible pass by Tom Brady.
Jeff Charleston: C+ (2.33) Not a ton to say, but he played a good amount and was decent pass rushing and decent against the run. He finished with 2 tackles.
John Carney: D (2.61) He was awful. His first field goal hit the upright, and he was fortunate to give the Saints a 3-0 lead when his 30 yard kick bounced in. With the game out of reach he also missed a 36 yarder. So you're thinking, "he was 1 for 2 on field goals, not that bad". True enough, but once again his extra points were VERY dicey. At least three of his point after touchdowns barley made it just inside the right upright. He's already missed 2 this year, and lately it's felt like an adventure with him out there. Not impressed with the guy lately, but I also know he's capable of bouncing back from a bad performance. That said, this extra point thing is nothing new. He's been shaky on those all season long. I've mentioned this before, but I wonder if Brunell being left handed isn't part of the problem? Or maybe the new snapper?
Thomas Morstead: A- (3.09) Every single kickoff he booted went in the end zone, and over half were downed for touchbacks. I mean the guy is just awesome on kickoffs. On punts, it wasn't his fault Welker ripped that big return. He had a nice high and deep punt that the coverage unit should have covered better. He did manage to get another punt inside the 20.
Courtney Roby: B+ (2.97) Roby's best kick return was his first one, which went back to the 35. Two other times he had a shot at getting nice gains but he slipped. As usual he was good and dangerous. He made his grade covering kicks this time. First he caught Welker from behind on that long punt return showing amazing speed. If he doesn't make that play Welker is gone for a touchdown, and McKenzie doesn't come up with a pick on the next play. He also had terrific coverage on a punt to force a fair catch by Welker.
I also need to give props to Lynell Hamilton. He gets an incomplete grade based on limited playing time - but he had a punishing closeline tackle on kick return, and he was a decoy on the touchdown pass to Dinkins.
My Defensive Player of the Game: Mike McKenzie
My Special Teams Player of the Game: Thomas Morstead