NEPD Staff Writer CJ Sousa
I can’t think of many holidays that beat Thanksgiving. Food, family and football. The only thing missing this year is a Patriots’ thrashing of the Lions at Ford Field.
Since we can’t watch the Patriots this Thanksgiving, let’s look at some Patriots to be thankful for who have played vital parts to a 10-0 start.
David Andrews, Center
Honestly, where in the world would the offensive line (and offense overall) been without the former UDFA out of Georgia? Until last week Andrews played every snap for the Patriots, completely bailing the team out of a crisis when Bryan Stork went down. Not that it really matters, but consider this: Andrews went from an UDFA lucky to get a practice squad spot, to full time starter, to leading the Pro Bowl vote for all AFC centers after week 11. His value with Bryan Stork out was extremely high, and even now with Storks’ return Andrews figures to contribute somewhere on this patch work offensive line in the future.
Malcom Butler, Cornerback
This may be an obvious one, but not to me. Patriots’ fans were hoping Butler could be a true lock down cornerback after his Super Bowl heroics, but that was no guarantee. He isn’t Darrelle Revis, but Butler’s solid play against top tier competition (Antonio Brown, Brandon Marshall, Odell Beckham Jr. just to name a few) has helped lead the Patriots to the #1 scoring defense in the NFL. Shutting down Bills’ star Sammy Watkins last week was just the latest example, as Watkins was a near non-factor. Anybody remember the pre-Darrelle Revis secondary’s (particularly 2010,11)? Without Butler, 2015 would be a similar sight. Belichick’s defense just has a different feel to it with an elite level cornerback capable of playing with opposing elite level talent, and it looks like that’s exactly what New England has going forward. I’d say that’s something to be thankful for.
Chris Harper, Wide Receiver
This is a gut feeling here, as Harper has done absolutely nothing so far for the Patriots on the field. The UDFA out of Cal has a chance to be a major factor down the stretch, and could really help out an ailing wide receivers core. He’s just 5’11, but plays bigger than his size while having the versatility to line up inside or out. With Edelman out until (hopefully) the playoffs, Danny Amendola banged up, Keyshawn Martin banged up and Aaron Dobson possibly done for the year, Harper will be counted on. Patriots’ fans should love his hands as well, he had just one official drop compared to 163 catches in three seasons at Berkeley.
Patrick Chung, Safety
I don’t ever want to see him return a kick ever again, but Chung in his second stint in New England has certainly played a major part of the secondary. Capable of playing as an in-the-box linebacker role, covering a deep half as well as flanking out as a cornerback, Chung has given Belichick the versatility he craves and has been a nice compliment to All-Pro safety Devin McCourty. With Chung’s improved play this year (as well as Duron Harmon), this could be the best safety group Belichick has had in at least 8 seasons.
Stephen Gostkowski, Ryan Allen, Brandon King & Matthew Slater, Special Teams
Good teams win field position, and you do that by having excellent special teams. Gostkowski is the best in the business, period. He’s 23-24 on field goals (only miss a 54 yarder) and has a very Vinatieri-esque game winner to his resume this year. Allen has averaged an astounding 41.8 net yards per punt, thanks in large part to two special team’s ace’s Brandon King (8 total tackles) and Matthew Slater (11 total tackles). It’s truly a group effort on special teams, so it’d be unfair to single out one of them. It goes unnoticed to most fans, but great special teams win games – and that’s exactly what the Patriots have.