By Gregory Hunt
With a #1 seed and a bye in the first round of the AFC playoffs, the New England Patriots have the privilege of resting their bumps and bruises this weekend, making it a good time to look at some of their key performers for the 2014 regular season.
Jamie Collins – Wednesday, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick described his team as “lucky to have” linebacker Jamie Collins. The second-year player is generally known as the best athlete on the team and he has become highly proficient in both the pass rush and in pass coverage. He led the team in tackles (116), he tied for the lead in interceptions (2), and he also collected four sacks and a blocked field goal that teammate Kyle Arrington returned for a touchdown.
Julian Edelman – The only reason wide receiver Julian Edelman didn’t earn a 100-catch, 1000-yard season is because he missed the final two games recovering from a concussion. His willingness to sacrifice his body in order to make a play can make him vulnerable to injury on occasion, but he has an impressive ability to make plays even though he’s far from the strongest or fastest receiver around. Not only did he lead the team in pass receptions, but he also excelled in returning punts.
Stephen Gostkowski – New England veteran kicker Stephen Gostkowski earned his third Pro Bowl nod thanks to a season in which he missed only two field goals. His field goal percentage of 94.6 percent (35-of-37) is the highest in Patriots history. After eight seasons, he is the franchise leader in points scored.
Rob Gronkowski – He played sparingly early in the season as he continued recovering from a serious knee injury he suffered late last year, but once he started to play full time, tight end Rob Gronkowski was as dominant a player as ever. He became just the second tight end in NFL history to record multiple seasons of 1000 or more yards receiving with 10 or more touchdowns (New Orleans Saints star Jimmy Graham is the other). Gronk is nearly unstoppable in the red zone, making him a key player in New England’s quest for a fourth Super Bowl title.
Darrelle Revis – Cornerback Darrelle Revis made only two interceptions this season, but that’s largely because he made it virtually impossible for opposing quarterbacks to even consider throwing the ball in his direction. Thanks to his pass coverage, New England has played its best defense in nearly ten years.
Matthew Slater – His productivity went down briefly when he spent several weeks playing through a shoulder injury, but special teams maven Matthew Slater still played well enough to earn his fourth consecutive selection to the Pro Bowl. Slater has a knack for getting to the ball quickly on both kickoffs and punts, and you will almost always see him disrupt the return even when he doesn’t make the final tackle.
Aaron Dobson – After being a starter for most of his rookie season last year, wide receiver Aaron Dobson regressed to the point where he barely saw the field this year. He played in only four games, catching just three passes before getting placed on injured reserve list late in the season for the second consecutive year.
Dominique Easley – He had a history of knee problems in college, but New England decided to take a chance on defensive lineman Dominique Easley by drafting him last year in the first round, 29th overall. He showed potential by getting a sack, a pass deflection and an interception in limited playing time, but his inability to stay on the field was frustrating. He’s only 22 years old, so hopefully the Patriots will eventually get some value from him.
Brian Tyms – Speedy wide receiver Brian Tyms has the potential to be a deep threat in the passing game, but his hands are questionable. He caught a 43-yard touchdown pass against the Buffalo Bills in Week 6, but since that game he’s caught only four passes in the nine times he’s been targeted. On one of those catches, he allowed his body to fall out of bounds when it appeared he could have turned up the field for a first down.
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Gregory Hunt is a Boston native and a life-long fan of the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics. He’s also particularly fond of lacrosse, IndyCar racing and women’s college basketball. He currently works for Examiner.com where he serves as the Senior Manager of Content and Media Access. He also writes for Examiner.com as the New England Patriots Examiner. His work can be found on aExaminer.com.