New England Patriots

By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com

When the New England Patriots got mauled by the Detroit Lions on Sunday Night Football, pretty much everyone’s stock was down. The polar opposite happened on Sunday against the Miami Dolphins, an afternoon of almost universal ups.

So the Week 4 edition of Rise & Fall may have to resort to nitpicking. You also have to focus on factors that aren’t necessarily in the players’ control. To find the “falling” players, anyway. For Week 4, it’s not hard to find who improved their statuses against Miami.

Rising: Sony Michel

Maybe you’d put the rookie running back’s performance just a notch below an “explosion” or a “breakout game”. But Michel at least proved that, on the ground, he’s far better than he indicated in his first two games. Michel gained 112 yards on 25 carries, mixing in a 10-yard touchdown and three explosive runs for 13 yards or more. He eluded tacklers by weaving through traffic or simply powering through with his strong lower body.

Michel also had 11 carries that went for two yards or fewer, so he wasn’t unstoppable. Not quite an epic breakthrough, but a big step forward from what we’ve seen so far. Michel is going to be an important player moving forward, so the hope is that he keeps getting better.

Falling: Chris Hogan

Only one target for Hogan, and it came in the fourth quarter with the Patriots up 38-0. Hogan’s 25-yard catch-and-run saved him from coming up completely empty against the Dolphins. Despite scoring twice against the Jaguars in Week 2, Hogan has only eight catches for 109 through four games and was a surprisingly small factor in a game where the Patriots got into a groove on offense.

Julian Edelman’s return should help free things up for Hogan in the coming weeks. But it appears that Phillip Dorsett has passed Hogan (for now) in the pecking order for targets.

Rising: Kyle Van Noy

Van Noy represents virtually the entire Patriots front-seven here. Everyone deserves credit for greatly improving on the previous two games.

The Patriots’ linebacking corps has heard a lot of criticism to start the 2018 season (including from this writer). It didn’t feel like it was going to get any better against the Dolphins, especially with rookie Ja’Whaun Bentley on injured reserve. But Van Noy went a long way toward proving that this group is better than many tend to believe.

“I think we just executed better than they did today,” Van Noy said after the game. “I think they were just frustrated and I would be frustrated, too.”

Van Noy made his presence felt the most on the Dolphins’ botched snap that fluttered through the hands of Ryan Tannehill. The quarterback couldn’t hold onto the football as Van Noy ripped it away from him. It was a disruptive day overall for him and the entire linebacker group.

Falling: Ball security

Is it possible to say an offense that scored 38 points actually underachieved? The Patriots would’ve had a chance to score in the 50s if not for a pair of surprisingly careless throws by Tom Brady. The work-in-progress offense has appeared to affect Brady’s decision-making, which hasn’t been the most consistent area of his game. He was definitely good on Sunday, and the offense was very good overall.

But Brady did throw two more interceptions, and he’s already up to four in 2018. We’ve seen entire seasons where No. 12 throws that many picks. Both balls got intercepted in the red zone. Brady credited Dolphins cornerback Bobby McCain for dusting off an old test question that surprised him.

“Yeah, that was a really good play,” said Brady. “I mean, I haven’t seen that happen in a long time and just got to learn from it. But, it was a good defensive play.”

Sep 30, 2018; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady celebrates with running back James White, running back Sony Michel and center Shaq Mason after a touchdown during the fourth quarter against the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium. (Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports)

Sep 30, 2018; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady celebrates with running back James White, running back Sony Michel and center Shaq Mason after a touchdown during the fourth quarter against the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium. (Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports)

The offense had a big day, all things considered, but there are still some things that need to be cleaned up. Brady certainly needs to take better care of the football, and the hope is he does with Edelman back in the fold.

Rising: Cyrus Jones

The Dolphins had to punt seven times in this game, so plenty of opportunities were there for Cyrus Jones to make plays – and also to fumble. But the latter did not come close to happening, and Jones actually took a big step forward on Sunday. He had five returns for 45 yards, including an impressive 24-yard return that helped jump-start an eventual touchdown drive for the Patriots. Good complementary football.

It’s already becoming clear that Jones should’ve been the Patriots’ punt returner all along. If he can continue to pair dependability with his obvious ability when he has the ball in his hands, he still has a chance for a big “redemption tour” type of season. Still waiting on that touchdown, but a promising day for the beleaguered defensive back for sure.

Rising: Josh Gordon

The receiver saw the field for the first time as a Patriot. So far, so good. He only played 18 snaps, but that number is sure to rise if he can continue improving. He mainly ran slant routes and had a chance at an early touchdown on one of his two catches. But his more impressive catch came in the third quarter, when he made a well-timed in-cut and broke two tackles after catching the ball. Gordon burst ahead for 19 yards, flashing the size and speed that still makes him one of the league’s most purely talented receivers.

“I mean, it’s awesome, just period, catching a pass from Tom at any point in time,” Gordon told reporters after the game. He’s been rooting for me, and it’s been awesome to have his support and his love, as well as the rest of the teammates and staff here. You know, Tom’s a passionate guy and I love that, and I love the game of football and I think we’re going to mesh just fine.”

If Gordon can keep meshing with Brady and start making more, bigger plays … hoo boy.

Falling Rob Gronkowski

This is more about Gronk’s health than his performance. But it’s clear, now, that the tight end is playing through an ankle injury that’s slowing him on the field. It’s not helping that he’s had to fight through tight bracket coverage on almost every play. Gronk was able to grind out for catches for 44 yards, but each of them felt like a tightly contested ball that Brady had to fight through a small window. Even with Edelman back, the Patriots offense still won’t be at its best until they have Gronkowski going full-bore.

There’s nothing to read into over Gronkowski leaving the game. No need to keep pushing him out there with the team leading by over 30 points. But hopefully the ankle injury isn’t more serious than Gronkowski is letting on, because it appears that it’s held him back over the last two games.

Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at matthew.dolloff@bbgi.com.