Best sibling-related sign: Hey, leave Cooper alone. He’s been through enough.
Best four-game start in NFL history for a receiver: Pretty straight-forward and simple here. Wes Welker has been ridiculous, and his 616 receiving yards gives him the best four-game start for a wide receiver in NFL history.
Most impressive rookie: An injury to Danny Woodhead in the first half forced Stevan Ridley into action during the Patriots’ win over Oakland. The third-round pick out of LSU last April then proceed to keep the Patriot line marching, just like every good little Patriot. The names and faces may change, but often under Bill Belichick the resulting performances have been interchangeable.
Prior to today Ridley had seen only limited playing time, and had 51 rushing yards on eight carries. In his first extended game action he looked agile and athletic early, and was able to get the edge with surprising speed that was most evident on his 33-yard touchdown run. Ridley averaged 9.7 yards per carry, and led the Patriots with 97 rushing yards.
Most disappointing tight end: Welker’s continued brilliance has clearly made the undersized slot receiver the focal point of New England’s passing game. But Rob Gronkowski’s silence today with Aaron Hernandez still out was odd. He finished with only one reception for 15 yards.
Hernandez doesn’t function as a traditional tight end in the Patriots’ offense, and is often used in the slot in addition to Welker. Basically, he’s a larger, taller, and slightly less attractive (debatable) Welker as far as Tom Brady is concerned, working the middle and finding soft areas in zones. So with Hernandez out last week the assumption was that his usual slot numbers would be spread out between Welker and Gronk, and that’s pretty much what happened. Welker dominated during New England’s Week 3 loss to Buffalo, hauling in an incredible 16 receptions for 215 yards, but Gronkowski still saw his share of Brady love, finishing with seven receptions for 109 yards and two touchdowns.
That same pattern should have continued today, but Welker remained sizzling, and there was a need to grind out the clock with a second half lead and the aforementioned Ridley running effectively alongside BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Gronkowski’s disappearance this week will become an aberration quickly, especially since he was targeted six times.
Emerging tight end award: It seems every week we add another name to the group of emerging tight ends. First it was Arizona’s Jeff King, and then Buffalo’s Scott Chandler and his four touchdowns in the first three weeks. And today we met Jake Ballard, the Giants tight end who’s made Travis Beckum a memory in New York while replacing the departed Kevin Boss.
Ballard had a two-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter that brought New York to within a field goal before Hakeem Nicks’ touchdown eventually sealed the victory and a surprising 3-1 record. He also had another touchdown called back earlier in the fourth quarter when the play was reviewed and it was ruled he was down just shy of the goal-line.