1 – Sure it’s been kinda an ugly first half-ish to the 2023 season in New England. There’s been more mistakes than big plays and way more losses than wins with the Patriots sitting at 2-7, worst in the entire AFC heading into Sunday’s matchup with the Colts.
And thanks to the odd modern NFL schedule, there’s not actually a midpoint of the season to give out midseason awards. (Unless anyone wants to run to the blog at halftime of the ninth game every year.)
But we’re not gonna let the NFL’s schedule and a bad season keep us from a little cliché blogging fun here at WEEI.com. Nope. This Sunday morning, with Bill Belichick and Mac Jones mustering up nothing but smiles across the pond in Frankfurt and Patriots fans enjoying some breakfast-and-brunch home tailgating parties, we’re going to do our best to look for the superlatives from the first half this trying season that has been anything but super. So here goes…
MVP: Matthew Judon. Sure he only played in four games before landing on IR with a torn biceps, but after adjusting his contract following some kind of hold-in this summer Judon was earning his paycheck. He had four sacks through four games to go along with nine QB hits. He was well on his way to another Pro Bowl season as the lynchpin of the front seven for a defense that was clearly going to be the strength of the team. He also was doing his best to bring leadership and energy to the squad that was putting up the good fight for most of the first month, energy that he’s continue to bring to the sideline even while injured. It probably says something that New England’s MVP through nine games is a guy who didn’t even make it through four full games to open the year. But it is what it is.
2 – Offensive Player of the Year: Kendrick Bourne. Another player on IR who was having a solid season. Through nine games Bourne leads New England in receptions (37), receiving yards (406) and touchdown catches (4). He was in the midst of a nice bounce back year as the lead pass catcher on Bill O’Brien’s offense before going down with a torn ACL late in the loss to the Dolphins. Bourne may not be a true No. 1 receiver but he was the closest thing that New England had and was doing his best to give Mac Jones a consistent option through the air. Like Judon, Bourne was also the energy guy for the offense, another aspect of his game that will be missed over the second half of the season.
3 – Defensive Player of the Year: Christian Gonzalez. Sensing a theme? Gonzalez arrived as the team’s No. 1 pick and it was clear from spring practices he was expected to be the Patriots’ No. 1 cornerback. And that’s exactly what he was through the first four games of the season. The rookie was at home dealing with elite receivers over his first four games of NFL action and was more than holding his own as the league’s Rookie of the Month for September. When he was lost in Dallas to a shoulder injury it created an immediate impactful hole in the back end of the defense. The New England defense is not nearly what it was to open the year in large part because Gonzalez (and Judon) are no longer part of it.
4 – Rookie of the Year: Demario Douglas. The sixth-round receiver showed all summer that he could bring a pop to the passing attack, even if he didn’t necessarily get a lot of chances early on. Sure, he fumbled in Week 2, but more often than not Douglas has shown a spark when given the chance to put his quickness and playmaking to work. He hits Germany with 24 catches for 277 yards, an 11.5-yard average that’s top among Jones’ top eight pass catchers. With Bourne out of the mix and veteran guys like JuJu Smith-Schuster and DeVante Parker scuffling most of the year, Douglas could be New England’s top target over the second half of the season.
5 – Comeback Player of the Year: Pharaoh Brown. The veteran tight end joined the New England practice squad after being cut by the Colts and was signed to the active roster before the season opener. Supposedly a third blocking tight end, Brown has made some of the biggest plays of the season in the passing game for the Patriots, including a 58-yard catch-and-run touchdown in New York to beat the Jets, one of only two wins on the season.
Brown only has seven catches for 170 yards, but there’s been times when he’s felt like one of New England’s most dangerous weapons. And his 170 yards is more than Mike Gesicki has produced, despite nearly three-times as many receptions. Brown has been one of the rare fun stories and bright spots.
6 – Coach of the Year: DeMarcus Covington. Given New England’s record and struggles in so many areas this season, there aren’t a lot of options for this one. But the young, rising Covington has gotten solid play out of a deep, diverse group on the defensive line. He deserves credit for the jump in production that Christian Barmore has seen. He deserves credit for working through different lineups with regularity, including getting rooking Keion White ready to contribute. Covington also brings a youthful energy and optimism to his job, which can be critical in tough season like the one the Patriots are having.
7 – Prediction Time!: While we’re spending much of our time looking back to the lackluster first nine weeks of the season, New England does have a game this week, its Sunday morning affair in Germany against the Colts. This is an international matchup that’s like 15 years too late. Once upon a time – as the NFL showed with some of its wishful marketing with Tom Brady and Peyton Manning – this would be a massive game in Frankfurt. Now? Nope, now it’s a lackluster battle of losing teams, one with a journeyman backup under center and the other led by a guy trying to prove he’s not going to be a journeyman backup. The Colts, as with most teams, certainly have more talent on both sides of the ball. Jonathan Taylor is back to share the load with Zack Moss, who’s having a career year. Michael Pittman can make plays in the passing game. DeForest Buckner is a beast on the defensive line. The Colts have twice as many wins as the Patriots for a reason. They are probably the better team. They certainly score more points more consistently. And the reality is that New England just hasn’t done anything to deserve the benefit of the doubt in almost any game at this point. Unfortunately international Patriots fans aren’t getting anything near the team they’ve grown to love over the years. They’re getting a team that struggles in so many areas to find successful consistency. Let’s go with a 23-13 win for the Colts as the frustrating season continues for New England, despite the many smiles this week in Germany.
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