The season is over, the revenge tour did not culminate with a Super Bowl championship, but still there was plenty to be proud of in 2015. The Patriots advanced to their fifth straight AFC Championship game and their tenth in the Belichick/Brady era. Then there are things that didn’t go as planned, such as injuries and a porous offensive line. Here is a look back at the highs and lows of the 2015 season.
The 2015 season kicked off with the new league year on March 10th. The Patriots had decisions to make on many players. Devin McCourty and Darrelle Revis were the big fish the Patriots had to decide what to do with.
Best Free Agent retained.
At one point it looked like McCourty may head out of town as reports trickled in that he and Bill Belichick had a conversation where McCourty thanked Belichick for five great years. The Patriots went back to the table and inked McCourty to a five-year $47.5 million deal. While I am on record as saying McCourty is more of a play preventer than a playmaker, he is the leader on the Patriots defense and helped the secondary transform from Revis and Bradon Browner to Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan.
Biggest Free Agent Departure.
Revis was the ultimate hired gun for the New England Patriots. He came to the team for one reason, to help the Patriots end a 10 season Super Bowl drought. Revis did just that. Once the Pats did not pick up his $20 million option, Revis became a free agent and bolted back to New York. It was looked at as a blow, however, Revis showed some signs of decline during the season for the Jets. The money saved in not signing Revis could go to long term extensions for his replacement Malcolm Butler, Jamie Collins, Donta Hightower and Chandler Jones.
Best Free Agent Signing.
Sheard was just what the doctor ordered for the Patriots. He came in and was the perfect third pass rushing defensive end for the Patriots. He finished with eight sacks and four forced fumbles. He also allowed Rob Ninkovich and Chandler Jones to stay fresh in games. His insertion into the lineup was one of the reasons the Patriots defense was great all season long.
Worst Free Agent Signing.
The Patriots had hoped resigning Spikes would bring that physical dominating linebacker back to the field. Instead, all the Patriots got was a late night police report of Spikes and a car accident. Spikes was released by the team and remained out of football in 2015. With Spikes on the field, the loss of Hightower to a knee injury against Denver isn’t so devastating.
Best Draft Pick.
It is hard to replace a legend. Malcom Brown unexpectedly fell to the Patriots at pick 32 in the NFL draft. The Patriots needed an interior presence after big Vince Wilfork departed via free agency to the Houston Texans. While Brown had some struggles his first year, he got better as the season went on. Well on his way to replacing Wilfork, Brown played in all 16 games with 12 starts, He finished with 48 combined tackles and three sacks. If Dominque Easley comes back healthy the duo could create havoc on the NFL for the foreseeable future.
Worst Draft Pick.
Wells was supposed to be that hybrid safety/linebacker the Patriots have been trying to create since they brought in aging John Lynch in the 2008 preseason. At 6’1″ 220lbs and running a sub 4.5 in the 40-yard dash he should have been that. Instead, he was traded to the Chicago Bears for Ryan Groy. Groy was cut by the Patriots and Wells was cut by the Bears.
Most Memorable Moment
Raising the Championship Banner.
After an offseason full of drama, Tom Brady, the Patriots, and their fans were able to enjoy the 2014 teams accomplishments. On a night where echos of DJ Khaled’s “All I do is win” song could be heard all the way up Route 1, the Patriots put an exclamation point on the start of the season with a 28 – 21 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers in the season opener.
Best Win of the Season.
Patriots 27 Giants 26
The Giants took a 26-24 lead with 1:50 to go in the game. Tom Brady and the Patriots had to drive for the game-winning field goal. Before Stephen Gostkowski lined up for his 54-yard game winner, the Patriots were faced with fourth and 10 from their own 20. Brady hit Danny Amendola for 12 yards. Amendola was filling in for Edelman who broke his foot earlier in the game.
Worst loss of the Season.
Eagles 35 Patriots 28
For the second week in a row, the Patriots blew a 14 point lead and lost a game. This time, the Patriots special teams let the team down. A Ryan Allen punt was blocked and returned for a touchdown. Darren Sproles took a punt return back for a score. Finally, Tom Brady was intercepted at the one-yard line and the ball was brought back 99 yards for the score. In a season where the Patriots had some devastating losses, this one was the game that can be looked back upon as the game that should have been won. Belichick also could be blamed for calling a squib kick with the team up 14-0.
Offensive Player of the Year.
While this award could go to Brady or Rob Gronkowski, no one is as much the man in the Patriots offense as Edelman. The Patriots were 10-0 when he started in the regular season, and just 2-4 when he was out of the lineup. Edelman finished the season with 61 catches for 692 yards and seven touchdowns. With a healthy Edelman, there is no telling how far the team could have gone.
Defensive Player of the Year.
The list was long and distinguished. Players such as Jamie Collins, Chandler Jones, Malcolm Butler could have been chosen. Hightower however, had his best season as a pro. When he was a 100% he was better than any defender on the field. Coming into the final year of his contract in 2016, he is in line for a big payday. He should get in from the Patriots as they pay their drafted players who are among the league’s best. Hightower simply is a difference maker between the sidelines.
Biggest Surprise players
Dion Lewis and Logan Ryan
Not much was made of the Dion Lewis signing to a futures contract last year, but the back made the most of his opportunities. When he tore his ACL against the Redskins the Patriots offense struggled. If he comes back the same player he was in next year the Patriots have a gem on their hands.
Ryan was looked at as a liability by many in Patriots nation including myself. Images of Chris Matthews beating him for a touchdown in the Super Bowl were deeply etched in our heads. All Ryan did was go out and have his most solid season as a pro. He shut down Demaryius Thomas twice. Locked down Pierre Garcon, and played solid defense all year long. Teamed with Butler the Patriots secondary had two young up and comers making peanuts last year. He should be looked at as a solid number two corner going into next season.
It was a tough season for LaFell. After breaking out in 2014 with 74 receptions on 119 targets for 62% in 2014, he came crashing back to earth. LaFell caught just 37 passes on 74 targets, a 50% rate. He was plagued by drops and inconsistency. He also cut his routes short and gave up on others. It was a bad year. The question becomes was 2014 the aberration or was it 2015?
Most Valuable Player.
With the weight of the world on his shoulders, the 38-year-old Brady had one of his best seasons of his career. Brady may be staring down the barrel of father time, but he kept the team together around him as player after player was lost due to injury. While the ultimate goal was not reached, he kept the Patriots in every game. Heading into 2016 is there any slowing Brady down?