Originally written on Foxboro Blog  |  Last updated 11/10/14
For the fourth time in just seven games, the Patriots nearly blew another fourth-quarter lead. And for the first time all season, the team found a way to close in crunch time. As ugly as it could have been, Tom Brady made sure the Pats avoided their fourth loss of the season and their place atop the AFC East. After struggling to get anything going in the fourth quarter, Brady engineered two signature drives, one coming with less 1:37 left and the other in overtime. Although they had to settle for field goals in both situations, the defense ended up pulling through when it mattered most, as linebacker Rob Ninkovich and Jermaine Cunningham teamed up for a game-ending strip-sack of Mark Sanchez. Though there are still plenty of areas of concern—namely the pass defense and the Brady-Brandon Lloyd connection—the Patriots have to be happy about escaping with a 29-29 victory over their most bitter rival. Let’s take a look at this week’s risers and fallers.   Risers 1. Rob Ninkovich, LB: For the second straight season, Rob Ninkovich is the Patriots’ unsung hero on defense. The versatile 6’2”, 260-pound linebacker/defensive end has been a game-changer in 2012, and his performance against the Jets proved it. Since Week 4, the seven-year veteran has recorded 21 tackles, 3.5 sacks and four forced fumbles. His strip-sack and recovery in overtime sealed the narrow victory for New England. 2. Brandon Spikes and Jerod Mayo, LBs: Once Dont’a Hightower grows into his own, this unit will be the best in the NFL. For now, the Patriots will settle for the dynamic duo of Mayo & Spikes. Both linebackers punished Jets ball carriers Sunday and were instrumental to holding New York to just 106 yards on the ground. Spikes’ bone-crushing hit on Shonn Greene was a thing of beauty, and Mayo flew to the ball and continued his impressively consistent play. These two have special potential and are the emotional and physical leaders of the defense. 3. Rob Gronkowski, TE: Gronk isn’t on pace to match last year’s record-breaking season, but he’s still been the best tight end in the game. The 6’6”, 265-pound manchild showed tremendous hands in reeling in his first touchdown reception, and his third-quarter score put the Patriots up 10 points. More importantly, he was a reliable target for Brady on New England’s final drive, which ended in a game-tying field goal. With Hernandez getting healthier by the week, Gronk should be freed up to make more plays in the passing game. 4. Stephen Gostowski, K: The former Pro Bowler faced heavy criticism for missing a pair of crucial kicks earlier this season, but he was money on Sunday. He only kicked two field goals, yet they were critical. His 43-yarder at the end of regulation sent the game to OT, and he easily converted a 48-yarder on the Patriots’ only possession in OT, which ended up being the game-winner.     Fallers 1. Ras-I Dowling, CB: Ever since he went down with a hip injury against Miami in Week 2 last season, it’s been a rough ride for Ras-I. The former top pick of the second round in 2011 has fallen down the depth chart, and his performance Sunday did nothing to suggest he deserves to be on the field. Despite his length and overall size, the former Virginia Cavalier did poorly in coverage, drawing several holding calls. Unless he makes a quick turnaround, he might not be in New England next season. 2. Pass defense: New England might have generated four sacks and an interception, but Mark Sanchez actually picked them apart for the most part. Rookie Alfonzo Dennard had his moments, but he was far from perfect. Kyle Arrington continued to be an easy matchup as Jeremy Kerley toasted the Patriots secondary for 120 yards on seven receptions. New England’s poor safety play and general lack of awareness has resulted in far too many big plays, a potential crippling blow to any Super Bowl hopes. 3. Brandon Lloyd, WR: For all the preseason hype about Brandon Lloyd, he just hasn’t shown me enough. He’s been a solid addition, but he hasn’t been special. Sunday was Lloyd’s worst game as a Patriot, as the former Pro Bowler dropped several potential big catches and just wasn’t on the same page as Brady. His production has made people forget about the failed Chad Ochocinco experiment, but fans and coaches expected more big plays from the veteran wideout. Hopefully he and Brady can continue to develop their chemistry so he can be unleashed as a vertical threat.  
MORE FROM YARDBARKER

Dwyane Wade hopes Heat fans give LeBron a warm reception

Adam Silver: No NBA team is tanking

Penguins having three more players tested for mumps

Jay Cutler is not the answer for the Titans

Josh Smith released by Detroit Pistons in surprising move

13 amazing NFL stats from Week 16

LIKE WHAT YOU SEE?
GET THE DAILY NEWSLETTER:

JJ Watt's bloody face defines 2014 campaign

Dominic Raiola insists he didn't intentionally stomp opponent

Jets call themselves the best 3-12 team in NFL history

Cam Newton calls out 'classless' Panthers fans

Report: 49ers to part ways with Harbaugh after season finale

Brad Stevens shoots down rumors he's headed to Hoosiers

Don't mess with Seahawks punter Jon Ryan

Niners OT asked Manti Te'o about his fake girlfriend

Darren Sproles' wife Michel fires back at Eagles critics

Steve Smith expects 'couch quarterback' criticism

WATCH: Tennessee walk-on gets scholarship as bowl gift

Raiders player gives game check to young girl in need

Game of the week: Detroit Lions vs. Green Bay Packers

Yankees pay for education of slain officer's children

Breaking up the Brooklyn Nets

Brady: Edelman might be Pat's Most Dependable Player

Who can fight off the Golden State Warriors in the West?

NFL flexes Bengals-Steelers into 'Sunday Night Football' slot

NFL News
Delivered to your inbox
You'll also receive Yardbarker's daily Top 10, featuring the best sports stories from around the web. Customize your newsletter to get articles on your favorite sports and teams. And the best part? It's free!

By clicking "Sign Me Up", you have read and agreed to the Fox Sports Digital Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can opt out at any time. For more information, please see our Privacy Policy.

An appreciation for Marshawn Lynch's crotch grab touchdown celebrations

D-Wade: Heat fans should cheer LeBron

Niners OT asked Te'o about fake girlfriend

Sproles' wife fires back at Eagles critics

Game of the week: Lions vs. Packers

'Manny' is the must-watch documentary about Manny Pacquiao

Breaking up the Brooklyn Nets

13 amazing NFL stats from Week 16

JJ Watt's bloody face defines 2014 campaign

Jets claim to be best 3-12 team ever

10 takeaways from NFL Week 16

Cam Newton calls out 'classless' Panthers fans

Today's Best Stuff
For Bloggers

Join the Yardbarker Network for more promotion, traffic, and money.

Company Info
Help
What is Yardbarker?

Yardbarker is the largest network of sports blogs and pro athlete blogs on the web. This site is the hub of the Yardbarker Network, where our editors and algorithms curate the best sports content from our network and beyond.