Every week, PFW associate editor and Patriots writer Kevin Fishbain will identify three up-and-comers and three players/units going in the opposite direction in the Patriots stock report.
1. WR Deion Branch: Observers were a little concerned when Branch didn't catch a ball in the preseason, but he had a monster game in Week Two. Branch had eight catches for 129 yards in the win over San Diego and the veteran proved he is still a weapon when he gets the ball in space.
2. ILB Jerod Mayo: The Pro Bowler played like one against the Chargers, leading the team with 11 tackles. He also made two of the defensive plays of the game. He knifed through the defense to stop RB Mike Tolbert on a fourth-and-goal from the one-yard line. Later, he knocked the ball out of Tolbert's arms, forcing a fumble when the Patriots were only up by six in the fourth quarter. Mayo didn't have a stellar season opener, so it was good to see him wreaking havoc against San Diego.
3. Kickoff coverage: One key ingredient to an upset is big special-teams play. The Patriots' kickoff coverage was very average last season, but against San Diego, PK Stephen Gostkowski had three touchbacks and the Chargers' average starting position was the 20-yard line. The coverage got an exclamation point by LB Tracy White, who stoned Chargers KR Richard Goodman at the 13-yard line in the fourth quarter.
1. CB Devin McCourty: The second-best defensive rookie in the NFL last season, McCourty has had a tough start to the season. After giving up a couple big plays to Dolphins WR Brandon Marshall in Week One, McCourty had to often cover Chargers WR Vincent Jackson in Week Two. Jackson finished with 10 catches for 172 yards and two scores. McCourty played well against big, physical receivers last season but may need a little help from the safeties going forward.
2. Discipline: Rarely do you see a Patriots squad rack up penalties in back-to-back weeks. They were penalized eight times for 80 yards on Sunday, and most came on defense. CB Leigh Bodden was flagged for two defensive holding penalties, and both came on plays where passes fell incomplete.
3. Passing defense: It still is not where it needs to be. Granted, the Patriots have been playing with a lead most of this season, forcing teams to throw it around, but they couldn't stop Vincent Jackson on Sunday, despite a great game plan to keep Antonio Gates in check. Against the Bills' spread attack, the Patriots' secondary and pass rush will get tested again. The front three/four has not put enough pressure on QBs this season.