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. TE Aaron Hernandez: We have kind of waited for Hernandez to break out with defenses putting so much emphasis in stopping Rob Gronkowski and Wes Welker. It isn't like Hernandez has been ignored — it's just that teams haven't contained Gronk. But Sunday was Hernandez's day. He had nine catches for 129 yards and a touchdown on 11 targets, and should have had two scores. With all the talk about who would step up at receiver with Deion Branch out, it was Hernandez, who again showed his abilities in the open field.
2. RB Stevan Ridley: The Pats rushed for 141 yards, their most since Week 11, and Ridley was a big part of that. The rookie had 65 yards on 11 carries, including a long of 24 yards. Ridley has all four of the team's runs of 20 yards or more this season. Ridley has struggled since impressing early against Oakland, but he ran hard against Denver and provided a spark.
3. Special teams: The Patriots have one of the league's best special-teams units and it shined against Denver on Sunday. Three of Zoltan Mesko's four punts pinned Denver inside the 20-yard line. Quan Cosby, whose season average on kickoff returns is 26.9 yards, averaged 17.8 on four returns. PK Stephen Gostkowski converted both of his field-goal attempts as well.
1. Run defense: This was No. 1 on last week's stock report, and it remains here as it continues to decline. The Patriots gave up 252 rushing yards to the Broncos and what should be a concern was the inability of the back seven to make tackles. LBs Rob Ninkovich and Dane Fletcher had their struggles and the team didn't set the edge well. Three fumble recoveries saved the Patriots, but it is not a good sign to see how easily teams have run on them two weeks in a row. Paging Brandon Spikes.
2. S Matt Slater: Slater entered the secondary to help at safety with his speed, but he didn't play well on Sunday and missed some tackles. Sergio Brown replaced Slate, as the shuffling at the safety position continues.
3. RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis: He did have two catches for 32 yards and a touchdown plunge, but The Law Firm continued his struggles. He had 10 carries for 17 yards. In the past four games, Green-Ellis has 35 carries for 94 yards, a 2.7-yard rushing average. Granted, the Patriots are 4-0 in that stretch, but he has not found much room to run in the second half of the season.
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