Rob Gronkowski: It wasn’t a dominating statistical night, and he didn’t even play his regular full load of snaps, but his sheer presence makes a major difference for the Patriots' offense. His 45-yard catch in the first quarter set up the team’s first touchdown, and his 1-yard touchdown catch at the end of the second quarter helped the Patriots take control early.
Akiem Hicks: Powerful defensive tackle raised his game in front of the nationally televised audience, as the former New Orleans Saint showed flashes of why he was viewed as a rising star at one point. He was a force on the interior, as he’s one of four players the Patriots have tapped to help fill the void of Vince Wilfork’s free-agent departure to Houston. His versatility also showed as he stayed on as a sub rusher in place of the injured Dominique Easley.
Jerod Mayo: Linebacker had an expanded role playing as the second linebacker alongside Jamie Collins, as his smarts and ability to make adjustments added value to this game-plan. The eight-year veteran showed flashes of the player who was one of the NFL’s better linebackers when healthy over the early part of his career.
Jabaal Sheard: The defensive end forced two fumbles in the second half as he was a force off the edge against a top offensive tackle, Duane Brown. Sheard’s performance highlighted an overall impressive defensive effort. Cornerbacks Malcolm Butler, Logan Ryan and Leonard Johnson were among the other considerations for a game ball.
Patrick Chung: Safety might have been affected by a foot injury as he struggled to get off a block on a 37-yard run in the second quarter and then was fortunate when he was a step behind in coverage against tight end Ryan Griffin in the third quarter, but Griffin dropped the ball.
Tre’ Jackson: Rookie right guard was called for two holding penalties. It’s often difficult to evaluate offensive play immediately after a game, and overall the protection was better than it has been, but the two holding penalties stood out.