By Gregory Hunt

The New England Patriots currently hold a 7-2 record as they head into their bye week, so now is the perfect time to evaluate the performance of some of their key players.

Studs

Tom Brady – New England’s quarterback was thought to be on the decline after a 41-14 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 4, but since then Brady has played lights-out football. He has the team on a five-game winning streak and his current passer rating of 103.5 would rank as the 4th-best of his career. He has thrown 22 touchdown passes against three interceptions.

Rob Gronkowski – The tight end has caught eight touchdown passes, an especially impressive number considering that he was not used on every down early in the season while he was still recovering from last year’s knee injury. Now he appears to be at 100 percent and he is starting to wreak havoc on opposing defenses.

Brandon LaFell – The free agent wide receiver acquisition has become the deep threat the Patriots have not had in a while. He is averaging a team-best 14.3 yards per catch with five touchdowns. He and Gronkowski are the main reasons why Brady is looking like the player fans saw in 2007, when he threw 50 touchdown passes.

Chandler Jones – He’s currently sitting out with a hip injury, but the defensive end has been the best defender on the field for New England this season. Even though he hasn’t played since October 16, he still leads the team in sacks with 4.5. The defense is still playing well in his absence, so it should be even better once he comes back.

Brandon Bolden – While fellow cornerback Darrelle Revis got most of the offseason headlines, Bolden has made a bigger impact since serving a four-game suspension at the beginning of the season. His physical style of play sometimes results in a few penalties, but he’s been keeping the bigger receivers in the league in check.

Rob Ninkovich – The veteran defensive end doesn’t pile up a lot of stats, but he’s an extremely intelligent player who always seems to be in the right place at the right time. His interception of Peyton Manning in New England’s 43-21 win over the Denver Broncos might be the biggest defensive play of the year for New England.

Duds

Kenbrell Thompkins – In 14 career games with the Patriots, the wide receiver never became the deep threat that LaFell eventually became. As a result, he was released on October 4 and he now plays for the 0-8 Oakland Raiders.

Stevan Ridley – The running back ended up on injured reserve after tearing his ACL and MCL against the Buffalo Bills in Week 6, but he wasn’t having a great year up to that point. He was averaging only 3.6 yards per carry, and Shane Vereen has now almost matched Ridley’s total rushing yards for the season with 25 fewer carries.

Nate Solder – He’s been playing better in recent weeks, but the starting left tackle was a major reason the offense struggled early in the year. After a terrific 2013 season, Solder gave up two sacks, one hit and four pressures in the first two weeks of this season. He needs help blocking some of the speedier defensive ends in the league.

For more Patriots news and updates, visit Patriots Central.

Gregory Hunt is a Boston native and a life-long fan of the Patriots, Red Sox, Bruins and Celtics. He’s also particularly fond of lacrosse, IndyCar racing and women’s college basketball. He currently works for Examiner.com where he serves as the Senior Manager of Content and Media Access. He also writes for Examiner.com as the New England Patriots Examiner. His work can be found on Examiner.com.

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