By Gregory Hunt

With 13 games still remaining in the 2015 regular season for the New England Patriots, there’s still plenty of time for players to prove their worth to the team, but thanks to an impressive 3-0 start, it’s pretty easy to identify the ones that have already stepped up their games. The ones that haven’t lived up to expectations are a little harder to identify, but they’ll get a chance to redeem themselves starting in Week Five when the Patriots meet the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium on October 11.

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Rising: Tom Brady, Quarterback

New England’s starting quarterback always seems to play his best when he has a chip on his shoulder. After successfully appealing his four-game suspension for his role in the Deflategate scandal, Brady apparently set out to teach NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and rest of the league a lesson by playing some of the best football of his career. Brady has not thrown a single interception while completing passes for nine touchdowns and 1,112 yards. His performance earned him AFC Offensive Player of the Month honors for September. It was Brady’s eighth time winning that honor.

Rising: Dion Lewis, Running Back

Going into training camp, the Patriots had questions at running back thanks to the departure of Shane Vereen, who caught 11 passes in New England’s Super Bowl XLIX victory. Lewis has answered those questions this season by catching 15 passes while rushing for 146 yards (4.9 yards per carry) and two touchdowns. He’s drawing comparisons to Kevin Faulk, who was a similar offensive threat during a 13-year career with the Patriots. Even Faulk himself praised Lewis in a recent radio interview, saying, “He’s clearly been working hard to get back into the game (after a few injuries), and it looks like it’s paid off for him.”

Rising: Jamie Collins, Linebacker

The New England defense has struggled at times, but the standout player is Collins. The outside linebacker is currently leading the team in tackles (22), sacks (3.5) and forced fumbles (2). The third-year player from Southern Mississippi had a breakout year last season but failed to get a bid to the Pro Bowl. He might get one this season if he continues to play at such a high level.

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Falling: Malcolm Butler, Cornerback

To be fair, the hero of Super Bowl XLIX hasn’t played poorly this season, but he hasn’t made the leap into becoming the shutdown corner the Patriots needed after Darrelle Revis took his Super Bowl ring and decided to return to the New York Jets. Shortly before the season began, head coach Bill Belichick praised Butler for the work ethic he showed during the off season, but in the last two games, Butler has allowed three catches for 98 yards and two touchdowns. 

Falling: Michael Hoomanawanui, Tight End

After serving as the #2 tight end to Rob Gronkowski last season, Hoomanawanui became so irrelevant this season that he ended up getting traded to the New Orleans Saints last week in exchange for defensive end Akiem Hicks. Hoomanawanui didn’t get targeted very often this season, but he did drop at least one pass, and he ended up getting replaced by Scott Chandler in the team’s two-tight-end sets.

Falling: Dominique Easley, Defensive Tackle

The Patriots had high expectations for Easley when they chose him in the first round (29th overall) of the 2014 NFL Draft, but a series of injuries have prevented him from reaching his potential. A nagging knee injury limited his effectiveness during his rookie season, and this season he missed Week Two due to a knee injury he suffered in Week One. He did return for Week Three, but recorded only one tackle.

Without starting quarterback Tony Romo and starting wide receiver Dez Bryant, the Cowboys might appear to be easy opponent for the Patriots next week. However, with Brandon Weeden at quarterback, Dallas looked fairly competitive in a road game against the Saints on Sunday night before the Cowboys lost in overtime. New England needs to stay focused so that it can continue playing at a high level and avoid falling into a “trap” game.

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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.