Bye, Bye, Bye: Patriots Week 17 Recap

The Patriots received a late Christmas gift as the Indianapolis Colts, running on high emotions with the return of their head coach Chuck Pagano, knocked off the Houston Texans and gave New England a prime opportunity to clinch a first round bye for the upcoming playoffs. The Patriots took this gift and ran with it, as they knocked off the Dolphins 28-0 to finish the year 6-0 against AFC East competition. The Patriots ended the regular season at 12-4 overall and locked up the No. 2 seed in the AFC for the playoffs.

Defense Delivers – While the defense has certainly struggled over the past few seasons, they were able to put together a solid regular season campaign this year if you look closely at the statistics. New England finished 9th in the NFL in both rushing yards allowed per game (101.9) and points allowed per game (20.7), and they also led the entire league in turnover differential (+25). While this defensive bunch has failed Brady and company at times, they are much improved from last year and that is all Belichick and his coaching staff could have hoped for coming into this season. Looking specifically at Sunday’s game, the shutout of the Dolphins was New England’s first since their 59-0 blowout of the Tennessee Titans in the snow back in 2009. With 7 sacks, and pressure on rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill from start to finish, the Pats defense showed everyone that it is in good shape heading into the off week.

The Return of Gronk – Rob Gronkowski was a late addition to Sunday’s roster coming off of missed time due to a broken forearm, but all together he played well in his much-awaited return. Gronk was on the field for 25 of a possible 80 snaps, and had a 23-yard touchdown in the 4th quarter to top off a successful return to the field. Entering the season, all the talk surrounding the Patriots seemed to center around their unbeatable tight end combination of Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez. Now that the regular season is over, credit is due to Tom Brady for orchestrating yet another overly impressive offense while missing key pieces of his receiving core, as Gronkowski and Hernandez were only on the field together for four games of the whole regular season. Gronk and company will benefit greatly from the upcoming bye week, as everyone is at least a little worn down by this point of the year.

Ninkovich Injury – Starting left defensive end Rob Ninkovich injured his hip in the second quarter and did not return to the game on Sunday. Ninkovich needed help walking off the field, and even then he still took a while to limp his way to the sidelines. This is one of the last players the Patriots can afford to lose heading into the postseason, as Ninkovich has been one of the defenses top playmakers this season. While New England is deep at the defensive end position, they would not be able to replace Rob's playmaking ability.

Playoff Outlook – Here stand the 2012 New England Patriots. This is the team that started the season 3-3, but arguably could have been 6-0. The team that went on a typical second half of the season tear, until a wild game against San Francicsco ended their decade long undefeated home record in December. And a team that then topped easy opponents in Jacksonville and Miami, and got lots of help from an imploding Houston Texans club. So, here they are. It’s playoff time and New England is basically right where they want to be. Would they rather have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs? Yes, they would. Would they rather have closed the season with more momentum? Absolutely. But all that matters for the Patriots right now is what stands ahead of them. They will surely benefit from the off-week, but don’t expect Bill Belichick to take any time off from preparing for their divisional round opponent (Texans, Ravens, or Colts). This team will be rested and ready to go two weeks from now, with their main focus being to execute a new game plan and taking care of home field. If New England can do that, then the NFL will have all it could have hoped for this holiday season; another round of Brady vs. Manning in the AFC Championship. The divisional round comes first, of course, so we won’t get too ahead of ourselves.

Number of the Game – 557: The Patriots became the third highest scoring team in a single season in NFL history, after finishing the year with 557 points. They trail only the 2011 Green Bay Packers (560) and, of course, the 2007 New England Patriots (589).

Up Next – The Patriots enter the bye week awaiting their opponent for the divisional round of the playoffs, which they will host on Sunday, January 13th at 4:30 PM.

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