Unlike their previous two contests, the Patriots had to fight until the end to knock off the Dolphins, 23-16, but their victory locked up New England’s 10th AFC East crown in the past 12 seasons. At the very least the Patriots have ensured themselves a home playoff game in the wild-card round, but they will certainly have their eyes set on earning a first round bye heading into the final quarter of the regular season.
Brady Just OK is OK – Isn’t it refreshing to see the Patriots win a game in which Tom Brady is just average (238 yds, 1 INT, 1 TD)? The answer is yes, it’s very refreshing indeed. This has been New England’s Achilles heel over the past few seasons; Brady doesn’t shine and the team loses. It has truly become this cut and dry. But maybe we are past these times. Maybe with the emergence of Stevan Ridley (who became just the third Patriots running back in the past nine season to eclipse the 1,000 yard rushing mark on Sunday) providing a consistent running game, the Patriots can change their motto of being a pass-only machine and gel into a more balanced club. However you look at it, this win goes beyond clinching the division title – it shows us that it is actually possible for the Patriots to win a game when Tom Brady isn’t, well, Tom Brady.
Wes Welker Mania – Receiver Wes Welker had yet another impressive day, moving over the 1,000-yard mark once again and further proving his importance to this Patriots team. To sum up Welker’s day, he had 8 catches for 89 yards and a touchdown...in the first half. This is what we have come to expect from Wes, and the fact that he keeps delivering under such high hopes is a testament to his work ethic on and off the field. Welker has made it clear that he will be a top priority for the Patriots in the offseason, as his contract will be up at the end of this campaign and he has deserved a big pay-off for his efforts thus far. In the absence of Rob Gronkowski, it has become more apparent that Welker’s significance to the offense has only increased, as he is a key element to the Patriots short passing game. Simply put, if Tom Brady goes on to win the MVP this season, he owes Wes Welker a nice dinner..and a solid dessert as well.
Concerns for Gostkowski – If you are a younger Patriots fan (born after ’92) then it is a high possibility that you have had no reason to doubt your favorite teams’ kicker for your entire fandom career. Think about it. Adam Vinatieri graced your team with ten seasons of phenomenal kicking, highlighted by some of the most clutch kicks in the history of the NFL. There was rarely a moment where Vinatieri would trot on the field and you would say “He’s going to miss it.” He never gave fans a reason to doubt, and we thought this was all thrown to the curb when Vinatieri left for Indianapolis. Then in steps a rookie kicker out of the University of Memphis by the name of Stephen Gostkowski (Yea, no one knew how to pronounce that). Before you know it, the Patriots had been blessed with a mini-Vinatieri of their own. Gostkowski couldn’t miss, and the legend of perfection in the kicking game for the Patriots just kept rolling. Then came this season and doubt has finally begun to creep in. Gostkowski has missed 3 of his last 5 kicks and has simply been unreliable when the team has needed him most. Whether it was the shanked potential game-winning kick against the Cardinals in mid-September, or the two missed field goals in Buffalo that threw off the teams’ rhythm in the first half of that game, Stephen is giving Pats fans a reason to be pessimistic heading down the stretch. Whether he can turn it around or not has yet to be seen, but there will certainly be several on-lookers waiting for Gostkowski to hit a clutch late-game kick to earn their trust back in the near future.
Lack of Lloyd – If you were wondering where Brandon Lloyd was throughout the course of New England’s bout with Miami, you were not alone. Although Lloyd was on the field for over 50 snaps, he was only targeted once for one catch of 10 yards late in the fourth quarter. It seemed as though Lloyd just wasn’t getting open, as Brady was looking his way on multiple occasions but had to check down to other options due to consistent pressure in the pocket. While the lack of depth on the Patriots offensive line has a role to play in this, it shouldn’t mean Lloyd couldn’t have created more separation over the course of the game. The jury is still out on how much value Brandon Lloyd has on this team, as his production has been on and off as the season has progressed. So far, it is clear that Lloyd has not been the deep threat that many in New England had hoped for after the wide receiver was signed in the off-season, but you never quite know what Belichick may have in store for the speedster in the coming weeks. Improved chemistry between Brady and Lloyd in practice will increase the chances of better results on the field, but Brandon may just be another piece in the complex puzzle that is the Patriots top ranked offense in the NFL. I guess this is just to be continued..
Top Note - This was Wes Welker's 17th career game with 10 (or more) catches, tied with Jerry Rice for the most in NFL history.
Up Next – The Pats head home to host the Houston Texans in a clash of the top two seeds in the AFC next Monday night at 8:30 PM.Back to the New England Patriots Newsfeed