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FOXBORO (CBS) – Facing a 17-0 deficit at halftime, the New England Patriots locker room was not a very festive place to be on Christmas Eve.
“It’s probably not even legal for me to say it right now,” linebacker Jerod Mayo said of the halftime conversation they got from head coach Bill Belichick and other players. “Too many beeps.”
Whatever was said, and whoever said it, the Patriots got the message loud and clear. They scored 27 unanswered points, leading to a 27-24 victory over the Miami Dolphins that clinched a first round bye in the playoffs.
“We went to the sideline and talked heading into halftime, basically all we needed was one play to get us started as a team,” said nose tackle Wilfork, who’s fumble recovery in the third quarter was the play to turn it around. “That play seemed to spark us.”
While the words uttered at halftime were probably not for a PG crowd, Wilfork said the team never gave up on each other and knew the game could change if they gave a full effort in the final 30 minutes.
“All that while, we never gave up on one another. We never said anything negative to one another; we just kept encouraging one another,” said Wilfork. “A good football team responds. Going down 17-0, that’s a pretty big deficit. Again, this team showed character on this team is unbelievable.”
High & Lows: Another Comeback
“It wasn’t our best effort of the season. But we’ve got to give the players a lot of credit for coming back in the second half, down 17-0,” head coach Bill Belichick said after the game. “They played a good enough half of football. Happy to win. Happy to win. We tee it up here again next week against Buffalo, but it’s a good way to go into the little Christmas break here for a couple of days, recharge, come back and hopefully be able to finish strong.”
Belichick wouldn’t go into his halftime talk, but said there wasn’t much he could commend his team for after the first 30 minutes.
“We needed to do everything better. There wasn’t really one thing we were doing that was, I’d say, overall good enough,’ said Belichick. “We just didn’t do a good job in any phase of the game in any area. I know we’re capable of more than that and the players showed that. They responded. It wasn’t perfect in the second half and we got a couple breaks, but we made a few plays on our own, so that’s good. We were able to come out on top, but we dug ourselves a big hole there.”
“We just had a hard time getting going. We obviously didn’t play very well in the first half,” said quarterback Tom Brady, who completed just seven passes in the first half but finished with 304 yards through the air and ran in for two touchdowns. “I think we made a pretty big commitment at halftime to each other to go out and everyone do their job and quit worrying about everybody else and go out and play better and we did that.”
Brady also pointed to Wilfork’s fumble recovery as the play that got them going.
“Huge, huge,” he said of the play that turned into New England’s first touchdown of the day, and cut Miami’s lead to 17-10. “We didn’t turn it over today; I thought that was important. We got turnovers. Really, the last seven games it’s been a huge key for us. It’s hard to win games when you turn it over. We were the benefactor of some good plays by our defense that I thought the offense capitalized [on] when we got those plays, when we got short fields and we did a good job getting the ball in the end zone.”
Not to be forgotten is kicker Steven Gostkowski, whose special teams tackle on Clyde Gates saved a potential touchdown by Miami after the Pats had finally broken through to put three points on the board. Three plays later, Moore fumbled and the Patriots were on their way.
“I didn’t feel anyone around me and that was kind of the, ‘Oh, crap’ moment,” Gostkowski said after the game. ”Luckily I got myself in a good enough position to have an attempt to make a play and I’m sure there’s times when he cuts up front and that guy will run right past me. But it was a big play [and] it feels even more rewarding that you know we [made them turn] the ball over right after that and ended up winning the game.
“I guess that was my Christmas present,” he added.
The Patriots have a chance to lock up the top seed in the AFC with a win against Buffalo next Sunday at Gillette, but would like to improve their overall performance. Still, they know not to get down if they face an early deficit, because a lot can change with just one play.
“There’s always things that are going to go wrong in a football game and things aren’t going to work out the way you wanted to all the time,” said receiver Wes Welker, who had 138 receiving yards on the day. “The main thing is to just play the full 60 minutes and never give in and understanding that one drive and one score just to get things going – to break the ice – from there a good defensive stop and score again. That’s what we were able to do and in the end, that was enough.”
Tune in to the Patriots final regular season game against the Buffalo Bills Sunday at 1pm on WBZ-TV and 98.5 The Sports Hub. Pregame coverage begins on 98.5 at 10am, with Patriots Gameday on WBZ-TV at 11:30am. After the game, tune in to The Postgame Show on 98.5, and Patriots Fifth Quarter on WBZ.