Ups And Downs: Gronk Returns But Patriots Lose Ninkovich
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BOSTON (CBS) – The Patriots clinched the two-seed in the AFC and a first-round bye in the playoffs with their 28-0 Week 17 win over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.
Here are the Ups, and just one Down, from Sunday’s game.
Patriots Clinch Bye
With the win, the Patriots earn a week off and a chance to get healthy before they start their postseason.
The Patriots won’t play again until the weekend of January 12-13.
Gronk Knocks Off Rust
Tight end Rob Gronkowski returned after missing five games with a broken forearm, and took full advantage of his opportunity to knock off some rust before the playoffs.
Gronkowski was on the field for a little more than a quarter of the Patriots offensive plays (24 of 80 according to ESPN’s Mike Reiss), contributing with two catches for 42 yards and a touchdown on four targets. He also played his usual role in the blocking game, helping the Pats’ running backs on a couple different occasions.
Gronk did have extra padding on his left arm, and was favoring the arm at times during blocks, but now has two weeks to recoup from this game and get ready for the Patriots first playoff matchup.
Strong Effort From Woodhead
While Stevan Ridley has emerged as New England’s top back, rushing for two more touchdowns on Sunday, Danny Woodhead is fitting nicely into the third-down role that Kevin Faulk manned for so many years.
Woodhead nearly hit 100 total yards with 18 rush yards on three carries, and more importantly, 79 yards on five receptions.
He doesn’t always light up the stat sheet, but Woodhead has made himself a very important part of the Patriots offense – both in the run and pass game.
Stellar Effort From Defense
The Patriots’ defense recorded a season-high seven sacks on the afternoon, with three of them coming from undrafted rookie Justin Francis. The Pats applied the pressure all afternoon, and forced Ryan Tannehill to make throws he didn’t want to.
That was apparent on Steve Gregory’s first quarter interception, which led to a New England touchdown just two plays later.
In addition to Francis’ three sacks, linemen Vince Wilfork, Trevor Scott and Brandon Deaderick and defensive back Derrick Martin all recorded one apiece.
Sunday was the Patriots’ first shutout since their 59-0 win over the Titans in October of 2009, and eighth of the Bill Belichick era.
It’s hard to complain when a team finishes the season 12-4 and the two-seed in the AFC, so we’ll keep the downs section to just one instead of the usual four.
Patriots defensive lineman Rob Ninkovich left in the first half with a left hip injury and did not return. Ninkovich has been a huge part of the Patriots’ defense with five forced fumbles and eight sacks, and losing him would be a big blow to the unit.