BOSTON (CBS) — In August, the whereabouts of Brian Waters and Andre Carter were the primary concern in New England. In September, a loss to the Cardinals and a 1-2 record had many pundits talking about a “Super Bowl hangover.” In October, Tom Brady’s intentional grounding penalty in Seattle led to a loss and, of course, endless questioning of how good the 2012 Patriots really were. November was low-lighted by a broken forearm to Rob Gronkowski, and an ugly four-turnover loss in December to San Francisco brought out the critics who didn’t think the Patriots were capable of beating a high-quality team.
And it all leads us to this: A 12-4 record, a first-round playoff bye, a home playoff game in two weeks.
All’s well that ends well, right?
After all, had someone told you in late August that the Patriots would end up in that exact position, you’d probably believe it sounded about right.
Earning a bye proved to be quite an accomplishment for the team that was 1-2 after three weeks and 3-3 after six, and it’s not outrageous to believe that the knowledge gained from those losses and the mettle forged from overcoming injuries and obstacles have the Patriots in ideal position for another Super Bowl run in the coming month.
That, though, would involve us all getting a bit ahead of ourselves. We still don’t know the Patriots’ next opponent, so for now, let’s take a brief look back at a mostly forgettable but oh-so-important 28-0 win over a lousy Dolphins team.
–For me, the highlight of the game came when CBS took Gil Santos’ call of a play late in the first quarter. I know they missed the farewell from Gino Cappelletti to Gil, which was the whole point of the thing, but I feel being able to listen to Patriots games via the golden pipes of Gil has been a privilege for New Englanders, and giving a guy like that his proper due on national TV was very well-deserved.
–Football’s a very complex game, but at the same time, it can be deadly simple, especially when it comes to turnovers. You win the turnover battle, you make it a whole lot easier to win the game.
It took Tom Brady and the offense two plays to turn Ryan Tannehill’s interception into seven points, and Reggie Bush’s inability to grab a handoff erased either seven or three points off the board for Miami. That’s a 14-point swing in a matter of about 5 seconds of game time, and it helps explain how 28-0 games can happen in the NFL.
— Allowing a team with a mediocre pass rush to boost its season sack total by 23 percent is also a difficult way to try to win.
–Are you surprised to learn Sunday’s win was only the eighth shutout of the Bill Belichick era? I know I was.
–If you were one of the crazies who tried to argue with me back in September that the Patriots really were “phasing out” Wes Welker from the offense, then I’ll tell you that I’ll accept cash payments or maybe a gift card to a nice restaurant as apologies. You can also call me when a team “phases out” its most reliable player.
–I could relay this information from the Patriots’ media relations department via text, but I feel like it’s more powerful in the visual form in which it was originally presented:
–The box score shows that Nate Kaeding missed a 41-yard field goal, but what actually took place was much more exciting to watch and may have defied several laws of physics. It looked like it changed directions about three times. If you’re a frequent reader of this column, then you probably know I’m irrationally fascinated by the seemingly mundane act of kicking a football, so I guess it’s best for all involved if I just move past this.
–A video montage of Rob Gronkowski using one arm to block opponents on several different plays was perhaps the most Rob Gronkowski montage in the history of montages.
–Many people took the one-armed Gronk as a bad sign for his health. I feel differently. I would guess the coaches and medical staff felt fine about putting him out there, but knowing a two-week break was staring them in the face, advised him to take special care to avoid any unnecessary contact.
Plus, he wasn’t just blocking with one arm. He was blocking effectively with one arm. There’s a real chance Gronkowski was simply challenging himself for entertainment’s sake.
–Also, it wasn’t as if Gronkowski was just a decoy out there. His mere presence demands attention from defenses, and you saw the Miami defense focus so much on Gronkowski that they went ahead and forgot to cover Wes Welker over the middle:
–Hey, so … you know all of that progress the NFL has made regarding concussion awareness and treatment? Well, it’s probably not a great thing that the man who couldn’t get up or even run straight stayed in to play quarterback for the Dolphins in a meaningless football game. Great job by everyone involved there to let Ryan Tannehill keep taking shots in the pocket all afternoon.
–Early in the game, Bill Belichick decided to let his offense go for it on fourth-and-6 from the Miami 24, apparently because Stephen Gostkowksi didn’t look too great in the swirling winds during pregame warmups. Gostkowski then spent the rest of the afternoon booting his kickoffs out of the back of the end zone, which may have been Stevie G’s way of telling the coach that he could still kick the football.
–This is not Patriots-related, but it’s really bugging me. If anyone knows what the deal is with this Texans fan and his weird, homemade Andrew Luck voodoo doll, for which he apparently purchased a children’s sized jersey, I’d appreciate any and all info. Thank you.
(How much time do you think he spent drawing the arm hair? It’s disturbing to think about.)
–In MLB this year, Bud Selig instituted a one-game playoff to determine the wild-card winner. That one-game playoff is the equivalent of 0.6 percent of the season. In NFL terms, that comes out to 6 minutes of football.
So if Bud Selig ran the NFL, on Thursday night we’d be seeing 6-minute showdowns between the Bears and Vikings in the NFC and the Steelers and Bengals in the AFC.
I’m thankful Bud Selig does not run the NFL.
–Bob Kraft gets a lot of high-profile, highfalutin guests to sit with him in his luxury box for games, but you may have noticed that The Donald, The Jovi, Tommy Hilfiger and other celebs were nowhere to be found, as Bob relaxed with the windows open and let the single-digit breezes keep him warm. You have to respect that.
–The biggest concern for the Patriots in these playoffs has to be the Broncos, but are they really a team worth fearing? After losing to the Patriots, the Broncos finished the season on an 11-game winning streak. The average record of their opponents in that span was 7-9, including two games against the 2-14 Chiefs and games against the 4-12 Raiders and 5-11 Browns. It’s true that a team can only play the teams on its schedule, but the Broncos are a paper tiger of a No. 1 seed if I’ve ever seen one.
–Danny Woodhead gets plenty of credit around these parts, but I feel like it’s still not quite enough. His stats are almost never remarkable, but there’s that feel factor that seemingly every time he touches the ball, it’s in an important spot. And almost every time, he comes through. He’s the guy who never gets mentioned during the week of hype leading up to a game, but it’s not a rare occurrence when he’s a key contributor to a Patriots victory.
–If you had offered me a bet in the middle of the fourth quarter about Belichick’s postgame demeanor at the podium, I would have bet all my money that we’d be seeing Surly Bill. Sure enough, Surly Bill didn’t disappoint.
The following is the exchange between Belichick and reporters:
Reporter: Bill, what went into the decision to play Rob Gronkowski today?
Belichick: He was ready to play.
Reporter: Would he have still played if Houston hadn’t lost at 1 o’clock?
Belichick: He was ready to play.
Reporter: Bill, for a guy who just got a first-round bye and wrapped up a division title, you don’t exactly look overjoyed.
Belichick: We wrapped up the division a month ago, Jim. Unless I missed it.
Reporter: But it’s pretty good news to get the bye, you don’t have to go on the road …
Belichick: Whatever it is, it is. When we have to play, we’ll play.
Reporter: How big of an advantage is it to not have to play next week?
Belichick: I don’t know. Yeah. I don’t know.
Best press conference ever! Let’s hope we get a few more of those to help pass the time in the next two weeks without a game.
Screen shots courtesy of NFL.com/GameRewind