BOSTON (CBS) — It’s kind of scary how commonplace a 12-win season and a first-round playoff bye is becoming in New England.
Consider that since 2007, the Patriots have secured a first-round bye in five of the last seven seasons. No other team has earned a bye more than twice in that span. Overall, Bill Belichick’s team has earned the bye eight times in the last 13 seasons, which is a truly absurd rate.
Sunday’s 34-20 win over the Bills was welcomed in New England, but it wasn’t celebrated with too much fanfare. That just speaks to the greatness that has become the norm in Foxboro since 2001.
And now, all eyes look ahead to the postseason, but before we go there, how about one last run through some regular-season leftover thoughts?
–LeGarrette Blount was an absolute monster, and I wrote in detail about him a bit here, but I think the important thing he’s done in the past two weeks is change the perception of who is the Patriots’ lead running back. I argued all year long that despite the fumbling, Stevan Ridley was the team’s most explosive, dangerous back. With 265 rushing yards and four touchdowns in the past two weeks, my opinion has changed. And considering the weather won’t exactly get any nicer with playoff games likely in New England, Denver and — if they’re lucky — New York, having a big-bodied, downhill runner is quite the commodity for the Patriots to have.
–Here’s one example of Blount’s physical dominance. It came with 3:29 left in the game, and the Patriots needing just a first down to essentially run out the clock and put the game out of reach for Buffalo.
He was hit one yard beyond the line of scrimmage (you’ll just have to trust me that he’s right in the middle of that mess of bodies):
He emerged from the mess and was promptly surrounded by three Bills:
He left linebacker Kiko Alonso flat on his back and carried a few more on his own:
He finally came down, but not before gaining 10 yards and moving the sticks, picking up eight yards after initially being hit:
I know that this one came when the Bills were pretty much demoralized and were starting to make their offseason plans, but it’s pretty typical work for Blount.
–Julian Edelman, the 232nd pick of the 2009 NFL draft, capped off a tremendous season by catching nine passes for 65 yards, thereby bringing his season totals to 105 receptions for 1,056 yards. Edelman ranked fourth in the NFL in receptions, but what I found more incredible is that six receivers were drafted in the first round in 2009, and only two of them have recorded 1,000-yard seasons, and none of them have caught 100 passes in one season. In all, 19 wide receivers were drafted ahead of Edelman, the college quarterback who turned out to be a rather useful player for the Patriots.
–What I liked most out of Edelman on Sunday wasn’t even in the receiving game. It was on this block he made to help spring Ridley for a 29-yard run in the first quarter.
Granted, that block was on Jim Leonhard, a guy who looked like he wanted nothing to do with any sort of contact all day long, but still, not many 1,000-yard receivers are so willing to get inside the tackle box and do some dirty work.
–There weren’t too many Ed Hochuli moments, but him declaring “unsportsmanlike conduct foul on number 55. That one happened during my announcement” was pretty solid. That it was then followed by consecutive holding calls on the Patriots made it a pretty bizarre scenario, where 30 yards of penalties were called on the defense and 20 yards of penalties were called on the offense, all in the span of two snaps.
–Hochuli and his crew also missed a blatantly obvious false start on Marcus Cannon at 6:03 of the first quarter. I have no idea how an entire crew misses a false start. But hey, he has big muscles! Wee!
–Hearts likely skipped among the Patriots coaching staff when Logan Mankins needed to be helped off the field early on Sunday, but let’s be honest: As long as Mankins’ leg is still attached to his body, he’s going to be able to play. He played half a season with a torn ACL two years ago, so as concerning as it was to see him need help to get off the field, it wasn’t entirely shocking to see him back out there as a lead blocker on a screen pass just minutes later.
I imagine his conversation with the training staff went like this:
Trainer: Are you OK?
Mankins: I’m not sure.
Trainer: Well. You’re Logan Mankins. So …
Mankins: Oh yeah. Almost forgot. I’m fine.
–I hated the way the Patriots left the offense on the field in the huddle for 15 seconds, only to send them sprinting off for the punt team in the third quarter. That was the punt which was nearly downed inside the 3-yard line. They certainly didn’t deserve such a fortuitous fate, so perhaps the ball slipping through Kanorris Davis’ grasp was a karmic punishment for that chicken-poop call.
–Marcell Dareus jumping offsides on a 28-yard field goal attempt, with 0 percent chance of blocking it, was so Bills that it actually hurt. Hochuli could barely hold in his smile as he got to make the home crowd happy.
–Also, Robert Woods giving the touchdown signal when Marquise Goodwin made a great catch … on the 20-yard line.
That’s actually not a touchdown.
–In case you found the text at the start of this story to be boring, there is this visual from CBS to help drive home how incredible the Patriots’ run has been:
I mean … what?
–You have to appreciate that even in the fourth quarter of Week 17, Aqib Talib’s competitiveness is so high that he’s willing to yap T.J. Graham all the way off the field after a fourth-down drop.
–I’m kind of an old man on the inside, so you can bet that it pained me greatly to see a game in that deluge being played on artificial turf. That would have been the most ideal football game ever if both teams were completely covered in mud and grass stains by the end of that one.
While I didn’t get to see the picture of football perfection, I’ll admit that Blount going so hard and absorbing so much contact that the logo on his helmet peeled off was a pretty good image of what hard-nosed running in the rain looks like.