By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Buck up, buttercups.READ MORE: DA: Woman Arrested In South Shore Plaza Murder, Shooter Remains At-Large
OK, so yes, the Patriots stunk out loud on Sunday afternoon in Miami, putting forth a putrid showing for the second consecutive week, ending the season on the sourest of notes. They capped off a questionable closing third of the season with a game that was at times genuinely difficult to watch. There’s no reason for anybody to ever try to sugarcoat that one.
But two weeks from now, when either the Bengals, Chiefs or Texans visit Foxboro, the scrimmages in New Jersey and Miami to end the season won’t matter much at all.
Sure, they lost out on the No. 1 seed by not beating two beatable opponents, but that’s a problem for a later date. To stress about home-field advantage in the AFC Championship Game is to make a run of assumptions that includes the Patriots and Broncos getting there. That’s hardly a guaranteed outcome.
For now, the Patriots are 12-4, owners of a first-round playoff bye for the sixth straight year, in possession of a playoff spot for the 12th time in the past 13 years. That’s good! You don’t need to go throwing parades or anything, because you’re accustomed to much more than playoff berths, but don’t let it be ignored that finishing tied for the third best record in the NFL is no small feat.
Provided the players who are supposed to get healthy — Julan Edelman, Sebastian Vollmer, Chandler Jones, Dont’a Hightower — do get healthy, the playbook expands, the playmakers abound, and the Patriots may be able to actually win a football game. That’s what will matter come Jan. 16 in Foxboro.
But, well, we’ve got some time to kill between now and then. So why not share a few leftover thoughts from the Dolphins’ 20-10 win over the Patriots?
–The moment you had to have known that it was not going to be a banner day for the Patriots came long before kickoff, when beat reporters noted every single pregame movement from backup tackle LaAdrian Waddle. Look, if your success is dependent on the availability of a tackle who was cut by the Detroit Lions and joined the roster a few weeks ago, then you’re just not going to have a very successful afternoon playing football. That’s just basic science.
–Tom Brady entered Week 17 as the NFL’s leader in passing yards and touchdowns, but he couldn’t hold on to the yardage crown. Brady threw for just 134 yards and no touchdowns against the 21st-ranked Miami passing defense, allowing Drew Brees and Philip Rivers to pass him on the leaderboard. For Brady to have finished on top, he would have needed to have thrown for 235 yards.
Yet Brady was able to finish the season as the NFL’s leader in passing touchdowns with 36, making him the oldest player to ever accomplish that feat. Peyton Manning did it when he was 37 in 2013.
Stats are for losers, etc., etc., etc., of course. BUT, after the calendar year Brady had in 2015, where it seemed like every single outside influence was working to distract him from performing on the football field, he ended up winning a Super Bowl MVP and then leading the NFL in passing touchdowns.
The guy is impressive.
–The guy was also limping off the podium after the game, which isn’t ideal. That likely stemmed from the hit he took from Ndamukong Suh in the second quarter, when Brady’s foot and ankle ended up underneath all 320 pound of Suh.
I found it annoying, though, that so many people did say and actually continue to say that the hit was dirty or cheap. Yeah, obviously Suh has a track record and he gets no benefit of the doubt. But when a 6-foot-5, 335-pound Marcus Cannon grabs the top of your head as you run by at full speed, you’re not going to be able to execute a targeted hit even if you wanted to. You’re going to basically fall over sideways, which is what Suh did.
Step 1. Large man grabs your head:
Step 2. You fall down:
Step 3. Not dirty. Stop.
–Brady also had this photo taken of him.
Nobody ever takes photos of me that look like that when I’m at work.
–The Suh hit generated all the headlines and the replays, but I found it noteworthy that two passing plays later, this is the pressure that came in from Brady’s backside:
Cameron Fleming was left to block nobody, as Michael Williams got dominated in a 1-on-1 situation with Olivier Vernon.
It’s that snapshot, in conjunction with the Suh play, that really serve to explain why the Patriots didn’t pass the ball at all. It’s because they could not do it.
–OK, well, those images, PLUS the footage of Olivier Vernon leaping into Brady long after the QB got rid of a pass. That, too.
–The conversation surrounding Steven Jackson tends to only be negative, and I guess if you’re just looking at the stats, that makes sense. But the Patriots won’t be facing the 2014 Colts in the divisional round, as Kansas City, Houston and Cincinnati all rank in the top 10 in rush yards allowed per game. So the New England offense won’t be driven by the running game; the running game merely needs to be acceptable.
And again, though Jackson’s stats are bad, he didn’t look dead-legged when he was contacted near the line of scrimmage on a third-and-1 …
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… and ended up turning it into a 5-yard gain.
He did the same thing at the goal line, when four aqua jerseys couldn’t keep him out of the end zone. So long as Jackson can do things like that, he’ll be fine. He’s not going to go for 130 yards and two scores, but the Patriots aren’t asking him to do that.
–Patrick Chung may well end up making a play that helps decide a playoff game, because the guy is strong.
It stood out numerous times this season, when he stood up a ball carrier a yard or two shy of the first-down marker and ended up driving the offensive player backward. Those are the types of plays that get the defense off the field and get the ball back into Tom Brady’s hands, and those are the plays that can quietly dictate the overall tenor of a football game.
In this game, he did it in the second quarter, when Jarvis Landry caught a pass on third-and-5 and went head-up on Chung in the open field.
Chung met Landry at the 28-yard line, but that was as far as Landry would get.
–I can also see the defensive line quietly dominating a game and influencing the outcome in January. It’s just a parade of beasts on that line, especially with Jabaal Sheard, Alan Branch, Malcom Brown, Sealver Siliga and Akiem Hicks. The outside glory guys — Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich — are obviously impact players as well, but their contributions tend to get more attention then does the dirty work inside.
There are plays where no line can stop those individuals, and it leads to plays like this one from Hicks:
–Excuse me while I rant: Can we get “uncatchable” back in the game? Please? Why have it in the rulebook at all if it’s never going to be enforced?
Yes, Reshad Jones made a bonheaded play to essentially tackle Scott Chandler as a pass headed in that direction. But the 6-foot-7 Chandler would have needed to about 8-foot-7 in order to catch that pass.
Nevertheless, the flag flew, and the Patriots got 24 free yards.
I just hate that. The ball was uncatchable. Make a new rule that awards the offense 5 yards for instances of blatant pass interference on uncatchable balls or something, because the current rule is one of the most severe penalties in the game.
–Saw a lot of previews for “13 Hours” during the game. Just not sure I can buy Jim Halpert as a badass military man. Might be the oddest casting decision since Adam Scott served as a nearly mute, mustachioed FBI man in “Black Mass.”
–Keshawn Martin got flagged for offensive pass interference. Now, Martin definitely extended his right arm into Brent Grimes. There’s no doubt about that. But either Grimes stepped on a very centralized earthquake, or Martin is the new Magnus Samuelsson in the World’s Strongest Man competitions.
–DOES MOMENTUM EXIST?! Let’s investigate!
In 2014, the Patriots finished the season with a loss. They went 3-2 down the stretch.
In 2013, the Seahawks went 3-2 in December.
In 2012, the Ravens ended the season losing four of five.
In 2011, the Giants finished the year on a 3-5 stretch.
In 2010, the Packers went 2-2 in the final four games of the season, or 4-3 if you want to go back to their post-bye week record.
In 2009, the Saints ended the season on a three-game losing streak.
The 2008 Steelers were the proverbial “hot team,” as they went 6-1 in the final seven weeks of the year. The ’05 Steelers, too, as they finished that season on a four-game win streak.
The 2007 Giants went 1-2 to finish the year. The ’06 Colts went 2-3.
That’s a decade of Super Bowl winners, none of whom were hindered by having a poor end to the season. Obviously, most teams would probably prefer playing well at the end of the year in order to provide some inspiration to the fan base as well as throughout the roster. But a lackluster 2-4 finish to the regular season shouldn’t necessarily discount the Patriots from being taken seriously as a contender to represent the AFC in Super Bowl 50.
They may not be head and shoulders above the competition the way they might have been in early October, but they will be good enough to compete. And it ought to be interesting.MORE NEWS: Nor'easter Likely To Bring More Than 2 Feet Of Snow, Blizzard Conditions Saturday