By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — To say this has been a unique season for the New England Patriots would be an understatement.

For one, they went 11-5, which while good enough to earn a first-round bye was nevertheless a slight step back from the 13 wins the team has averaged over the last eight seasons. Adding to the oddness was the Patriots’ pristine 8-0 record when playing at home, contrasted with the grisly 3-5 mark when playing on the road. And in perhaps the strangest quirk of all, the Patriots went 4-0 against teams that made the playoffs, but just 7-5 against teams that did not.

Add in some up-and-down quarterback play, the addition and then the loss of Josh Gordon, a distinctly un-Gronk-like year from Rob Gronkowski, some rare issues on the defensive front … and it’s been a weird year in Foxboro.

So, at the conclusion of Sunday’s 38-3 walloping of the lowly New York Jets, head coach Bill Belichick was asked if he could sum up this season.

Of course he could.

“Well, there’s some good things and there’s some things that could’ve been better,” Belichick answered. “In the end, we are where we are.”

We are where we are. Truer words have never been spoken.

For all that has been said about the 2018 Patriots — most of it looking and sounding like doomsday had finally arrived for the winningest franchise of the past 20 years — the fact is that this year’s team was able to get where it needed to get in order to be in position to make a fourth Super Bowl in five season. (Repeating that for effect: a fourth Super Bowl in five seasons.) The Patriots may not be the prohibitive favorites to reach the Super Bowl, as we’ve grown accustomed to seeing, but with 11-to-4 odds to win the AFC, they’re not far at all behind the Chiefs, who are the favorites at 2-to-1.

Again, that’s a slight step backward for a team we’re used to seeing thoroughly dominate AFC competition, but it’s a position that 28 or so teams would prefer to be in than the one in which they currently stand. The Patriots have as good of a chance of reaching — and winning — the Super Bowl as any other team does, and at this time of year, that’s all you can really ask for.

“We’re going to need to play our best game, all of us, play and coach our best game, and that’s what we’ll all try do. So we’ll try and do the best job we can coaching, do the best job we can playing for whoever it is we play, and we know they’ll be good,” Belichick concluded. “It’s the NFL playoffs. That’s where we are.”

It is indeed.

Leftovers!

–Tom Brady? Still Tom Brady. He’s taken some scrutiny in recent weeks for playing not so great. And because he’s Tom Brady, he’s not allowed to have not-so-great days without folks jumping to grand conclusions. The man is washed up! The knee is not right! Tom Brady is not healthy! THE PATRIOTS SHOULD HAVE KEP JIMMY G!!!!

But, well, anyone who actually looked closely at the work Brady was doing could see that physically, it was all still there. Sometimes the passing engine just isn’t clicking on all cylinders.

On Sunday, though, it was. And while people can and will quickly dismiss any and all accomplishments earned against a bummy Jets team, you simply cannot ignore some of the physical things Brady was doing on the football field — all of which should provide optimism for what might come in January.

–Spotlighting two plays to really shine a light on this, I think this pass to Julian Edelman was one of the best balls Brady has delivered all year. Coming off a playaction fake, Brady stood tall in the pocket and waited for Edelman to make an in-cut. Brady delivered the 18-yard bullet with some hot sauce.

(GIF from NFL.com/GamePass)

 

That puppy was smothered in Cholula.

Not only was it delivered with some real zip, but it was put in the perfect spot for Edelman:

(Screen shot from NFL.com/GamePass)

That’s why those people who talked about Brady’s “noodle arm” or Brady’s arm looking like “overcooked fettuccine” or … wait, why do these people always resort to pasta-related descriptors? There are so many things in this world, and yet if a quarterback has a weak arm, we automatically jump to pasta? Strange move.

Anyway. Brady’s arm is still excellent. He doesn’t have the strongest arm or the biggest cannon in the league, but he never has. That ball to Edelman can serve as the perfect example if anyone wants to start talking about raviolis or perhaps some rigatoni (my favorite).

The other play was a bit more obvious. It was the touchdown pass to Phillip Dorsett. There was so much to like about that play, but to me the biggest was Brady’s ability to step away from pressure in the pocket, roll to his right while keeping his eyes down the field, and then putting the perfect amount of touch on the pass to the back line of the end zone.

(GIF from NFL.com/GamePass)

(GIF from NFL.com/GamePass)

Mama mia! That’s a spicy meat-a-ball!

(Just trying to fit in here.)

–Brady obviously wasn’t the best quarterback in the NFL this year, and he wasn’t quite as good as he was last year. But last year was not how things are supposed to look for a 40-year-old quarterback. And this year? That was as good as anyone’s ever looked playing the position at age 41. And when you remember that at least five of Brady’s 11 interceptions came through no fault of his own, the man put together an incredibly impressive season.

–The greatest moment in Patriots-Jets history is, obviously, The Butt Fumble. I mean, that play had it all: butts, fumbles, touchdowns, Mark Sanchezes. It was the perfect play!

And on Sunday, we came sooooo close to seeing the logical sequel to that play: The Butt Touchdown. This was, really, as close as we’ve ever gotten to seeing a true Butt Touchdown, as this deflected Sam Darnold pass was 100 percent cheek-bound on Devin McCourty, only to somehow slide safely underneath the tuchus.

(GIF from NFL.com/GamePass)

A real cheek scraper.

We were all robbed.

–Obviously it was Pats-Jets, nothing to get too hyped up about. But the Stephon Gilmore-Robby Anderson battle was pretty good entertainment. We do forget now, but after a few weeks last year, we all thought Billy B. was a little NUTS for giving all that money to Gilmore. The defense was torn apart by the likes of Alex Smith and Kansas City, rookie Deshaun Watson and Houston, as well as Cam Newton and Carolina. Things were bad!

But then Gilmroe missed some time with a concussion, and since returning, he’s been outstanding. His work on Sunday should be the cap to an All-Pro season.

I particularly liked when he broke up a pass for Anderson on a third down, and then just stood on the Jets’ sideline, staring blankly into the abyss, looking for trouble as Anderson briskly walked away.

(Screen shot from NFL.com/GamePass)

He’s a quiet guy, so when he does something like that, you know how amped up he is on the field.

–The Jets sort of tried in this game, which was cool. But if anyone were to ever ask you, “Say, fella, how would you describe the Jets’ overall level of fight in this game, compared to that of the New England Patriots?” Why, you could respond in GIF form:

(GIF from NFL.com/GamePass)

–Sam Darnold did deliver some beauts though. There can be no doubting that. I’m not ready to say that those passes now mean he’s for sure going to be a franchise quarterback for the next decade for the Jets. Frankly, that franchise needs to figure a lot of things out in order for me to believe such a thing can be possible. But with a decent rookie year, we should all be able to agree that it’s not difficult to envision a scenario where Darnold thrives once given some receiving weapons.

–After a first-half touchdown from the Patriots, a press box announcement declared that the Patriots had now scored 400 or more points in 12 consecutive seasons. OK. Cool. Sounds good. But how about some context?

Well, that context came shortly thereafter, and whoa nelly, was this some contextual context:

Pure contextual goodness right there.

For that matter, check out some more #context from Sunday. There’s some crazy #context in there, with the Patriots securing a season with at least 11 wins for the ninth straight year. No other team has ever done that for more than seven straight years.

Context.

–Bill Belichick gets a reputation for being a gruff and unfriendly kind of guy, but it was extraordinarily considerate of him to not blast Walt Coleman up and down the field on what was the old referee’s final game in the NFL. Certainly, the coach had ample opportunity.

The most egregious moment came after a 30-yard catch-and-run by Rob Gronkowski. At the conclusion of the play, a full EIGHT SECONDS after Jets linebacker
Neville Hewitt wrapped up Dwayne Allen as the tight end ran a route, the back judge chucked his flag back toward the line of scrimmage, calling offensive pass interference on Allen for … this?

(Screen shot from NFL.com/GamePass)

There was another opportunity after the Jets were given a more-than-generous spot on a third-and-10 completion that allegedly was enough to move the chains.

Later, the Patriots seemingly benefited from another terribly generous spot after Sony Michel was dumped shy of the line to gain. But upon this measurement …

(Screen shot from NFL.com/GamePass)

… the ball was ruled to have been short?

I don’t know.

If I were Bill, I might have yelled at the man once or twice on Sunday. Credit to Belichick for being so polite. Tuck Rule forever.

–By the way, as a public service announcement, feel free to share this story — THIS ONE HERE — with any sad Raiders bozos who believe they got a raw deal with the tuck rule. For one, they got no such raw deal. For two, they had ample opportunity to win that Snow Bowl after the call had been made. And for three, they got a chance to win the Super Bowl the VERY NEXT YEAR but got trounced by a team coached by the man they fired after “getting a raw deal” in Foxboro. The complainers? Bozos — the whole lot of ’em.

–Rob Gronkowski may not be back to Full Gronkowski, and he may never be. But this current version of Gronkowski can still treat Pro Bowl safeties like they’re Dora The Explorer’s backpack:

(GIF from NFL.com/GamePass)

The schedule may make less frequent pickups, but Gronkowski can still offer free rides.

–Julian Edelman had himself a day. He had 121 all-purpose yards, distributed out neatly with 69 receiving yards, 24 rushing yards and 28 punt return yards. He also caught a touchdown that capped off a 10-play, 64-yard drive to emphatically end the season with a drive that involved near-perfect execution.

“It felt good. Any time you can have a methodical … long drive, you take time off the clock, you played out the situation, and then you capped it with a tuddy. It’s always nice,” Edelman said. “It was definitely good to go out and end it like that, the regular season.”

Very nice!

He also got his head taken clean off with five minutes left in the regular season:

Crikey!

–Edelman needed two touchdowns in order to hit an incentive in his contract that would have earned him an extra $500,000. Considering his base salary is very low, and considering he missed four game checks due to a suspension, and considering he was fined a bunch of money for hitting the Bills too hard last week, he probably would not have minded taking home that sweet, sweet cash. In fact, he liked Adam Schefter’s tweet on Sunday morning about the potential for the $500k.

Nevertheless, the 32-year-old played it cool in the locker room.

“Oh, that little thing?” Edelman joked when asked about coming close. “Hey, sometimes you get it and sometimes you don’t. I don’t play the game for that. I play the game to try to go out and win championships. And right now, I’m excited for the opportunity that our team has.”

–Edelman also gave a random-as-hell shoutout to some old Denny’s commercials when he was told that his touchdown catch was the 499th reception of his career.

“I did not [know that],” Edelman replied. “Four-ninety-nine, are you out of your mind?! No grand slam.”

I didn’t know exactly what he was talking about. Shame on me. Full marks to the internet though:

Edelman was also honest when asked if the intensity goes up a notch in January.

“Yeah. I mean, you either win or you go home and you watch. So, you know, our coaches do a good job of keeping us in the present, and really this week’s about us. Go out and try to do everything you can to tighten things up, sharpen, add, whatever, I don’t know — that’s their job. But our job is to come out and have great effort, be attentive, and go out and do it. That’s what we’re looking forward to.”

–On that note, postseason football. There’s nothing quite like it. For the first time in a long time, we don’t know for sure that the Patriots will win their home game in the divisional round. As a fan, maybe that makes you a bit uneasy. But the Patriots’ 8-0 home record should provide some solace, as should the Patriots’ 4-0 record against playoff teams this year.

Plus, from a pure entertainment standpoint, it just ought to be pretty good.

You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

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