If you thought the New England Patriots, in this final regular season game against the Miami Dolphins on Sunday afternoon, would take it easy with nothing to play for as the #1 playoff seed in the AFC, you just don’t know a Bill Belichick-led squad. Simply put, the Patriots cremated a Dolphins team that just didn’t show up, by a score of 38-7.
It was the eighth win in a row for the Pats and it put them at 14-2 for the year and 8-0 at home in Foxboro for the second straight regular season. They are a machine, and a nearly unstoppable one at that.
Both teams were missing key players (Wes Welker, Deion Branch and Aaron Hernandez, among others, were smartly made “inactive” for the Pats), but one team continued to show its depth of talent while the other (7-9 Miami squad) displayed it doesn’t have much at all and didn’t play like it was trying to potentially save the job of its head coach, Tony Sparano.
With the exception of some penalties and Danny Woodhead fumbling the ball (after being roughed up) for the first time in his Pats career and then leaving the game with an injured head, it was a nearly perfect day once again for the Pats, who incredibly keep blowing out team after team and proving without question they are the NFL’s team to beat no matter who plays and who doesn’t.
Brady and Belichick Make History
Tom Brady ended the regular season on Sunday adding on to his NFL record of pass attempts without throwing an interception, which now stands at 335. He has now won 28 consecutive regular season games at home, which is also an NFL record, as is the fact that with 38 points against Miami, the Pats have gone eight straight games with 30+ points. Total domination, indeed.
From the official Patriots Facebook page comes some other noteworthy and mind-blowing stats, including that Brady finished the season with an 111.0 passer rating, which is fifth best all-time.
New England’s franchise quarterback is the sixth quarterback in NFL history to throw at least one touchdown in every regular season game, and according to the Extra Points blog, this was the ninth week in a row he threw two TDs without an interception. Overall, it was the 11th game in a row with no interceptions thrown, which is absolutely unheard of these days.
The Pats also set an NFL record-low 10 turnovers in 2010. With Brady throwing only four INTs (to go with a league-leading 36 TDs) on the year, it’s not so surprising. I chalk that record low amount of turnovers not just to the brilliance and talent of Brady but to Belichick trading the fumble-prone Laurence Maroney, not bringing back the talented but shaky hands of tight end Ben Watson, and trading Randy Moss.
After Moss left, long balls from Brady were minimized, thereby also lessening the chances of those throws being picked off. Belichick, the genius that he is, figured Brady could get the most out of Welker, Branch and the young tight ends by throwing mostly short-to-medium balls to them when open and having them rack up first downs and YACs (yards after catch) by breaking tackles and being aided by down field blockers. And if you ask these players, they all take lots of pride in being good blockers for their teammates.
With 3,900 yards passing to Brady’s name for 2010, and Belichick becoming the only head coach in NFL history with four seasons of 14 wins or more (’03, ’04, ’07, and ’10) with this win, I’d say that strategy paid off pretty well.
Rookies Gronkowski and Hoyer Have A Career Day
Brady’s 13-yard TD pass to Rob Gronkowski in the first quarter was the tight end’s 10th, setting a franchise rookie record. He also had his first career 100-yard receiving game, with 102 total on the day in Foxboro.
Gronkowski can thank backup QB, rookie Brian Hoyer, for getting there, as he too looked sharp and Brady-esque on the day, throwing a sensational 42-yard pass to youngster Brandon Tate for a touchdown in the third quarter. It was the first TD of Hoyer’s career. What a pleasant surprise that one of the few long balls on the day was thrown not by Brady but by the Pats backup QB. And it worked to perfection!
Green-Ellis and Edelman Shine
Two other heroes of the day were running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis and special teamer Julian Edelman. Though it didn’t look like it was going to happen until late in the second half, Green-Ellis pounded his way into the record books as the first Pats RB to rush for 1,000 yards since Corey Dillon set a franchise record 1,635 of them back during the Super Bowl season of 2004.
The young RB had 80 yards rushing on the day and ended the season with 1,008. That is pretty amazing when considering that Fred Taylor, Danny Woodhead, Sammy Morris and before he was lost for the season, Kevin Faulk all had turns carrying the ball this year (as well as Laurence Maroney before he was traded to Denver).
Edelman, for his part, filling in for Welker, set a new Pats record with a 94-yard punt return for a touchdown near the end of the first half, made possible by outstanding blocking in the middle of the field. It made the score 24-0 going into halftime. He also had 72 yards receiving on the day.
Patriots Defense Demolishes Dolphins
Linebacker Rob Ninkovich was all over the place on Sunday afternoon, as he tied for the team lead in tackles with six, recorded two sacks and a recovered fumble (lost by veteran Miami RB Ricky Williams) as part of a relentless Patriots defense that pressured Miami QBs Chad Henne and his backup Tyler Thigpen all game long.
They collectively came up with five sacks and forced two Dolphins turnovers, the aforementioned fumble and a Chad Henne pass that was intercepted by Pro Bowl cornerback Devin McCourty (one of six Pats players selected for the NFL’s All-Star game to be played at the end of this month). Veteran DT (and fellow 2010 Pro Bowl selection) Vince Wilfork finally erased the zero from his sack total on the season, capturing two on the day. He hadn’t gotten one since 2008.
Does anyone question the the Patriots’ ability to rush the passer now? Is there any doubt that overall, this young Patriots defense is for real and together with the tremendous offense makes the Pats the scariest team in the NFL? I don’t think so.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that none of that matters now, as all 12 teams start the postseason with a 0-0 record. It also remains to be seen how healthy Welker, Woodhead, Mike Wright (concussion) and others will be two weeks from now when the Pats find out who they will play in the AFC Divisional Round on January 16th at 4:30 p.m. ET on CBS.
They will use the bye week this week to heal up and study future opponents, then the fun will begin at Foxboro once again in mid-January, against the lowest seeded team remaining between the winners of the Jets-Colts and Chiefs-Ravens games in the AFC Wild Card Round next weekend. Until then, get ready for the upcoming playoffs and after the Wild Card Round, a preview piece on New England’s first playoff game.
Photo credit: sportinglife.com