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Notes and Observations from Week 17: Patriots 28, Dolphins 0 – Patriots Clinch #2 Seed

Wes Welker celebrates with Deion Branch after his frist quarter touchdown. That would be all the Patriots needed as they shut the Dolphins out at home. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)

The Texans lost to the Colts in the early afternoon games which set the Patriots up to control their own destiny to gain a first round bye in the playoffs. Playing against the Miami Dolphins nothing is a guarantee. The Patriots needed the win to guarantee the first round bye.

First Half

- Being slightly superstitious, as well as being a fan of the Patriots during the Belichick/Brady era, this Patriots and Dolphins games had all the makings of one of those last minute win deals. When the Patriots received the opening kickoff I was a little nervous. They always receive at half and with at least the #2 seed on the line saying I was skeptical would be an understatement. The first half calmed the nerves early however.

- The first two offensive drives were nothing special. I also do not have a problem going for it on 4th and 6. However, I do have a problem with the Patriots punting on 4th and 7 on the next drive. It’s tough to question Belichick as he has made so many great decisions in his tenure as head coach, but being a fan and a blogger of course I’m going to complain. 

- The defense was playing without starting cornerbacks Aqib Talib and Alfonzo Dennard. In their absence, the Patriots resorted back to Devin McCourty and Kyle Arrington, who were the starters at the beginning of the season. Early on there were no real problems. As a matter of fact, thanks to Steve Gregory, the secondary came up with a big play to sway momentum. Gregory picked off a Ryan Tannehill pass, his first in the last four games, to give the Patriots offense great field position.

- Tom Brady and the Patriots offense didn’t waste any time with the terrific field position. Brady hooked up with the returning Rob Gronkowski for a 19 yard reception to set them up in the red zone. On the next play Brady connected with Wes Welker for a 9-yard touchdown reception to give the Patriots the early 7-0 lead.

- Welker was able to disguise himself behind Gronk and Aaron Hernandez which left him wide open in the middle of the field. It truly is impressive how this offense has maintained its consistency without Gronk these past 5 games. When he’s out there they are that much more intimidating.

- The defense looked great in the first half. The front seven, as I have said previously, is the best it’s been since 2004. They have depth and they have guys who can step up and make plays. Early on in Sunday’s game the Patriots were being very aggressive on defense. The Gregory interception was a result of extra pass rushers being sent and pressuring the rookie Tannehill. Rob Ninkovich, who left in the first half with a leg injury, was doing his part to rush the quarterback and could have been credited with Justin Francis’ first half sack. Ninkovich came in off the outside and forced Tannehill to move up the middle. Francis was there waiting for him for the sack.

- Bottom line is when this defense plays aggressively, they can make plays. The play it safe zone coverage defense is what gets them in trouble.

- While Stevan Ridley did have two first half touchdowns, Danny Woodhead once again showed that he is one of the most consistent players on this team. He accounted for 81 total yards (18 reception, 63 rush) in the first half. Ridley deserves tons of credit as he crossed 1,200 rush yards and 12 touchdowns, but Woodhead is a major part of this offense. The running back by committee certainly suits this offense perfectly.

Second Half

- The second half said more about the defense than the offense. The Patriots’ offense went to a more conservative route for most of the second half. They utilized the run and attempted some short passes but weren’t able to sustain much of a drive for the entire third quarter. The defense however continued to pressure Tannehill and the Dolphins offense.

- Miami looked primed to score but a botched hand off from Tannehill to Reggie Bush led to a fumble recovery from the Patriots. The defense, even with a three touchdown lead, played aggressively and forced Tannehill and the Dolphins offense to make quick decisions. The aggressive style of defense led to shaky play by the Dolphins offense, while at the same time made the Patriots defense look phenomenal.

- Brady and the Patriots offense moved the bell well enough with a short field after another lackluster punt from the Dolphins. A reverse to Welker gained 11 yards. The drive was eventually capped off with a 23-yard touchdown pass from Brady to Gronk. The Gronk spike was missed in New England more than you can know.

- Justin Francis and Trevor Scott deserve all the credit in the world. Over the past few games both of these defensive linemen have stepped up and made plays. Francis had three sacks on Sunday and Scott had one as well. Both of their stellar play have come in the wake of a Jermaine Cunningham suspension and Chandler Jones being saddled with an ankle injury. Their success speaks volumes to how well Belichick builds an entire team each and every season.

- Having the first round bye is huge. If I were to say this Patriots team would have a first round bye back in week 6, most people would have called me crazy. They only lost one game after the debacle in Seattle and now they are sitting comfortably in the #2 seed in the playoffs. Two out of the three times the Patriots won the Super Bowl under Bill Belichick they were the #2 seed. I’m not saying it’s guaranteed but for those of you who are superstitious it is a nice little factoid.

- The big picture is this Patriots team has played some great football in the second half of the season. Even in the game against the 49ers when they were beat down in the first half, they showed a no-quit attitude that few teams in the NFL possess. The playoffs are the start of a brand new season, and I for one am glad this team can take a little time to rest up. Guys like Dennard, Talib, and Gronk sure could use and extra week to get everything right.

- The only team that really worries me (The Giants)  isn’t in the playoffs. That being said I really like our chances.

About Steve Bastek - @sbastek12

Graduate of Bridgewater State University with a BA in Communication studies. I've been a Boston sports fan all my life and enjoy having the opportunity to write about it.

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