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Positives and Negatives: Big Win over Miami gives Patriots First Round Bye

Patriots' TE Rob Gronkowski

On Sunday, the New England Patriots entered an afternoon game against the Miami Dolphins knowing that a win would mean a week off from a game. Earlier in the day, the Houston Texans had lost to the Indianapolis Colts, forfeiting their hold on a top 2 seed in the AFC. The Pats played a great game, as the offense put up 28 points and the defense held Miami to zero. Now, with one less game to play in the playoffs, the Patriots road to the Superbowl got a little easier, and that in itself, is a positive. On to the rest:

Positives

  •  Two more takeaways, including another pick for safety Steve Gregory, and this defense continues to force turnovers at a high clip. Given its deficiencies, this will have to continue to be a trend for the defense if the team wants a deep playoff run.
  • The Pats’ four-headed rushing attack was back in full force, while Woodhead, Vereen, Ridley, and Bolden all tallied at least three carries, rushing for a combined 167 yards against a pretty good run defense. Stevan Ridley led the way with 20 carries for 74 yards and two scores. He finishes the regular season with a very strong 4.4 yards per carry, ahead of guys like LeSean McCoy, Arian Foster, and Steven Jackson. If the Patriots can continue to run the ball effectively and stay balanced in the offense, they should do well in the playoffs. Kudos to Josh McDaniels for driving this home early in the season and working through it even when it stalled.
  • Rob Gronkowski returned for the first time since breaking his arm and continued to do what he does best, find the endzone. His eleventh touchdown in as many games on the year gave him one score for every five catches on the year; that is incredibly efficient. It was good to see Gronk back on the field, as he helped to slow down a Dolphins pass rush that spent a lot of the last meeting in the backfield with Tom Brady.
  • Zoltan Mesko dropped four of his five punts inside the twenty yard line. In the playoffs, pinning an opponent deep in their own zone is the best way to slow down an offense. Mesko’s leg will be very important int he coming weeks.

Negatives

  • Devin McCourty does not look good at cornerback right now. Alfonso Dennard and Aqib Talib need to get healthy in the off week; this defense is significantly weaker without them.
  • Rob Ninkovich pulled up lame at one point, and was not seen for the rest of the afternoon in what is being classified as a hip injury. One of the most instinctual Patriots defenders will have an extra week to get back on the field.
  • Logan Mankins picked up his third false start penalty in the last few weeks, and it seems like he is caught trying to get an extra step on defenders who may now be quicker than him. If he’s still nursing an injury, the Patriots are going to have to bring help on his side against the better rushers in the playoffs.
  • One catch for Brandon Lloyd; the enigma that is Brandon Lloyd continues to baffle Patriots fans. He had his best game in a Patriots uniform against the 49ers and has completely disappeared since his breakout moment. Here’s to hoping Brady doesn’t forget about him in the playoffs.

With a bye week ahead, the Patriots will watch football from their homes Sunday, waiting to see who they will have to prepare for. Possible opponents are the Baltimore Ravens, Houston Texans, and the Indianapolis Colts. With the Bengals taking the six seed, a win will automatically pit them against the Denver Broncos. None of these opponents are particularly frightening for the Pats, but any team can have a good game in the playoffs, so they had better show up ready to play on Divisional weekend. A flat performance like the stinker in Jacksonville will cost them the postseason.

Stats courtesy of NFL.com

About DMac - @dmac4226

I grew up on Boston Sports during the championship era. Nothing has supported my love for Boston sports more than seeing three Lombardi Trophies, two World Series Championships, a Stanley Cup, and an NBA Championship all before turning 21. That will never stop me complaining when one of my teams falls on its face, and there will always be game film to go over, which is why I will always have something to write about.

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