Were the New England Patriots just that much better than the Miami Dolphins, or did the Dolphins not bother to bring their “A” game?
Either way, neither team will be playing next week as the NFL playoffs begin.
The Dolphins? Well, they have the next 6 months off. They knew that before the game even started and played like they had nothing to play for.
The Patriots are just taking a week off to get healthy before getting back after it.
Before the game even started, the Houston Texans opened the door for a 1st round bye for the Patriots by losing for the 3rd time in their last 4 games. New England sprinted right through the door and secured the #2 seed in the AFC with a solid 28-0 win over a less than inspired Dolphins squad.
Tom Brady was efficient, connecting on 22 of 36 passes for 284 yards and two scores, including a 23 yard strike to tight end Rob Gronkowski, who was seeing his first action since breaking his forearm against the Colts on November 18th.
Gronkowski, who was voted to his second Pro Bowl earlier in the week, caught two balls for 43 yards and his 11th score of the season. His fellow Pro Bowl receiver Wes Welker did the majority of the damage with Brady’s throws, catching 8 balls for 94 yards and Brady’s other scoring toss.
Aaron Hernandez came down with 5 catches as he continues to work his way back from an ankle injury that cost him the majority of his season.
Stevan Ridley ran for 75 yards on 20 touches, including two short scoring runs. Danny Woodhead was his usual electric self, running for 18 yards and catching 5 balls for 79.
But this game belonged to the Patriots’ defense.
Ryan Tannehill was equally efficient as Brady, throwing 35 times, completing 20 for 235 yards, but with one Steve Gregory interception. Tannehill was under duress all game, being sacked seven times and hit just about every other time that he got the ball away.
New England held the normally potent Miami running game to 44 yards on 15 carries, reestablishing the line of scrimmage two yards deep into the Dolphins’ backfield. With Miami unable to get their running game untracked, it set the stage for the pass rush to tee off on Tannehill.
And tee off they did.
The seven sacks were the most for the Patriots this season, rookie free agent defensive lineman Justin Francis accounting for 3 of them. The Patriots defense also recovered a fumble and recorded their first shutout since the 2009 season.
The Patriots pass rush was just that much more impressive given the fact that their two starting corners, Alfonzo Dennard and Aqib Talib were inactive for the game, which meant that safety Devin McCourty switched back to corner for Talib and nickle corner Kyle Arrington took over for Dennard, both for the second week in a row.
With the win, the Patriots have the next week off as the #2 seed, while keeping an eye on the Wildcard round of the playoffs. They will host the highest remaining seed from a pool that includes the Texans who will host Cincinnati and the Indianapolis Colts, who will travel to Baltimore to face the struggling Ravens.
The regular season is now completed, and now the tournament begins. The prize is there for the Patriots, all they have to do is take it away from everyone else.
Given that they led the NFL in takeaway differential by a wide margin, you have to like their chances.