---- — BIG SHOWS
1. Gil and Gino – Santos and Cappelletti were together again, one final time, in the team’s 98.5 the Sports Hub broadcast booth. Talk about two class acts. They were honored for their service to the team over the decades.
2. Justin Francis – Yes, he was the recipient a couple times of Vince Wilfork or Kyle Love driving Ryan Tannehill into his waiting arms. But three sacks is three sacks. As he said, “Coach Belichick assigns objectives, and this week, we attained them.”
3. Wes Welker – He is the biggest story of the 2013 offseason. Eight more catches for 94 yards and a touchdown. That’s 118 catches for 1,354 yards and six TDs this season. In my eyes, at age 31, that is more than enough for say 3 years at $11 million a year with $24 million guaranteed. Get it done, and don’t mess with your MVNB … Most Valuable Non-Brady.
4. Danny Woodhead – Five catches for 79 yards, three rushes for 18 more. Perfect day.
5. Chandler Jones – The Manhandler returned, disrupting things all over the edge, picking up his game even more when Rob Ninkovich was lost to injury. Finished with seven tackles, including one for a loss, and swatted away a pair of passes. Energy, life. Great stuff from the rook.
1. Brandon Spikes – Maybe he’s pressing a little bit, because he’s missing a ton of snaps with the Pats frequently playing nickel defense. But the kid had zero stats. That can’t ever happen from the club’s premier run-stuffer.
2. Devin McCourty – Totally petrifies me if he’s forced to play corner. With no real receivers, the Dolphins went right at him successfully. With help over the top, he couldn’t handle Brian Hartline.
3. Patrick Chung – Late to the ball, he dropped a gimme pick. Not exactly running free and making plays out there. A clear, clear problem when he’s forced to make decisions.
GRADING THE GROUPS
Line (C+) … An unimpressive performance with a couple uncharacteristic false starts and a bad Ryan Wendell hold. Stevan Ridley was held to 3.7 yards a carry against a listless Miami front which had visions of South Beach under all that cold gear.
Running Backs (B) … Like the way Stevan Ridley is pumping the football up the field. Love what Danny Woodhead brings in a limited role. Strong relief work out of both Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden.
Wide Receivers (B+) … Can’t ask for more out of Wes Welker. I would love to see better hands out of Aaron Hernandez (5 catches, 44 yards). Deion Branch and Brandon Lloyd were basically after-thoughts, each making one catch.
Tight ends (B-) … Not vintage Gronk, but a nice return to the lineup for Rob Gronkowski, who caught two passes for 42 yards and a TD.
Quarterback (B+) … The game-plan didn’t ask for much out of Tom Brady. He went old-school game-manager on us, hitting 22 of 36 for 284 yards with a couple TDs and no picks.
Line (A+) … Seven sacks is seven sacks. Even though one came from a DB (Derrick Martin), the rotation up front owned Miami’s offensive line. It was a smothering.
Linebacker (C+) … Again, it’s only Jerod Mayo and Dont’a Hightower out there in nickel much of the night, so that cut a third of the work load. Neither was a presence (combining for 4 solos, 4 assists), but with the front four roasting the Dolphins, the “A” game wasn’t needed.
Defensive backs (C) … Too many receivers running free. Too bad Ryan Tannehill wasn’t up here in the press box. He might have seen who he is supposed to throw to. Kyle Arrington acts like it’s a big deal when he breaks up a pass. With his penchant for interferences, maybe it is. But act like you’ve made a play, will ya?
THE TURNING POINT
Once the Houston Texans coughed it up in Indianapolis, allowing the Pats a shot at the bye and a week off, Miami was cooked.
Can you imagine the cell phone work in pre-game as Patriots players looked to make last-second holiday plans, knowing they would steamroll Miami?
All the Pats needed was a reason to play. And they got it. Miami was more than willing to roll over and play dead in the chilly night air.
WHY BILL BELICHICK IS BETTER?
The game-plan was brilliant, under the circumstances.
Bad weather was expected so the Pats kept it simple, relying on the running game and for the most part kept Tom Brady on his feet.
Most of the pass plays were quick-read, short-drop, quick-releases. It fit the game-plan perfectly.
CAN THIS DEFENSE BE TRUSTED?
Is your 27th-rated defense ready for the bigtime?
For Joe Flacco and then Peyton Manning, and potentially a rematch with San Francisco, which hung 41 on you in your own house?
“We’re absolutely ready,” said safety Steve Gregory. “We don’t look at stats. We’re out there trying to find ways to win games. And as long as we can keep winning games, those stats just don’t matter.”
It is a question that will be asked repeatedly over the next two weeks.
The Pats bullied bad teams and tormented awful quarterbacks the entire stretch run, in which they closed with 10 wins in 11 games.
The bye should be huge, especially with Aqib Talib’s gimpy hip.
This defense clearly made strides with him in there, and while he was active yesterday, he did not play.
“The week should be valuable for all of us,” said Talib. “Everyone on this team can use it.”
THE DOLPHINS’ WAKE
The Dolphins (7-9) finished second in the AFC East with the loss.
Think of that. This horrifyingly mediocre school of Dolphins is your closest competition in the AFC East.
That statement alone should have every Pats fan from Amesbury to Williamstown in a blissful slumber tonight.
The gap between 1 and 2 is Grand Canyon-esque. Or is it?
“Who’s perception is that? That’s your perception, not mine,” barked Dolphins sack machine Cameron Wake, who is now 1-7 career against the Pats.
He has never played in the playoffs, while the Pats have won four straight division titles in that time and could be headed to another Super Bowl.
In need of a severe reality check, Wake blabbered on about how the Dolphins were only a few plays here or there from getting over the hump.
With the loss, the career Dolphin fell to 26-38 for his career.
The Patriots will be at least 1-to-9 picks to win the AFC East next year.
FIVE THOUGHTS HEADING TO THE BYE WEEK
1. Cincinnati will put the Texans out of their misery next week in the opening round of the playoffs, meaning the 12-4 Pats, in all likelihood, will get the Ravens here in two weeks.
2. While I cannot go back on my preseason pick of Denver winning the Super Bowl — Remember when you all laughed at me then? — the Patriots will be the favorite in the AFC title game at Mile High Stadium.
3. Again, it’s Bill Belichick who deserves the highest praise for another sparkling regular season. This team never lets up, and that’s coaching, folks.
4. Getting Rob Gronkowski back is a huge addition with the playoffs coming up.
5. The Patriots defensive deficiencies simply aren’t going to matter with Tom Brady’s drive this season.