EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 31, 2012

Bye the way, Pats are ready for run

Bill Burt
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — FOXBORO — The New England Patriots are ready. Again.

I realize it sounds like a broken record and that it has a ring of “homerism” to it, but it’s the truth.

We have seen this many times before, beginning with the Patriots’ first Super Bowl march in 2001. You’ll recall, they moved up the seeding the final weeks of the season, when a Wild Card game appeared to be a done deal.

The bye week is theirs because the Patriots did their job and won a game or two they were supposed to have won. They whipped Miami here last night 28-0.

Compare that to other teams who couldn’t finish the job (see Houston Texans, who fell from No. 1 to No. 3 seed in two weeks).

Compare them to last year’s Super Bowl champion, the New York Giants. They returned every key player from a year ago — in fact they added an overachieving running back and wide receiver — yet they couldn’t handle being the defending champion, getting trounced by Atlanta (34-0) and Baltimore (33-14) in the pressure-packed Weeks 15 and 16.

The Patriots’ consistency since Bill Belichick took over in 2000 borders on amazing. Last night they clinched their seventh bye in the last 12 seasons.

In their five Super Bowl appearances under Belichick, all of them were on the backs of a “bye” week.

After the game, Belichick evaded a question about the importance of a bye, saying only “I don’t know.”

Of course, it is only seven extra days of rest, but it is also seven extra days of preparation.

While the Patriots don’t know who their opponent will be in two weeks (it would be Houston if the Texans beat Cincinnati), Belichick has already mandated assistants to break down the tendencies for Houston, Indianapolis and Baltimore.

He knows there’s a good chance the homework for two of those teams will be tossed in the trash.

Anyway, Tom Brady basically admitted the only professional coach he has ever known told the media a white lie.

“(Before the game) Coach Belichick just said, ‘Look, the only people that can improve our position are us, so regardless of what anyone else does, we have to win,’” said Brady afterward. “And that’s what we did.”

Last night’s win was another barometer of this team’s guile and grit. Not only was it very cold (28 degrees), but the wind was gusting all night from the open end of Gillette Stadium to the closed end.

Whatever happened to “the elements being the great equalizer,” particularly with a passing game as prolific as the Patriots’?

Not on Belichick’s watch.

There are other reasons for feeling warm and fuzzy.

Outside of the 41-34 loss to the 49ers, the often struggling defense has bordered on being good since Thanksgiving, allowing 13 points per game.

The running game, an afterthought in recent years, is eighth best in the NFL at 134.5 yards per game.

Now that tight end Rob Gronkowski, an MVP candidate before he broke his forearm on Nov. 18, appears to be nearing 100 percent, shouldn’t the offense be 20 percent better?

And then there is their pride, consistency and momentum, which have shined through since their perplexing 3-3 start.

“Man, I love this team,” said Patriots newbie, Aqib Talib. “It’s everything. Everyone on this team adds something. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

To be honest, Aqib, we have, several times before.

And that’s why we can say that the 2012 Patriots are ready. And I really mean ready.

E-mail Bill Burt at bburt@eagletribune.com.