By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- A 14-2 season is ridiculous. Ridiculous. In this league, going 14-2 is an accomplishment. There is no downplaying that.
But here in New England, as tends to be the case, we've been conditioned to not be impressed by this achievement anymore. This is not a criticism; it is only a natural evolution. We've all covered this before.
And while one could reasonably discuss the Patriots' weak schedule of opponents and also bemoan the dearth of quarterbacking talent or head coaching intellect in the NFL, one should not ever dismiss the feat of going 14-2.
Even for the Patriots -- far and away the most successful team of the 21st century -- a 14-2 record is a significant achievement. It qualifies as a tie for their second-best season ever, trailing only the undefeated season of 2007. They've won 14 games in a season just four times before: 2003, 2004, 2007 and 2010. (The five seasons of 14 or more wins are the most among all NFL franchises.)
That's also a winning percentage of .875 in one-third of all of Brady's seasons as a starting quarterback.
For some perspective: The New York Jets have never won more than 12 games in any season. The following teams have never won 14 games in any single season: the Eagles, Bengals, Lions, Texans, Ravens, Titans/Oilers, Saints, Seahawks, Cardinals, Buccaneers, Raiders, Chiefs and Bills. Even the mighty Cowboys have never recorded a 14-win season in their history. The Packers have done it just once, as have the Giants, Broncos and Vikings.
And now the Patriots have recorded their fifth 14-win season in a 14-year span. And nobody's really batting an eye.
That's also despite losing Rob Gronkowski in the middle of the season, despite being without Tom Brady for a month to start the year, and despite making trips to Denver and to Pittsburgh.
Just give credit to Brady and Bill Belichick for making winning become so commonplace, because prior to their arrival, a 14-win season might have been cause for a parade. Now, it's just another one for the almanacs. The fact that 14-win season can become wallpaper is truly a testament to all that they've done.
Now, obviously, if the Patriots get upset in a shocker in the divisional round the way they did in 2010, then it will make everybody shouting "fool's gold" look like a sage. But with the playoffs not making their way to Foxboro for a couple of weeks, it's worth taking a snapshot of just how impressive a 14-win season is in itself.
So snap away, folks. Get to snapping. And now check out some leftover thoughts from the 35-14 butt-kicking the Patriots put on the Dolphins.
--What was your favorite memory of the season? Mine, personally, relates to the incessant pandemonium during the preseason with regard to Tom Brady's playing time in preseason games. Oh -- and why aren't Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo talking on the sidelines?! What a great use of time that was. I'm so thankful to have those cherished memories as part of the potpourri that is my life.
--OK, so, brass tacks ... the Patriots are going to get either the Houston Texans, Oakland Raiders or Miami Dolphins in the divisional round. Those would be the teams of quarterbacks Brock Osweiler (who only got his job back because the immortal Tom Savage suffered a concussion), third-string rookie Connor Cook, or a duo of Matt Moore/Ryan Tannehill that's already 0-2 vs. New England this year.
Obviously, the 2010 Jets proved to us all that nothing can be taken for granted in January. But I still feel comfortable in congratulating the Patriots for securing the rare bye that gets them directly into the AFC Championship Game. You want to talk about your rare accomplishments ... there's one right there.
--The Patriots' first drive was a thing of beauty: 13 plays (six passes, seven rushes), 75 yards, three third-down conversions, 7:32, seven points. Seven different players gained yards. It was masterful.
But, if you're the sort who spends Week 17 sneaking peeks between the fingers over your eyes as you pray to the gods above that Tom Brady won't get hurt, it was kind of a stressful experience.
Brady got absolutely demolished by Cameron Wake after handing off to Julian Edelman on an end-around:
And he also had one of those terrifying slides where the giant knee brace digs into the turf and suddenly stops his momentum. But other than that, the injury scares in this Week 17 contest were few and far between.
Well, until the fourth quarter, when all these giants congregated near Tom Brady's knees:
--Speaking of that shoddy Miami turf, it was all the rage in the pregame. It's all anyone wanted to talk about. But once the game began, it wasn't as much of a factor as we were being led to believe. It certainly affected Andrew Franks on one bad kickoff, and it might have played a role in Stephen Gostkowski's missed 52-yard field goal attempt. But other than the time when Kenny Stills left some skid marks near the sideline:
--The turf was also plenty strong enough to allow Julian Edelman to pull off a ...
--Look, I'm not going to sit here and tell you that Matt Lengel is just Rob Gronkowski in disguise. I'm not. But I'm also not not going to do that. If you know what I mean.
--You know, it's a passing league and all. That's what the experts all say. But I'll tell you this: The Patriots aren't 14-2 without LeGarrette Blount and his 1,161 yards and 18 touchdowns. They're not 14-2 if they aren't ranked fifth in the league in rushing yards. Running the ball is still useful in today's NFL, and you saw its significance -- funny enough -- on the touchdown pass to Martellus Bennett.
The Dolphins were all so overly concerned with Blount, who's been a goal line nightmare for defenses, that they loaded up to stop him and completely lost track of the refrigerator-sized tight end in the end zone:
The Garrette has just been everything the Patriots could have wanted him to be this year. The fact that he's complemented by a healthy Dion Lewis and James White is -- no joke -- the biggest reason for optimism regarding New England's chances in the postseason. They are just a complete offense, even without Gronkowski, which is a scarce thing in the NFL. And if Danny Amendola can get back in the mix as a healthy receiver, it's a remarkably deep stable of skill players.
--When did Trey Flowers become such a dynamic athlete out there? He's emerged in such a huge way this season, that the Chandler Jones and Jamie Collins trades start to make a little more sense. Obviously, Belichick liked what he saw in this kid, and he has rewarded him in a big way.
Flowers was part of a larger team effort to shut down Jay Ajayi. It was like poetry in motion. Clearly, the Patriots' defensive strategy was quite simple:
- Do whatever is necessary to sell out to stop Ajayi.
- Dare Matt Moore to beat you.
- Force a turnover or two to make up for all those yards you're giving up.
It worked to perfection.
This is what Ajayi faced on the first Miami play of the game:
Here was second down:
Here was later in the first, the play that preceded Matt Moore's awful interception to Logan Ryan:
And it only continued for the rest of the day. It never let up. It was a noticeably impressive effort.
--I'll say this about the Patriots' defense: it is certainly good. Now, how good is up for debate. Obviously, when you allow 15.6 points per game (!), you're pretty damn good. But of course, that number doesn't tell the whole story. The Patriots went up against some garbage offenses. (Remember this?)
But ... the Patriots also excelled against those garbage offenses. If they gave up too many yards and points and found themselves getting into trouble against the Rams and Broncos of the world, then there might be room for great concern. But as it stands ... how can you honestly express great frustrations with the way the Patriots defense has played?
Surely, it's not an unbeatable unit, as the botched coverage on the Kenny Stills touchdown showed. But that's a very good unit. The weakness of opposing offenses should not completely distract from that reality.
--I really do hate to take all of the Rob Gronkowski literary devices that I've cultivated over the years and use them other people, but when you drag as many humans into the end zone as Michael Floyd did, then you're going to get the proper credit.
--Floyd's touchdown and massive block on Edelman's touchdown garnered the most attention Sunday, but I was really impressed with his work on the sideline.
Obviously, just about every NFL receiver is adept at getting his feet in bounds while making a catch, but it was Floyd's ability to catch this ball its high point and hold it still with his arms full outstretched, all while keeping his body almost motionless that really stood out.
It was just a really high-level athletic play, one that might only be made by a receiver who's drafted in the top half of the first round.
--Two weeks ago, Julian Edelman looked ready to throw down with every player in a Broncos uniform. Last week, he took it to a new level when he looked prepared to throw hands with assistant coaches on the Jets' sideline. And this week, he once again was ready to throw down with Dolphins safety Bobby McClain. That dude is just operating at about 120 degrees now, and may the football gods have mercy on whoever has to deal with him in the divisional round, after he's had two full weeks to stew.
Edelman finished the year with the fourth-most receptions and the 11th-most yards among wide receivers in the entire NFL (prior to Sunday night's Lions-Packers game). His incredible, unlikely story only grows.
--Really interesting scene all around here, but mostly I'm just wondering ... is that guy wearing a Brian Griese jersey?
Unless he's a big Scott Zolak fan?
--A tale, in three photographs:
1. Ndamukong Suh, angry, points directly at his foes; vows vengeance.
2. Ndamukong Suh does not get his vengeance; instead he gets spun around and then hugged by his teammate:
3. LeGarrette Blount consoles Ndamkong Suh.
--Later, when Blount and Suh went at it, this poor umpire got caught in the middle.
He was never heard from again.
--While this game itself might eventually get lost to history as just another win in the Brady-Belichick era, let it be hereby stated that Jan. 1, 2017 marked the birth of Bill Belichick's "Deal With It" face.
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