The best news of the day was that despite a game that wasn’t their best, the Patriots took care of business defeating the Tennessee Titans 33-16 Sunday at Foxboro and have earned a bye for the Wildcard Round of the playoffs.
This marks the sixth straight season the Patriots have earned a bye, an NFL record. And it has to come as great news as the injuries continue to pile up at a near ridiculous rate for a team with the best record in the AFC.
This one won’t go down as one of their highlight games but on a day where the team was hurting, the Patriots did what they do best. They circled the wagons and did what they had to do.
Their win coupled with the Steelers win over Denver have given the Patriots no worse than a #2 seed and a bye for the divisional round of NFL playoffs. Pittsburgh vaults up to the #6 seed, knocking the Jets back via a tie-breaker. That makes the game in the Meadowlands next week even more dire for Gang Green.
Other observations from Sunday include:
Gronk Plays with heavy heart and dedicates game to friend: Rob Gronkowski missed Friday’s practice when it was learned that his personal trainer and close friend Dana Parenteau passed away Friday at the age of 42.
Gronkowski, on his Facebook page dedicated the game to his friend and after scoring a touchdown on the Patriots opening drive raised both arms in the air in a salute.
“My good friend loved the game of football, (he) loved being at all my games, always had my back,” Gronkowski said. “I definitely dedicate that touchdown to him. I pointed up. I know he was up there watching. I just definitely made that score for him and I know he was going crazy knowing that it was dedicated to him.”
Patriots center Brian Stork missed the game due to a death in his close family according to reports after the game.
Next Man Up Isn’t Just a Mantra: Around New England, many of the fans of Patriots Nation react with the well-used (and well needed), phrase “Next Man Up” when a player goes down with an injury.
That phrase may be getting a bit cliché in other places but just take a look around at some of the key moments of the game for the Patriots and it just isn’t a mantra for the team.
James White, who was all but an afterthought at the beginning of the season given the accomplishments of Dion Lewis, had another big day in the passing game. White had seven catches for 71 yards including a highlight reel 30-yard touchdown. He also had a 65-yard pass and run from Brady that was wiped out by another ridiculous Offensive PI penalty that is a subject for another time.
Joey Iosefa who wasn’t on any team just two months ago, was activated from the practice squad this week and promptly led the team in rushing. His run where he trucked over CB Coty Sensabaugh has already become legend on YouTube and thru GIFs. He gained 51 yards on 14 carries and immediately has become a fan favorite. The man from Pago Pago was a great midseason under the radar pickup.
Duron Harmon had to replace Devin McCourty as the Patriots centerfielder on defense as the free safety. Harmon played more than adequately in lieu of the QB for the secondary and acquitted himself well. He’s been a solid role player in his time here and now will have to step up in DMac’s absence.
Akiem Hicks had worn out his welcome in New Orleans; he was acquired in a trade for backup TE Michael Hoomanawanui and with Dominique Easley on IR has stepped up. He got two sacks in Houston last week and followed that up with another sack and a touchdown on a fumble return. Hicks rolled into the end zone after Chandler Jones strip sacked Marcus Mariota and it gave the Patriots their first defensive score of the year.
While certain players (Brady, Gronk Collins, Butler among others) are irreplaceable, if the Patriots are going to go on a deep run again, they’ll need these lunch pail types to step up at a high level.
Welcome Back to the party Mr. Jones: Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones who has been quiet the past month burst back into the spotlight on Sunday with a pair of sacks giving him 12.5 for the season, a new career high.
Jones’ strip sack of Mariota resulted in a Patriots defensive touchdown. New England was one of only four teams without a defensive or special teams score in 2015. His two sacks were part of five of the day for the Patriots. Hicks, Jabaal Sheard and Jamie Collins got the other sacks for the Patriots.
But it is important to see Jones back in the box score again. When he’s on top of his game, he gives the Patriots along with Sheard and Rob Ninkovich, three quality edge rushers who they’ll need against the suddenly pass-happy Jets.
Injuries Decimate team again: Just when you thought it was safe to go back on the football field the injury bug once again ripped thru the Patriots roster.
Danny Amendola tweaked an already bad knee in the first half while returning a punt and limped off the field. He was examined on the sideline and tried to return in the second half before heading off for good prior to the second half kickoff.
Dont’a Hightower who returned to action on Sunday after sitting out the last two games with a strained MCL also re-aggravated his injury and didn’t return.
Pat Chung took a nasty hit from teammate Jon Bostic on his knee/hip area while trying to wrap up TE Delanie Walker and went down in a lot of pain. After being attended to by the training staff, he attempted to jog off the field and then went gingerly to the sideline. He, like Amendola and Hightower didn’t return.
Brady Passes Another Milestone: QB Tom Brady started hot going 8-8 for 70 yards and a touchdown on the Patriots first drive. After that, he wasn’t at his absolute best, but like the rest of the team, he got the job done.
Brady finished 23 of 35 for 267 yards and two touchdowns. His second, to James White was his league leading 35th of the season. And it also marks his fourth season with 35 or more touchdown passes, tying Peyton Manning for most all-time.
Special Teams turnover again costs Pats: The normally sure-handed Danny Amendola coughed up a fumble on a punt return Sunday marking the fourth game in a row that the Patriots have suffered a turnover on Special Teams.
The Titans turned that turnover into three points despite moving backwards five yards on the possession. It has been an alarming trend the past month since the Denver game and something the team will have to tighten up moving forward.
Stephen Gostkowski proved that he is indeed human when he missed a field goal from 48 yards, just his second miss of the season and had another near miss. But overall on the day, Mr. Automatic kicked 4 of 5 field goals as well as all three extra points.