David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
The New England Patriots kept the Miami Dolphins off the scoreboard Sunday, sealing the No. 2 seed in the AFC, as well as the first-round bye that goes with it.
The Pats will be off next week, thanks to another result: The Houston Texans had already lost to the Indianapolis Colts, meaning that they entered their late start time knowing a win would earn them a week of rest. Win they did, entering the half up 21-0 and closing strong. New England forced two turnovers, committed none, and were clearly the better team on both sides of the ball. Greg Knopping of Patriots blog Pats Pulpit called the game "the most complete defensive performance of the year", while praising the guys up front on offense:
On offense, the story of the day had to be the protection of quarterback Tom Brady. Brady has been hit a lot over the past few weeks, and facing an excellent pass rush from the Dolphins that included Pro Bowl end/linebacker Cameron Wake, it could have been problematic. Fortunately, the Patriots' line of Nate Solder, Logan Mankins, Ryan Wendell, Dan Connolly, and Sebastian Vollmer not only held up, but had arguably their best performance of the season. There's also no doubt that having Rob Gronkowski back, to place on Wake's side, also helped.
All I have to say is that Stevan Ridley is the NFL's most underrated running back. There is no doubt in my mind that this guy belongs in the top 10, if not the top five, for running backs in the NFL.
The Patriots finish the season as the No. 2 seed in the AFC, and will face either the Baltimore Ravens, Texans, or Colts in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.