Patriots vs. Dolphins: New England's Biggest Winners and Losers from Week 17
Heading into the playoffs with a healthy squad was of the utmost importance for New England. But in the process, the Pats broke the game wide open and improved their postseason seating.
In reality, all Patriots were winners this week, but some certainly had better games than others.
With that in mind, here are New England's biggest winners and losers from the Week 17 victory over the Dolphins at Gillette Stadium.
Winner: Tom Brady
Brady wasted little time deciphering the Dolphins defense.
With a nine-yard completion to Wes Welker in the first quarter, Brady NFL)" target="_blank">surpassed legendary Baltimore Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas for most consecutive games with a touchdown pass with 48. That number is the active record behind New Orleans Saints gunslinger Drew Brees, who saw his streak end at 54 contests.
By game's end, Brady had completed 22 of 36 passes for 284 yards and two touchdowns. While his stats weren't eye-popping, the eight-time Pro Bowler did what he had to do to keep the offense rolling.
In his postgame press conference, Brady's focused mentality was on display, according to Patriots.com's transcript:
We’re just going to keep battling. I think that’s why you play them all. You don’t make, at the halfway point, at Thanksgiving, you kind of see where the teams are positioned, but you have to play all 16. After you put them all together, you see where you stand. We compete against everybody, so we’ll take out time to get some guys healed up and hopefully get ready to go whenever we find out whoever we play.
It's vital to have No. 12 rolling on all cylinders headed into the postseason. And right now, he is.
Loser: Brandon Lloyd
Brandon Lloyd didn't finish the regular season on a high note.
As a result, Lloyd finishes the regular season 89 yards short of his second career 1,000-yard campaign.
The quiet game shouldn't be too much of a concern for the Patriots. Lloyd has shown he can stretch the field and pick up first downs via sideline grabs. But he needs to get back in the mix come Jan. 13 when the Pats kick off their postseason against a more threatening opponent.
Winner: Wes Welker
Wes Welker was his usual self Sunday night, catching eight passes for 94 yards and a score.
Targeted 12 times, the 31-year-old continues to be Tom Brady's safety valve. In addition to his receiving efforts, Welker also carried the ball once for 11 yards and a New England first down.
Catching fire at the right time, Welker has now caught four touchdown passes in his last six games. He ends the regular season with 118 catches for 1,354 yards and six touchdowns.
Loser: Kyle Love
Kyle Love was not in the defensive starting unit against Miami.
Instead, the former undrafted defensive tackle out of Mississippi State was replaced by 2010 seventh-round pick Brandon Deaderick.
While Love is known as more of a bulky run-stuffer, Deaderick is considered more of a pass-rusher. In recent weeks, the Patriots haven't put quarterbacks under consistent pressure. In speculation, that could be why the personnel switch was made.
The move paid off, as New England got to Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill throughout the game. In turn, Miami's offense was stifled.
Love did filter into the rotation, but he finished the game with just one tackle. His reduced role will be something to keep an eye on in the playoffs.
Winner: Brandon Deaderick
Brandon Deaderick took advantage of his extended playing time next to Vince Wilfork on the interior of New England's defensive line.
The Alabama product brought down ball-carriers for two solo tackles. But his most significant contribution came when he knifed through Miami's offensive line to sack Ryan Tannehill. The loss of yardage netted Deaderick with his first sack of the season and the fifth of his career.
Deaderick's skill set seems to work well alongside Wilfork. He earned his Week 17 start, and it may be a sign of things to come.
Winner: Vince Wilfork
Vince Wilfork played a pivotal role in the Patriots' defensive triumphs versus the Dolphins.
Wilfork did his part in dismantling Miami's offensive line. In doing so, the former Miami Hurricane opened up chances as the quarterback for his fellow defensive linemen.
Loser: Rob Ninkovich
Against Miami, however, Ninkovich suffered some misfortune.
In the second quarter, the Purdue Boilermaker fell to the ground and looked to be in serious pain with a hip injury. His discomfort kept him from walking off the field without help from the medical staff.
According to Tom E. Curran of CSNNE.com, Ninkovich hasn't missed a game since 2009 and rarely misses practices. Curran added his thoughts on the immediate future of the Patriots, who could be without their clutch edge rusher for a while:
If Ninkovich is gone for the season -- and that could be in play -- the return of Jermaine Cunningham from his PED suspension, the development of rookie Justin Francis and the continued steady play of Trevor Scott all help offset the loss. But none are quite as versatile and seemingly built for the clutch the way Ninkovich has shown himself to be.
It's too soon to know how long Ninkovich will be out. But still, the Patriots must prepare for the worst and hope for the best.
Winner: Justin Francis
Undrafted rookie Justin Francis put on a clinic versus Miami.
Going into the game, the Rutgers product had seven tackles in nine games this year. But once Sunday's tilt was all said and done, Francis had harassed Ryan Tannehill for three sacks.
Head coach Bill Belichick is looking awfully smart for signing Francis after the 2012 draft. He's become a high-motor guy in the defensive end rotation. The Scarlet Knight has far and away eclipsed rookie third-round pick Jake Bequette on the depth chart.
The underdog's story is best summed up by a tweet from CSNNE.com's Mary Paoletti:
Three sacks for Justin Francis are the first of his career. Kid doesn't even have a photo up on NFL.com.
— Mary Paoletti (@Mary_Paoletti) December 31, 2012
Winner: Chandler Jones
Chandler Jones got off to a hot start after being chosen in the first round of this year's draft. The long-armed defensive end had six sacks through his first eight NFL games.
Then, an ankle injury hit the Syracuse Orangemen in Week 11 versus the Indianapolis Colts. Jones missed his next two games before slowly being eased back into the fold.
While he hasn't garnered another sack since, Jones is finally getting back in the swing of things.
This week against Miami, he was New England's second-leading tackler with seven stops. One of his hits resulted in a loss of yards, and he also hampered Miami's passing attack with two pass deflections.
Jones is making plays all around the ball, and the momentum heading into the playoffs is on his side.
Winner: Steve Gregory
Steve Gregory is one of the veterans in New England's secondary, and his savvy play was on display this Sunday.
The ex-San Diego Charger made only one tackle versus Miami, but he was far from a disappointment. Gregory was a tremendous help in pass coverage, deflecting one pass and intercepting another.
The 29-year-old safety now has three picks on the year and five pass breakups. He may not be the long-term answer atop the defensive backfield, but Gregory has been valuable piece to the Patriots' success nonetheless.