Aaron Hernandez is healthier, and a much-improved player than he was last January.
For his rookie season and most of 2011, Hernandez was part of the secondary group of weapons Tom Brady had at his disposal. But as the regular season finishes, Hernandez is on a par with Welker and Gronkowski. Hernandez, despite turning only 22 in November, is light-years ahead of where he was as the playoffs beckoned in 2010. He’ll be hard-pressed to ever be the complete tight end Gronkowski is, but he has matured into a well-rounded player.
And that looms as a very big development for the Patriots.
Now, he can do it all. Even Hernandez’s blocking has become an asset. Give a large amount of credit to tight ends coach Brian Ferentz for the job he’s done with both of the young tight ends - especially after valuable veteran Alge Crumpler departed.
Tom Brady is asked if he and his teammates are concerned that slow starts could be a fatal flaw in the playoffs.
"We’re always trying to play better. I think we come out of every game saying there’s things we didn’t do so well and there’s things we have to do better. I don’t think what’s in our mind is, 'We’re going to lose, we’re going to lose, we’re going to lose.' You don’t think about that. You think you’re going to win. You think you’re going to pull the game out. You have confidence that if you play for four quarters and you play hard and you make more plays than the other team, then at the end of the 60 minutes you’re going to win the game. Believe me, we all wish we were up 21-0 instead of down 21-0. But if we’re down 21-0 we still have confidence that we can come back and win the game.
- Andy Hart says rookie RB Stevan Ridley is hitting his stride with 200-plus yards in his last three games.
- Ask PFW: Getting coordinated during bye.
- Press Conference: Bill Belichick (18.31 min. video)
- Patriots Today - How the Patriots got here. (3.31 min. video)
- Patriots Today - Breaking down the secondary. (3.06 min. video)
- Patriots Today - Belichick, Wilfork on WEEI. (3.51 min. video)
- WEEI Patriots Monday: Tom Brady (18.09 min.), Rob Ninkovich (8.20 min.), Brian Waters (4.04 min.), Vince Wilfork (14.25 min.) and Bill Belichick (28.24 min.)
- Brian MacPherson warns slow starts might wind up costing the Patriots in the playoffs.
- Tom E. Curran thinks the Patriots' early-game brainlock is from Tom Brady analyzing what the opponent's strategy is going to be.
- Karen Guregian ponders the fact that the Patriots haven’t lost since Albert Haynesworth was cut, and wonders if it's related.
- Mark Farinella makes sure readers know that this Patriots team has faults, and says there should be an asterisk after 13-3.
- Christopher Price tells us how Gronkowski and Hernandez have transformed the Patriots' passing attack.
- Jerry Thornton explains why the reports of the death of the Patriots Way were greatly exaggerated, and laughs at the Jets in the process.
- Mike Reiss finds that while the Jets had a toxic mix, the Patriots' chemistry was the right formula.
- Jeff Howe writes a terrific piece on how Wes Welker has spent his entire football life proving doubters wrong.
- Karen Guregian catches up with rookie Nate Solder who was thrown into duty early and not able to ease into his first season.
- Mike Reiss notes Julian Edelman has carved out an interesting niche for himself on the Patriots' roster.
- Jeff Howe thinks Wes Welker dances like Elaine from 'Seinfeld' and 19 other Patriots thoughts.
- Rich Levine shows a little love for the Law Firm.
- Christopher Price details who was Tom Brady's favorite (and most dependable) target this season.
- Christopher Price breaks down which NE defenders did the best job of getting after the QB this season.
- Mike Reiss takes a look at the final tackle leaderboard, with Jerod Mayo (103) the leader, and Andre Carter & Mark Anderson both finishing with 10 sacks apiece.
- Mike Petraglia notes Brian Waters believes Gillette Stadium 'can be loud - at times.'
- Jeff Howe reports the Patriots got back to work after a day off Tuesday, to lay the foundation for their bye week.
- Mike Reiss & Mike Rodak serve up some quick hits from the media-access period in the Patriots' locker room yesterday.
- Tom E. Curran touches on New England's penchant for deferring a decision after winning the coin toss to start the game.
- Rich Levine soaks up the drama in Indy to help pass the time while the Patriots are on their bye week.
- Michael Whitmer notes home field advantage is hardly automatic for the Patriots.
- The Boston Globe charts the seeds of Super Bowl champions since 1990.
- Ian Rapoport reports the Patriots went through what is believed to be a record-setting number of transactions in 2011.
- Christopher Price offers a Patriots positional playoff preview: Quarterback.
- Jerry Spar highlights Tom Brady on the Dennis & Callahan show.
- Ian Rapoport Patriots Notebook: Pats will have their first bye-week practice today; All three Pats' Super Bowl victories came with a bye; The NFL allows teams with byes to have one padded practice; Tom Brady admits to following NY newspaper reports of the Jets; FB Lousaka Polite was pleased with his performance lead-blocking for BenJarvus Green-Ellis's TD.
- Kevin Fishbain (Pro Football Weekly) Patriots resemble last year's team, but outside expectations lowered.
- Kevin Fishbain (Pro Football Weekly) Patriots rookie report: Week 17.
- John Parolin (ESPN Stats & Information) Three-point stance: Bye week.
- PFW Staff (Pro Football Weekly) PFW analyzes and ranks all 12 postseason challengers, and finds that each has its share of potentially deadly flaws.
- Erik Frenz (Cold Hard Football Facts) Patriots team report: 2011 season in a stat-shell.
- Kerry J. Byrne (Cold Hard Football Facts) 2011 NFL season by the numbers.
- Eli Kaberon (Pro Football Weekly) 10 years after the Tuck Rule game.
- Greg Gabriel (Nat'l Football Post) 2011 NFP All-Rookie offensive team. Nate Solder gets some recognition.
- Boomer Esiason (SI) Behind the Mic: Only Steelers, Ravens can stop Patriots. (2.30 min. video)
- Jason Cole (Yahoo! Sports) Fatal flaws of NFL playoff teams.
- Don Banks (SI) 2012 NFL playoff primer.
- Special feature (NFL.com) The Road to Super Bowl XLVI: The journey of each of the 12 playoff teams that define their march to the playoffs.
- DJ Gallo (ESPN) Winners and losers of the NFL season.
- Steve Wyche (NFL.com) Saints, other playoff teams know how to handle problem players.
- NFL Total Access (NFL.com) Sounds of the year. (1.30 min. video)