Well, so much for hanging this series up until next year.
To be honest, I really thought that New England was going to go down to Miami on Sunday and take care of business. They have always been very strong in clinching games, and I figured Sunday was no exception. Sure, Miami was hot and had a lot on the line, but come on...these are the Patriots we're talking about here. They should be able to go down to Florida and come away with a win and a Division Title to boot.
Not so much.
Miami is playing as well as they have played all year and earned a hard-fought win which saw Ryan Tannehill answer the bell and posted a passer rating of over 120 while avoiding turnovers. It would be very easy to add Tannehill to the ever-growing list of middling QBs who look like All-Stars against the Patriots defense, but to do that wouldn't be fair to Tannehill, who had one helluva game.
The good news is that, while this one all but eliminates New England's chances of the one seed, the way things shook out around the NFL this week, Sunday's loss really isn't that big of a deal. Here are five reasons why.
Legitimate Loss. This wasn't the Carolina Panthers. This wasn't the New York Jets. There were no controversial calls, bogus flags, or odd penalties. This was just a Patriots team that lost a game to a team that played better than they did. As it always has, this one came down to a scant handful of plays, and this time those plays happened to go the opponent's way. Lord knows that we have been on the receiving end of our share of balls that bounced our way, and you can't expect to exist on the razor's edge all the time and always come out on top. I'll take a loss the Patriots deserved over a loss they didn't any day of the week. The Patriots didn't lose this game; Miami won it. And there's no shame in that.
Julian Edelman. What's not to love about Edelman? As the only
quarterback Patriots receiver who has actually been healthy all season, Edelman has stepped up and then some. He is as reliable, consistent, and dangerous a target as anyone in the NFL right now, and he is extremely fun to watch. Combine all that with his skill and elusiveness as a punt returner, and the Patriots have a real asset at their disposal for years to come - provided he doesn't sign with Denver in the offseason.
Pats will win the AFC East. Yes, Sunday was a bit of a setback. But all the Patriots have to do is win one of their next two games - at Baltimore and home against Buffalo - and they are once again AFC East Champs. Now considering that the Patriots could just as easily be out of the playoff hunt altogether by now as they are about to capture their division, it's hard not to get excited for where they are at this point. The worst I see them finishing right now is 11-5, losing next week and winning their regular season finale. And that will be enough for at least a 3 seed.
Still in line for a bye. Thanks to the Cincinnati Bengals suddenly remembering that they were the Cincinnati Bengals, the entire AFC playoff seeds remained completely unchanged on Sunday, as all three of the top teams lost. What that means is that this Dolphins game lost the bulk of its sting fairly quickly. Yes, it would have been nice to lock up homefield advantage, but almost as important as that is getting a first round bye, which the Patriots are still in line to do. Cincy losing on Sunday night now puts the Bengals in danger of not even winning their own division depending on how these last two weeks shake out, so there are now several scenarios which see the Pats locking up the two seed. But honestly, the fact that we are even talking about a first round bye right now is enough to make you sit back and smile. Because perhaps most importantly...
How much fun is this? Seriously, how much fun is this season? Every game down to the wire, absolutely no clue who is going to get hurt next, marching out players that weren't even on New England's radar at the start of the season, and still finding a way to win games - or at least be in the position to win late. I almost considered listing the return of Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins - two highly inconsistent rookies, one of whom went undrafted - as one of my talking points for this article; when that's where we're at in terms of personnel, it's time to face reality. And that reality is that this season is a blast. All of the usual pressure that comes with being a Pats fan this time of year has pretty much evaporated, and what is left is some incredibly enjoyable football from what may go down as one of my favorite Patriots teams of all time. I am loving the absolute hell out of this season, and I can't remember the last time the act of watching a Patriots game has been so much fun. Granted, I would gladly exchange all this fun I'm having for a team that's actually healthy and playing at full strength, but since that simply isn't going to happen, I may as well continue miking this ride for all it's worth.