We've touched upon how important the rookies were to the success of this season. Without these young fellas stepping up, the Patriots don't even sniff the conference championship.
So how large was their impact?
Per the Boston Herald's Mark Daniels, the Patriots played 17 rookies this year, second most in the Belichick/Patriots era, trailing his inaugural season (20 rookies!).
Inspired by Mark, I opted to look into how key the rookies were to this season's success by evaluating how many games they've started.
My goodness, they've impressed.
The 2013 rookies combined for 74 games started, tied with the 2010 season for most since 2000. 2010 featured Devin McCourty, Rob Gronkowski, Brandon Spikes, Aaron Hernandez, Jermaine Cunningham, and Zoltan Mesko, so to place this season's crop in that company is a strong sign for the future.
The third most rookie starts was all the back in 2003 with a "miniscule" 42. 2005 featured 39, 2012 posted 36. The fewest starts were in 2007, where the Patriots brought in Brandon Meriweather and no one else (Meriweather rotated with Rodney Harrison and James Sanders, but wasn't the starter).
The next fewest starts were by the 2009 rookies (11!), where Belichick quadruple dipped in the second round to grab Pat Chung, Darius Butler, Ron Brace, and Sebastian Vollmer.
In terms of quantity of starting rookies, 2013 still reigns with 10 rookies breaking into the starting line-up. This ties 2000 for the most newbies getting the start.
In all, this is either a testament or an indictment. It's a testament to how the Patriots have fought through all of the injuries and still managed to pull together such a young team and bring them to the conference championship. On the other hand, why the heck were so many rookies asked and expected to perform on the greatest stage?
That said, this does nothing but pave a very bright future for the Patriots. Every season they've had 7 or more starting rookies (00, 03, 10, 11, 13), the Patriots have made it pretty darn far the following year. If these rookies and their unprecedented experience carry over their knowledge to next year, everyone should ready themselves for a very special 2014.