On New Year’s Day, the New England Patriots put the 2016 regular season in the rearview.
With a 35-14 victory over the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium, the Patriots improved to 14-2 and secured the top seed in the AFC while collecting the home-field advantage that goes along with it.
But before the page turns entirely to the playoff picture, here’s a glance back through the numbers, and the milestones, that crossed the wire on Sunday afternoon in Miami.
With the win, the Patriots recaptured the AFC’s No. 1 seed for the sixth time, severing the franchise’s tie with the Denver Broncos for the most since the NFL’s 12-team playoff bracket began in 1990. New England previously held the top seed in the conference in 2003, 2007, 2010, 2011 and 2014.
For the fourth time in club history – and in the era of head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady – the Patriots finished the regular season at 14-2. New England also went 14-2 in 2003, 2004 and 2010.
In the first quarter of action, ninth-year veteran Martellus Bennett set a new career-high with his seventh touchdown catch of the season. A play-action post route out of jumbo I-formation was the design, and a two-yard toss from Brady to the tight end was the byproduct.
A week after tight end Matt Lengel became the 64th different Patriots player to catch a touchdown pass from Brady, Michael Floyd became the 65th. With fellow wide receivers Malcolm Mitchell and Danny Amendola inactive due to injury, Floyd drew early looks and proceeded to turn a quick slant into a 14-yard touchdown on New England’s second drive. The ex-Arizona Cardinal burrowed through four Dolphins to extend beyond the plane.
With three minutes to go in the opening quarter, Logan Ryan secured the 13th interception of his career as Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore fled the pocket and lofted a pass towards tight end Dion Sims. The cornerback’s 12th pick since entering the league in 2013 arrived against the Broncos only two weeks prior.
Through the first quarter, and on only five plays, the Dolphins’ offense managed to gain four yards. In contrast, the Patriots’ offense had gained 169 yards on 19 plays. But the difference would be brought back down to earth over the final three quarters, as Miami put together 276 yards on 52 plays through that span.
With three catches in the first half Sunday, James White passed Kevin Faulk for the third-most catches by a Patriots running back in a season, with 59. And from there, the Wisconsin product reeled in another to end the 16-game slate with an even 60. Tony Collins caught 77 passes for New England in 1986, and Leroy Thompson caught 65 in 1994.
White’s 551 receiving yards in 2016 stand as the second-most by a back in Patriots history, behind only Collins' 684 from that aforementioned 1986 season. Leading up to Week 17, White ranked third in the organization’s archives at the position, as Collins also stood in second for his 549-yard 1985 season.
Julian Edelman headed into Sunday only 45 yards away from his second 1,000-yard campaign, and before halftime, the Patriots wideout had the milestone in hand. Edelman wouldn’t go quietly after the fact, as evidenced by his career-long 77-yard touchdown in the third quarter, which was catapulted by a de-cleating block from Floyd on cornerback Tony Lippett. Edelman finished having reeled in eight for a personal-best 151 yards versus Miami. He capped the year only two receptions shy of 100 but with the most receiving yards – 1,106 – on his NFL resume.
With three touchdowns and no interceptions against the Dolphins, Brady surpassed Nick Foles for the top single-season TD-to-pick ratio in NFL history. In 13 games, Foles accrued 27 touchdowns and two interceptions – a 13.5 ratio – during his 2013 season as Philadelphia Eagles quarterback. In 12 games, Brady accrued 28 touchdowns and two interceptions this season.
Trailing only Drew Brees, Brett Favre and Peyton Manning, Brady now checks in with the fourth-most career passing yards in league history. Before intermission in Miami, the 39-year-old fittingly moved ahead of Dolphins great Dan Marino’s 61,361 aerial yards. He climbed up to 61,582 by game’s conclusion.
Down at the nine-yard line with less than nine minutes to play, Patriots safety Devin McCourty jarred the football out of Dolphins running back Damien Williams’ hands in the flat. The result of McCourty’s first forced fumble since Oct. 12, 2014 was a 69-yard fumble return by linebacker Shea McClellin. A field-shifting, and game-clinching, play.
As he forged into the end zone from a yard out in the fourth, LeGarrette Blount moved out of a tie with Curtis Martin for the third-most touchdowns by a Patriot – rushing or receiving – in a regular season. With 18 in all, the 6-foot, 250-pound running back matched Rob Gronkowski’s total from 2011 and resides behind only Randy Moss’ 23 from 2007.
Since the 1970 merger, the NFL record for fewest interceptions thrown in a season by a team was five. It’s a record the Patriots tied in 2010, and broke on the first day of 2017. With Jimmy Garoppolo, Jacoby Brissett and Brady all handling snaps under center this season, the Patriots threw only two interceptions over a total of 550 pass attempts.
Through the ebbs and flows, the Patriots’ defense finished the regular season having conceded an NFL-best 15.625 points per game. The 2013 Seattle Seahawks and Carolina Panthers, two units that allowed an average of 14.4 and 15.1 points per game, respectively, were the last to eclipse that scoring clip.
The road proved to be the Patriots’ home away from home in 2016. New England went a perfect 8-0 through its stops in Glendale, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Orchard Park, Santa Clara, East Rutherford, Denver and Miami Gardens. The 16-0 team of 2007 was the last to go unbeaten away from Gillette Stadium through the regular season.
Entering Sunday, the Patriots hadn’t defeated the Dolphins in Miami in 1,491 days. That was a 23-16 final score back on Dec. 2, 2012, when the venue was Sun Life Stadium. And under that name, the Patriots would return to fall on Dec. 15, 2013, then Sept. 7, 2014, and most recently Jan. 3, 2016.