The New England Patriots are no strangers to entering the postseason later than most clubs: the team earned a first-round bye in each of the last eight years. In seven of them, the Patriots went on to reach the conference title game. They won the AFC four times and the Super Bowl twice. Whether the success will be the same in 2018 (technically in 2019, though) remains to be seen, but the foundation has again been laid.
Thanks to a 38-3 victory over the New York Jets on Sunday, New England locked up the second playoff seed in the AFC and a ninth straight bye won wild card weekend. “We had a great opportunity for it and just glad we could close it out. You’d hate to have that opportunity and not handle what we needed to handle and just glad that we did,” quarterback Tom Brady said about it after the game.
Brady was not the only Patriots player to acknowledge the importance of the bye week. “The bye is huge. It’s huge,” tight end Rob Gronkowski told reporters. “That was basically a playoff win right there. To get that win today, now we don’t have to play next week. It basically won us a game for next week. So we got a bye, rest up, get the mental part and physical part. Clean up the bumps and bruises, because every game you’ve got those.”
“I think it’s great,” added wide receiver Chris Hogan. “It’s essentially like winning a playoff game. I’m really happy about it for this team and now we get this week to focus on the Patriots, ourselves, and kind of work on things that we want to continue to work on for the postseason and get healthy. I think that’s a big thing and we’ll be able to really rest up and prepare for the upcoming weeks.”
As Gronkowski and Hogan pointed out, the bye will help New England get back to full strength. While the team is relatively healthy at this point in time — only five players were listed on last week’s final injury report, three of which went on to play against the Jets — minor physical issues can be worked on this week. “You get a little time to heal up,” said Julian Edelman before pointing out other benefits a first-round playoff bye brings.
“You get some time to self scout, to really look at the regular season things you did well, things you didn’t do too well, and try to really improve those types of things. You get a little time away from it to get ready for a battle,” the veteran wide receiver added. Defensive edge Trey Flowers sees it the same way. “It’s one of the things that we can allow ourselves to recoup physically and mentally,” he said. “It’s just an extra week to get ourselves together.”
Of course, the bye will be used a tool through which the season will ideally be kept alive beyond the Patriots’ divisional round game — and the team knows it. “You just have to treat it the right way and take advantage of it so we’re ready to go when it comes to playoffs,” said Gronkowski. His quarterback used a similar tone. “We’ve certainly got a lot of things to learn about ourselves, a lot of things we can improve on and see if we can win a game here in two weeks,” Tom Brady said.
Head coach Bill Belichick, meanwhile, has a different opinion on the bye week — at least when talking to the media. “What will be important is playing well and that’s what we need to do, play and coach well the next time we get to play,” he said. However, even Belichick will likely not deny the fact that a weekend off will help him and his team do just that when it takes the Gillette Stadium field on January 13.