Gridiron Audible: Patriots Clinch First Round Bye

GRIDIRON AUDIBLES by Christian A. Guarino
GRIDIRON AUDIBLES by Christian A. Guarino

Ok Patriots fans, the past two Sunday’s are prime examples of why the rest of the NFL hates us. For some reason, that league memo on parity never arrived at One Patriot Place.

Along with a 7th consecutive AFC East division crown, 2015 will mark the 6th straight season that New England has clinched a first round playoff bye. The latter you may have guessed is the longest such streak in NFL history.

The runners-up on the list are the 1990’s San Francisco 49ers and Dallas Cowboys who accomplished the feat in four straight seasons from 1992-1995.

Results we have come to expect: the Patriots doing things right, other teams not so much.

The team’s 27-6 chainsaw victory over the Houston Texans brought with it what undoubtedly was our best nights’ sleep in a couple of weeks. The most eye opening quality of the win was the play of the New England defense which surrendered just two field goals and 189 yards. The unit, which currently leads the league in sacks with 47, tallied six of Texan quarterbacks Brian Hoyer and TJ Yates. Most dominant in the bunch were ends Jabaal Sheard and Akiem Hicks who each registered two sacks but who relentlessly attacked the Houston front. However the entire defense merits accolades for the suffocating product it displayed to the national audience on prime time.

The return of tight end Rob Gronkowski just two weeks after what appeared to be a season-ending injury in Denver was another welcomed sight. Gronk made a surprise comeback to lead all pass catchers with four receptions for 87 yards and a touchdown.

After the game, Gronk took to social media and shared emotions that New Englanders were feeling in the early morning hours. “Great team win on the road! Feels amazing to be back with the squad. Hard work pays off once again!!”

Having clinched the East division when the New York Giants took down the Dolphins in Miami, things continued to fall into place this past Sunday in the aftermath of a run of the mill 33-16 victory over the Tennessee Titans. Patriot fans tuned in to watch the inevitable implosion of the Denver Broncos in Pittsburgh. That result, of course, guaranteed that the Patriots would not be playing on wild card weekend. See you in the divisional round in Foxboro.

The more things change…

Belichick friend and rock singer Jon Bon Jovi dedicated an entire song to it.

The 3-10 Titans confirmed what we kind of knew going into the game. The Titans are sub-par competition for the Patriots. If Tennessee had any chance in this game it went by the wayside once rookie starting quarterback Marcus Mariota went down with a knee injury in the first half.  And while his replacement Zach Mettenberger admirably led the Titans to two touchdown drives, he also came undone, throwing two interceptions. “I felt like I did a lot of good today,” said Mettenberger. “But at the same time, I made too many mistakes for us to get back in the game.”

No need to explain Zach, we’ve heard this all before.

His counterpart Tom Brady, 15-years his senior, also threw two touchdown passes, but unlike Mettenberger was successful in all facets of Sunday’s game, completing 23-of-35 passes for 267-yards.

With running back LeGarette Blount shelved until the 2016 season, head coach Bill Belichick made his GM alter-ego look brilliant yet again by bringing in little known running back Joey Iosefa. In his first game with the team, Iosefa led all backs in yardage with 51 on 14 carries. Where does he find these guys?

However, continuing an astonishing trend, the walking wounded continued to mount for the Patriots. Linebacker Dont’a Hightower and wide receiver Danny Amendola appeared to have re-injured their knees, while safety Patrick Chung went down with a hip injury. None of these are considered to be of the season-ending variety, but for Hightower and Amendola represent an on-going issue that may sideline them until January. With a bye wrapped up, the Patriots now only need to win one of their final two games (at New York Jets, at Miami Dolphins) to clinch home-field throughout the AFC playoffs.

Is it plausible that the Patriots will fail to accomplish this? Maybe. But don’t bet on it.

Christian A. Guarino, a Boston North End resident, writes about football and soccer for the Boston Post Gazette.