One of the most common complaints about the 2011 New England Patriots that doesn't involve their defensive ineptitude is their inability to string together 60 minutes of great football. Every week, it seems the Pats go through a rough stretch for a quarter or two where the offense struggles or the defense gets hammered, but they almost always manage to rebound and emerge with the win. Obviously, there's not a lot to fuss over with a squad that won thirteen games, laid waste to the AFC East, and is the favorite to represent the conference in the Super Bowl, but it's clear that this team has its flaws, and I wouldn't be surprised if they got knocked off in the middle of January like the last two years.
The reason I bring this up is because New England stunk up the joint in the first half against Miami on Christmas Eve, only to rally from a 17-0 deficit and squeeze out a 27-24 win. Then on New Year's Day against the Bills, the Patriots went down three touchdowns in the blink of an eye, but recovered to reel off 49 unanswered points and turn their early hole into a massive margin of victory.
Bill Belichick would have preferred his team to go up early so he could rest his starters in the second half, but Ryan Fitzpatrick came out gunning and the Bills scored touchdowns on their first three possessions. They looked unstoppable, the game seemed lost, and the dissatisfied Gillette crowd unleashed a torrent of boos. But then the Patriots woke up; the defense shut down Buffalo for the remainder of the afternoon while the offense torched the Bills D by scoring toudchdowns on seven of its next eight possessions. Brady, as usual, led the comeback with another typical outstanding performance; three TDs (two to Gronk) and 338 yards on 23/35 passing. The reigning MVP has once again vaulted himself into the discussion, and should be considered a frontrunner in the race.
By clinching the top seed in their conference the Patriots earned home field advantage for their postseason run, which includes a bye-week and will hopefully produce the franchise's first Super Bowl win since 2005.
-Tom Brady finished with 5,235 passing yards, second most in NFL history behind the 5,486 Drew Brees accumulated this year
-Rob Gronkowski broke Jimmy Graham's record, which lasted all of about ten seconds, for single season receiving yards by a tight end with 1,327. Gronk also led the league in TD receptions with 17
-It's hard to remember now, but Buffalo began their season 5-2 before dropping eight of their last nine
-On the other hand, New England ended their season strong with an eight game win streak
-Bill Belichick's prolific offense led the AFC in points scored with 513, and nobody else was within 100 points (the Chargers finished second with 406). In the NFL, only the Saints and Packers scored more.
-New England's shoddy defense set the record for most passing yards allowed in a season by giving up 4,727 yards (or 14,181 feet) to opponents
-The Pats won their division by five games, tied with the Packers and 49ers for best in the NFL