That shouldn’t change during this week's regular-season finale against the Dolphins at Gillette Stadium. The game doesn’t carry an ounce of weight in the standings, but it's important for the Patriots to keep their intensity and work ethic at a high level before going into their bye week.
That's why quarterback Tom Brady and the Patriots' starters should play against the Dolphins. It's perfectly normal to be wary of injuries, especially on the heels of Wes Welker's devastating knee injury last year, but it seems like big-time injuries in season finales are far less common than watching a team fall flat and bow out early in the playoffs.
Plus, Pats head coach Bill Belichick will likely give the team some time off next week, so they've got to make sure they don’t take an early vacation by falling flat against Miami.
Young teams are not averse to complacency, and the Patriots certainly have a young roster that was victimized by overlooking the Browns in Week 9. That's why it's important for the younger players to watch Brady hit it hard at practice all week and then go all out during his reps against the Dolphins. If he's doing it, the younger guys will think, then why shouldn't they?
Now, there are two ways to counter this philosophy. Obviously, one might say, if Brady gets hurt Sunday, the Patriots will have no chance to win a Super Bowl. Well, there's no argument there, but that's the chance these guys take on a daily basis, whether it's in a game or at practice. It would just seem to be a bigger risk than to give Brady the week off, allow the younger players' minds to wander for an extended period and then hope they can gather themselves in time for the most important stretch of the season.
Also, the Saints and Colts each shut it down at the end of the 2009 regular season, and both wound up in the Super Bowl. And it was particularly impressive to see the Saints do so with such an inexperienced roster. So again, it's not like it's a rule that teams that shut it down can't pick it back up.
Yet, with such an impressive streak, it would be beneficial for the Patriots to close it out with a solid week of practice and a strong effort in the regular-season finale. Even if it's just for one series, Brady and the starters need to play Sunday to send a message that every practice and every game of every week bears meaning.
And that's how to finish.
Should the Patriots play Tom Brady and the starters against the Dolphins? Leave your thoughts below.