FOXBORO, Mass. — The Patriots crossed another goal off their checklist Saturday by dispatching the Dolphins and securing a first-round bye in the playoffs, which has become increasingly important due to their injury situation.
Left tackle Matt Light's ankle flared up before Saturday's game, and he was inactive. Left guard Logan Mankins, who started for Light at left tackle, injured his left knee in the first quarter and didn't return. Plus, linebacker Brandon Spikes (knee) and safety Patrick Chung (foot) have missed seven straight games due to injury, and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer (foot, back) has been out for the last four weeks with his own ailments.
The week off will also give linebacker Jerod Mayo (knee) and cornerback Devin McCourty (shoulder) still haven't gotten back to full strength.
The Patriots can lock up the AFC's No. 1 seed next week with a victory against the Bills or losses from both the Ravens (at Cincinnati) and Steelers (at Cleveland).
"It feels great," linebacker Rob Ninkovich said of the bye. "It's a great team effort and a great team win for us. I'm excited, and I'm happy to have my body relax a bit and have everybody else play."
Because the bye is still two weeks away, the excitement was contained to the present tense Saturday. After all, the Patriots were excited to recover from an abysmal start and a 17-point deficit to pull away with the victory.
"[The bye] feels good, but I think the biggest thing for us is to come out, to go down 17 and to fight back and win the game," said McCourty, who intercepted his first pass of the season on Saturday. "I think that showed a lot of character for this team. Now it's about improving."
And of course, while the bye is great for a week of rest, defensive lineman Vince Wilfork didn't want to get carried away with the playoff seeding, noting, "We've had byes before, and it wasn't pretty."
Obviously, last year's early exit still resonates in that locker room, as the Patriots knew they blew an opportunity with the top overall seed. But the bye is important nonetheless — after all, their three Super Bowl runs started with a week off in the playoffs.
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