When most teams assess available talent, they look for measurables like speed, size and strength. The Patriots, apparently, look into DNA, because if you want to succeed in New England, you better not be a human being.
I've written in the past that Wes Welker sold his soul to the devil to become some sort of bionic roboman, and it's become pretty clear that Rob Gronkowski is nothing like the rest of the human race. And now you can most definitely add Aaron Hernandez to the list.
Despite the fact that it is a horrible strategy to completely stop then start again while running with the football, Hernandez does it all the time. And it works. He finished Sunday's game officially with seven catches for 138 yards and a touchdown (and two rushes for 26 yards to boot), and he unofficially caused 247 missed tackles.
And he's the second-best tight end on his own team.
It's more than incredible for a fourth-round draft pick who is still just 22 years old, and his ridiculous performance against the Bills should be enough to inspire confidence in many Patriots fans who are worried about another year of one-and-done in the playoffs.
You likely remember Hernandez was injured at the tail end of the 2010 season, and while he did return for the Patriots' infamous playoff loss to the Jets, his ailing hip was clearly holding him back. He finished that game with one catch for four yards, and he was only targeted that one time, indicating he lacked the burst and mobility to get open.
This year, he'll be able to, and if you're looking for more reason for optimism, remember that the Patriots' loss to the Steelers this season was Hernandez's first game back from a sprained knee ligament, and he was only able to haul in two passes for nine yards that day.
A healthy Hernandez, with the addition of superhumans Welker and Gronkowski, should be enough to make you believe that this year's Patriots will be much more dangerous this January.
Now, let's get into the leftover thoughts from the Patriots' 49-21 win over the Bills.
–I assume that all of you, like me, woke up in a gin/champagne-induced fog on New Year's Day. I fired up the computer and turned on the TV and was in complete disbelief that thousands upon thousands of people had been awake for several hours, some of them even functioning in a professional capacity. Some of them had suits on and were talking on my TV. Meanwhile, I was just trying to find my socks.
–As fun as Hernandez's performance was, I did enjoy when he tried to celebrate an early catch, only to have Deion Branch nearly tackle him to prevent the preening. Deion's usually a huge proponent of dancing, but the Pats were down 21-0 at the time. Hernandez got it out of his system a few minutes later when he was high-stepping into the end zone from 10 yards out.
—-SportsCenter could put together two Top 10's from this game alone. There could be Top 10 Aaron Hernandez Plays, because legitimately every time he touched the ball, it was worthy of the highlight reel. The other could be Top 10 Dejected Shots of Ryan Fitzpatrick Walking Off the Field. It would take a lot of work from some poor production assistant in Bristol to put that one together though, because he or she would have to choose from at least 50 shots of the bearded scholar hanging his head.
–It's almost unfair, in a way, when you're playing against a team with nothing to lose, because then you get fake punts and fourth-down conversions in the first quarter. Granted, if you're the better team, you should probably beat your opponent regardless, and you should never fall behind 21-0 to the Bills, but it's hard when that opponent has four downs to play with while you work with three.
–Speaking of that fake punt, my favorite part of it was the actual faking of the punt by Brian Moorman. Forget that his timing was way off and he would have had to have been kicking the ball on the fly to have pulled off a punt so quickly. Dude has some serious ups.
–It takes a lot to come back from 21 points, obviously, and even more to score 49 unanswered points, but for me, it's always the little things that are most impressive. Take, for example, a third-and-9 from the Bills' 20-yard line late in the fourth quarter. Welker ran a 9-yard route across the field, saw the first-down marker, ran right past it and out of bounds for a gain of 11. It's simple, but you see so many receivers make boneheaded mistakes in the same situation. It's plays like that which made possible that 14-play, 88-yard touchdown drive that chewed up 7:21 and featured rushes from three different running backs and catches from three different receivers.
–Another great, little play was Jerod Mayo's breakup of a pass on third-and-3. Mayo lined up wide on C.J. Spiller, stuck with him step-for-step and made a last-second lunge to force a punt. The knock on Mayo has always been his pass coverage, but on that play, he did what Devin McCourty's struggled to do all season.
–If you had told me after the Steelers whooped the 5-3 Patriots in Week 8 that they'd go on to finish 13-3, I'd have punched you in the face and stolen your wallet. It's always important to think back at how you felt at certain points in the season. It makes the ending seem that much more unbelievable.
–Welker got philosophical after the win by describing the game as such: "Well, she wasn't pretty, but in the end….she had a great personality!"
–I've tried figuring out what this Sulia thing is all about, other than ruining Twitter during football games. What's the point of tweeting if you're not going to abide by the guidelines of Twitter? It's stupid, and just know that I'll never click on your Sulia link.
— … unless you get paid for using it. If that's the case, where can I sign up?
–To complain after 49 unanswered points would be ludicrous, but I thought Tom Brady's interception before halftime was foolish and unnecessary. He had Danny Woodhead wide open for a gain of probably 10 yards on third-and-14.
It would have set up a field goal that would've cut the lead to 21-17, and the Patriots would be getting the ball to start the second half. Instead of taking the sure thing, Brady forced it into Welker in tight coverage, and the most puzzling part was that Welker himself wasn't even at the first down marker. So what was the point?
OK. Nits have been sufficiently picked … but in a playoff game, a mistake like that could be the difference between winning and losing.
–What in the hell was that Drayton Florence penalty for "driving the quarterback into the ground"? Not to get all Ray Lewis on you, but maybe it is time for the quarterbacks to start wearing red non-contact jerseys. Brady hopped in the air and landed on the ground. Come on now.
— The Jets didn't make the playoffs, but at least they have that cool Pepsi Max commercial that will run throughout the playoffs. Maybe even the Super Bowl if they're lucky!
–While we're on the subject of the Jets, the tweet of the day in the entire world went to Joe Namath, who gave us this gem: "Ok, lets face it. So far [Mark] Sanchez has had an off day."
–We've all spent a lot of time this year talking about Brady's health, whether it's an elbow or a shoulder, but that second touchdown pass to Gronkowski was an absolute bullet. It might have been going 99 mph. The massive bear paws on No. 87 almost couldn't handle it. Almost.
–You already know that the quarterback sneak is 100 percent effective in the Brady era when the Patriots need a yard, but an inside run out of the shotgun formation is equally as efficient as a two-point play. Brady saved us the trouble of faking like the snap went over his head this time, though, going the old-fashioned route in handing it off to Woodhead. But just like if you didn't cover Mike Vrabel in the end zone, I lose all respect for you if you're not ready for an inside run when the Patriots line up for a two-point conversion.
–The biggest upset on Sunday was the Packers' overtaking of the Patriots for the 32nd ranking in total defense after New England kept the seat warm all year long.
–That 31st-ranked defense has gotten a ton of publicity this year, to the point that you almost forget that the Patriots scored 32 points per game and had the best point differential (plus-171) in the AFC by a 59-point margin.
–Looking for more optimism? The Patriots won't play their opening playoff game at 1 p.m., which has been a bit of a burden the past two weeks when they've gotten out to a 17-0 deficit and a 21-0 deficit. In their other 1 p.m. games this year, they blew that Week 3 game in Buffalo, took a long while to get going against Indy and fell behind the Redskins in the second quarter.
–On the contrary, the Patriots dominated their night games, beating the Dolphins 38-24 in Week 1, crushing the Jets 37-16 in Week 10 and demolishing the Chiefs 34-3 the following week. That 8 p.m. start for the divisional round looks mighty good now, doesn't it?
–You hear a lot about players having a "nose for the end zone," but it's pretty evident that Welker this year has a nose for the 1-yard line. He has nine touchdowns, but he must have about six long catch-and-runs that end 3 feet short of the end zone.
–Welker, by the way, finished first in the NFL in receptions (122, which was 22 more than anyone else), second in yards (only because Calvin Johnson had 244 yards on Sunday against that Green Bay D) and tied for sixth in receiving touchdowns. Something tells me he'll make more than $2 million next season.
–The best shot of the day caught on CBS' cameras was Welker using all of the advances of modern medicine by wearing what looked like a piece of masking tape on his chin. Meanwhile, Brady appeared to be plotting evil.
—Sterling Moore has changed his reputation from "the guy who didn't have a video intro on Sunday Night Football" to "the guy who looked like a legitimate defensive back with a great interception." At least that's how I have him categorized.
–And forget the pick, I thought his huge hit on Derek Hagan was much more enjoyable. Between Moore and Patrick "Torso Torpedo" Chung, the spirit of Rodney Harrison was present at Gillette Stadium.
–I was thinking about the scheduling and how the NFL doesn't hold a Thursday game or a Monday night game in Week 17 so that all teams have equal rest heading into Week 1 of the postseason. But I think the NFL should hold a Monday night game every Week 17, picking two teams in the preseason that league feels have no shot at making the playoffs. We'll call it the Disrespect Bowl, and it'll probably motivate the hell out of those two teams to prove everyone wrong. Football players love that.
–If you had asked me in July to pick two teams for this year's Disrespect Bowl, I might've gone with Denver and Carolina. You're telling me a Tim Tebow–Cam Newton matchup on Monday night wouldn't have been awesome?
–I've raved about Stevan Ridley in the past, and he certainly had a great game, but that fumble that ever-so-slowly found its way out of bounds could have been a killer. The Patriots only gave away five fumbles all year, tied for fewest in the NFL, so that's not something that will be accepted down on Route 1.
–In the "This Is Crazy" department, the Bills-Patriots games this year have been nothing but streaks. New England opened a 21-0 lead in Week 3, before the Bills went on a 55-10 run that extended into the Week 17 game. Then, of course, the Patriots went on a 49-0 run. Ultimately meaningless, but bananas nevertheless.
–I know I'm a simple person, so it's not surprising that every single time that beer commercial comes on, I laugh when the dude kicks the football right into that other guy's beer. Classic.
–Credit to Chan Gailey for his answer when asked if he knew Stevie Johnson's celebration was coming ahead of time.
"No," Gailey said. "I don't go around checking everybody's undershirts."
–With Drew Brees setting records, and Brady adding accolades like becoming just the third player to ever throw for 5,000 yards and the first to have two seasons of 39 or more touchdowns, and Aaron Rodgers laying claim to being the best in the business, you know it's burning a fire inside Peyton Manning, watching at home with Archie, getting all Manning Face'd when the announcers say nice things about the other guys. Despite all evidence to the contrary, that alone makes me feel like Peyton will be back (and at full force) next season.
–Last week, I mentioned just one of the many reasons that Brady is forever a legend in New England, and here's one more. When asked about setting individual records, Brady offered up a quote that will surely warm the hearts of every last Patriots fan in the world.
"I play this game for one reason and it's to win," Brady said. "There's nothing more important to me than that. As a quarterback you do everything you can do to help this team win. When your number is called upon to go out and execute certain plays, that's what you're expected to do. It's not something I think about, it's not something I ever [think], 'Man, I love throwing touchdowns,' or 'I love throwing for yards.'
"I love winning and that helps me sleep at night."
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