Playoff berths, division titles and first-round byes are annual expectations in New England. But for some Patriots newcomers, Sunday night’s clinching celebration was the first they’d experienced.
Wide receiver Chris Hogan and defensive end Chris Long both were members of that club.
“The (AFC East champions) hat feels pretty awesome,” Hogan told reporters Sunday after New England defeated the Denver Broncos 16-3 to secure its eighth consecutive division title and safe passage to the divisional round. “It’s pretty amazing to be a part of this team right now.”
“I’m trying to let it sink in,” he added. “This will be my first hat, so I probably won’t take it off for a while.”
Hogan, who spent the past three NFL seasons with the Buffalo Bills, has yet to experience playoff football. The same goes for Long, who never won more than seven games in any of his eight seasons with the St. Louis Rams before signing with the Patriots this past spring.
“It means a lot,” Long told reporters Sunday. “To me, it’s just a big team win here on the road in December against a really good team in a tough place to play. That’s what this means to me. The hat is cool and everything, but this was a great team win, and we’ve got more work to do.”
Tight end Martellus Bennett conveyed similar emotions after the game. Bennett played in two postseason games as a second-year pro in 2009 but had not been back to the playoffs since.
“Ever since the first day I came here, I felt like I belonged, whether it was my teammates who accepted me or from upper management down to the coaches,” Bennett told reporters. “Not only did I buy into the program, but the whole Patriots organization bought into me. It’s pretty exciting when you have that type of group of people around you that believe(s) in you, not only as a player but as a person. I’m invested in this team.”
The Patriots close out the regular season with games against the New York Jets and Miami Dolphins. They can clinch home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs with two wins or one win and an Oakland Raiders loss.
Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images
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