FOXBOROUGH — Two more touchdowns, tough yards when it mattered, even a 13-yard run when the Patriots were backed up at their 1-yard line.
Stevan Ridley didn’t fill up the stat sheet, but on a cold, raw, windy day at Gillette Stadium, he held on to the football, followed his blockers, and led a solid ground game for the Patriots in Sunday’s 28-0 win over the Dolphins.
Ridley finished with 74 yards on 20 carries, and the Patriots rushed for 167. Ridley’s average (3.7) might not impress, but he pushed his season total to 1,263 yards, just the fifth time a Patriot has reached 1,200 yards. Corey Dillon was the last to do it, gaining a franchise-record 1,635 yards in 2004. Jim Nance (1,458 yards in 1966), Craig James (1,227 in 1985), and Curtis Martin (1,487 in 1995) are also part of the 1,200-yard club.
Ridley declined interview requests after the game, but center Ryan Wendell spoke up for him, when asked how important Ridley has been.
“As an offensive lineman, it’s our job to create running lanes. But it’s great when you have a running back that can get yards when you don’t do a very good job of creating running lanes for him,” Wendell said. “There were a couple plays out there where we might not have done the best job blocking, and Ridley got more yards than were there, and that’s pretty encouraging for an offensive line.”
Gil Santos and Gino Cappelletti knew they would be recognized before Sunday’s game for their 28 seasons together in the radio booth. They also knew they’d get a chance to be partners again, with Cappelletti coming out of retirement and calling the start of the game with Santos, who is retiring after this season.
What neither knew is that they’ll be inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame in 2013. Patriots owner Robert Kraft informed the crowd that Santos and Cappelletti will be enshrined next year under the contributors category.
“We’ve experienced the highs and lows of the games,” Cappelletti said to the crowd. “It has been a remarkable journey.”
Said Santos, who was shown on the video board wiping tears away after Kraft’s announcement: “Thank you for the wonderful honor. You made me cry, and now I’m blowing my tough-guy image. To the fans, thank you from the bottom of my heart.”
Sunday was the 743d Patriots game that Santos has called. Memorable calls were aired over video highlights in the stadium throughout the game, and CBS cut away from Jim Nantz and Phil Simms so viewers got to hear Santos call a first-quarter offensive play for the Patriots.
From the Patriots’ perspective, about the only negative came when defensive end Rob Ninkovich left with a hip injury. He was hurt in the first half, was assisted off the field without putting too much weight on his left leg, and did not return. He was not spotted in the locker room after the game.
Dolphins right tackle Nate Garner was blocking Ninkovich on the play.
“I’m not sure exactly what happened. I was just finishing him to the ground and he came up with his hip hurting, so hopefully he’s all right,” Garner said. “He didn’t scream. He was just like, ‘Ahh, my hip.’ It wasn’t cheap. I don’t want to hurt anyone.”
Tight end Daniel Fells also left the game, with a hand injury, but he returned after halftime.
Cornerback Aqib Talib suffered a hip injury Dec. 10, but he has dressed for the three games since, his role more limited with each week, probably in an attempt to lessen his workload so he can recover. Talib played only eight snaps Dec. 23 in Jacksonville; against the Dolphins, he was active for the game, but did not see the field.
“The guys went out and played a great game, got a big win. Well-needed rest for the whole team [with the bye],” Talib said. “It’s key for us, we’ll definitely use the week. Long season, rough game . . . we all could use that extra week.”
On the up and up
Tom Brady moved into ninth place on the NFL career passing yardage list, overtaking former teammate and Patriots Hall of Famer Drew Bledsoe. In a 14-year career, Bledsoe finished with 44,611 passing yards. Brady came into the game with 44,522 yards, and threw for 284.
Brady also completed 22 passes (on 36 attempts), and is now eighth all time with 3,798 completions. Vinny Testaverde had been eighth with 3,787; next on the list is Bledsoe (3,839).
With his 9-yard scoring pass to Wes Welker in the first quarter, Brady extended his streak of regular-season games with at least one touchdown pass to 48, which broke a tie with Johnny Unitas for second-longest in NFL history. Drew Brees has the record with 54.
It’s all set
The list of 2013 Patriot opponents is set. In addition to the six division games, the AFC East will draw the NFC South and AFC North. By winning the division for the fourth straight season, the Patriots also will play the AFC West winner at home, and the AFC South champion on the road.
The Patriots’ non-division home games next season will be against the Browns, Steelers, Saints, Buccaneers, and Broncos. Non-division road games will be against the Ravens, Bengals, Falcons, Panthers, and Texans.
The Patriots entered the game needing one first down to establish an NFL record, since they were tied with the 2011 Saints at 416. It didn’t take long, with Brady connecting with Aaron Hernandez on a 14-yard pass on the game’s first play . . . Steve Gregory’s first-quarter interception meant that the Patriots forced at least one turnover in all 16 games, the first team since the 2010 Falcons to accomplish the feat. The Patriots have at least one takeaway in 27 straight games . . . Receiver Kamar Aiken was promoted to the 53-man roster Saturday, but was one of seven players on the inactive list come Sunday. Joining Aiken was cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, who missed his second straight game with hamstring and knee injuries; offensive linemen Markus Zusevics and Nick McDonald; defensive lineman Jake Bequette; and defensive backs Nate Ebner and Marquice Cole, who injured a finger in the win at Jacksonville . . . The Dolphins were shut out in the first half for the first time in 32 games, which had been the second-longest active streak . . . Backup quarterback Ryan Mallett was the up-man on a fourth-and-1 play from midfield, with punter Zoltan Mesko behind him. The unusual personnel forced the Dolphins to take their first timeout of the second half. When play resumed, Mallett was back on the sideline and Mesko punted. Mallett was one of two Patriots who didn’t play, joining Talib . . . Dolphins running back Reggie Bush needed just 40 yards to record the second 1,000-yard season of his career, but he was limited to 26 yards on eight carries . . . Stephen Gostkowski’s four extra points gave him 153 points on the season, the second-highest total in team history. Cappelletti had 155 in 1964.