Dan Shaughnessy

Conclusion: This team impressive

By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / January 3, 2011

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FOXBOROUGH — On a festive, unseasonably warm Sunday that felt something like the last day of high school, the New England Patriots yesterday finished their spectacular 2010-11 regular season with a 38-7 victory over the moribund Miami Dolphins.

“It was a good way to end our season,’’ deadpanned Bill Belichick, now the first coach in NFL history with four seasons of at least 14 wins.

The Steamroller Patriots closed their 14-2 campaign with eight straight wins, scoring at least 31 points in every game and compiling a turnover differential of 24-1. They committed fewer turnovers (10) than any team in a 16-game season. Let the record show that soon-to-be-named NFL Most Valuable Player Tom Brady threw 26 touchdown passes without an interception over his last 11 games.

From the middle of the third quarter in Detroit on Thanksgiving, this team outscored its opponents, 212-47.

Belichick said, “Individual stats aren’t really our focus. Our primary focus is about winning games.’’

This is no doubt true, but that didn’t stop the Patriots from delighting a crowd of newbies (many veteran fans stayed home for this de facto exhibition game) with more pinball production.

The finale could have been called “The Wade Boggs Bowl.’’ We hadn’t seen this kind of stat-padding since Elvin Hayes and Dominique Wilkins retired from the NBA.

Certainly the sad Dolphins would have been better off sending cardboard cutouts. If coach Tony Sparano wasn’t already worried about Bill Cowher, he should be now. Quarterback Chad Henne looked like every Baltimore Orioles middle reliever we’ve seen in the last decade, clearly frustrating talented wideout Brandon Marshall (five catches).

Marshall walked off the field after one mangled play in the first quarter. Still, his effort seemed more acceptable than that of most of the guys who suited up for Miami. Hootie and the Blowfish sang about this in the 1990s: If you had any regard for the great Shula teams of the golden era, this was the day the Dolphins made you cry.

Here’s something positive for those of you who believe that some things are too good to be true: The Patriots finally lost a fumble. That’s right, ladies and gentlemen, after not turning the ball over for an NFL-record seven consecutive games, Danny Woodhead put it on the ground in the second series of the first quarter and the Dolphins recovered. Before that, the Patriots had 23 consecutive takeaways since Nov. 7. I don’t want to get into jinxes and the law of averages and all that stuff, but it simply did not seem like a good idea to go into the playoffs with such a lopsided streak. We all remember that 18-0 didn’t do New England any good in the desert in Glendale in February 2008, right?

So the turnover streak is snapped. It almost made you wonder if Dia-Bill-i-cal had the whole thing planned. Wouldn’t it have been great if BB said, “That’s something we worked on Friday’’?

Woodhead did not return after the mistake because of what was termed a “head injury.’’ We may never find out if Woodhead has a concussion. When Belichick was asked if Woodhead could have returned if needed, the coach said, “It didn’t come to that.’’

Updike famously wrote that “gods do not answer letters.’’ It turns out that hooded gods do not answer hypotheticals.

Other than Woodhead’s injury (he was seen walking and talking in the locker room after the game) this was a feel-good Sunday for Patriots fans.

Brady became only the sixth quarterback in NFL history to throw at least one touchdown pass in every game. He enters the playoffs having thrown a record 335 passes since his last interception. He has 36 touchdowns and only four picks. It is otherworldly.

Or as Belichick said, “He’s played well and he’s done a good job for us.’’

Yes, and Sinatra had pretty good pipes and that Churchill fellow was an OK public speaker.

Deion Branch, Aaron Hernandez, and Wes Welker were game-time inactives, which told you everything you needed to know about the urgency of this one. Still, the Patriots did not want to finish the season with a loss and the Dolphins did not want to play at all, which made for an easy day in New England.

There were multiple milestones and appreciations as the beatdown unfolded. Brian Hoyer threw his first career touchdown pass, Julian Edelman returned a punt a club-record 94 yards for a touchdown, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis cracked the 1,000-yard barrier — the first Patriots running back to go for a grand since lovable Corey Dillon brought the pain six years ago.

“We had a lot of guys step in and make plays,’’ said Brady. “We’ve had a good year. We’ve put ourselves in a good position.’’

“We fought all year,’’ added defensive lineman Vince Wilfork, another guy who was here the last time the Patriots won a Super Bowl. “After Cleveland [a shocking 34-14 loss], there was something different about this ball club. Guys just hated the taste of losing.’’

Wilfork delivered his remarks from the same podium at which Randy Moss set himself on fire after the Patriots’ season-opening win over the Bengals.

These Patriots have come a long way since Sept. 12. Not even the most devout Kraft Krishna envisioned 14-2. And now anything less than a Super Bowl is going to be a disappointment.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at

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