FOXBOROUGH — Almost an hour after the Patriots ended their regular season with a 28-0 win over the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium, an unidentified player yelled from behind a closed door in the team’s locker room.
“Bye week, yeah!” said the player enthusiastically.
The sentiment was shared by other Patriots even if it was expressed in a more subdued manner.
“It’s good to get the bye,” said Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker. “It helps us prepare. It helps us get healthy. It helps us do a lot of things. We’ve got a week where we can still get better and still improve going into the playoffs.”
Welker said he watched “bits and pieces” of Houston’s loss to Indianapolis Sunday afternoon. That game ended before the Patriots took the field, though Welker and teammate Nate Solder each said they did not think about that result. With Houston’s loss, the Patriots were able to control their own seeding with a win against the Dolphins. Whether or not they were playing with the week off in mind, Patriots players said they would gladly take it.
“It’s good to get that rest, get some guys healthy,” said safety Steve Gregory. “I know some guys are banged up, so it’s good for us.”
One player who was not banged up but is now is defensive end Rob Ninkovich, who left the game in the second quarter with a hip injury and did not return. Ninkovich was not in the locker room after the game, and his status going forward is unknown.
Tight end Rob Gronkowski, who returned Sunday after missing five games with a broken forearm, will get a week to get even healthier. Gronkowski wore a large covering on his left arm vs. the Dolphins and shied away from a question when asked if he was favoring his right arm to block.
“Everyone on the team, with their nicks and bruises and stuff, can get better and hopefully take it to our advantage and work hard,” said Gronkowski.
The Patriots don’t know who they’ll be facing in two weeks. The No. 1-seeded Denver Broncos will face the lowest remaining seed following next weekend’s wild card games. Houston, the No. 3 seed, will host the No. 6 Cincinnati Bengals, while No. 4 Baltimore will host No. 5 Indianapolis.
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was typically unhelpful when asked about the advantage of getting the bye, saying, “I don’t know,” but the coach will now have an extra week to prepare his team for their first playoff game.
Even though the Patriots can’t prepare for one opponent, the mental advantage of the bye is still significant.
“It kind of lets you get away a little bit but be able to focus on the practice field and getting better,” said Welker. “Not really gameplan quite yet, but get an idea of how we need to go about things going forward.”