When the Patriots ruled Deion Branch, Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez inactive for their season finale, it seemed that they would take it easy in Week 17 against a Dolphins team playing for pride.
But in Patriots fashion, they beat up on the Dolphins, 38-7. A pass rush that had been ineffective most of the season racked up five sacks, with three of their defensive Pro Bowlers posting huge games.
In addition to the names you're used to, like Brady, Wilfork and Mayo, Rob Ninkovich had another big game. Plus, BenJarvus Green-Ellis became the first Patriots back to rush for 1,000 yards in a season since 2004.
And in the offensive explosion, teams around the league got a sneak peek at the weapons that Brady will have at his disposal for years to come.
The PFW Spin
Bill Belichick was not shy about playing rookies this season, regularly starting two rookie tight ends and four first-year defenders, with a few more rookies contributing on special teams. But third-round WR Taylor Price had yet to be active all season. The speedy receiver got a late start on things because of the timing of his graduation from Ohio University, but he got his chance on Sunday.
Price seemed to have little problem getting into the flow of things, catching three of the four balls thrown to him for 41 yards.
Joining Price as the team's leading receivers were Rob Gronkowski, Brandon Tate and Julian Edelman. We know what Gronkowski and his 10 TD catches have contributed this season, and his success combined with the veterans Welker and Branch, Tate and Edelman have got lost in the shuffle.
But with time in the spotlight, both second-year receivers showed they are simply low on the depth chart, not low on talent. Tate hauled in a 42-yard touchdown catch and added another catch-and-run that went for 40 yards. Edelman had three catches for 72 yards, winding and weaving on a 40-yard gain. He also had the play of the game — a 94-yard punt-return touchdown.
Adding more to bench players stepping up, backup QB Brian Hoyer tossed the touchdown pass to Tate.
Welker and Branch still have some years under their belt, but Pats fans got proof with a glimpse on Sunday that the team's spread offense has plenty of weapons for the future.