Scott: The Patriots continue the win the games that other teams tend to stumble over. It gives them the two-, three-game lead in their division that is enough to secure a path to and through the playoffs. While some attribute it to lofty descriptions as great coaching or having a bona fide superstar in Brady, it's really more simple than that. It's in the little things.
New England continues to win games they should have lost because if just one part of the team can come through in the clutch it does. There are no superstars, but there are a lot of very talented and smart football players on the team. Each one knows his role and they perform what's expected of them. The group mentality has enabled and emboldened the remainder of the roster to step up when their turn comes.
Many attribute this to the football savvy of Belichick, and in a way that's probably the best description attributed to their success. Those little things that the team coaches, practices and works on every year are the little things that matter in the end. A third down here, a fumble recovery there, a sack, even a great block to spring a long run. Those little things add up and Brady helps get them done on offense, while Belichick manages them team-wide.
Are they great? Maybe not on their own, but together, in that system, in that culture, they have achieved greatness to go along with their three Super Bowls.
Q: How would you compare the Patriots of right now to the Patriots who faced the Dolphins back in early October?
Scott: That's probably the real question. The Patriots of week 5 had no offensive continuity, were facing a solid defense that knew how to attack their offense and generally struggled to get on track. The Patriots team traveling to Miami this week is banged up -- again -- but has a better grasp of the offense and what they need to do to win. Although there's some talent missing, namely Harrison, Seau and Wilson, it's still a formidable matchup for the Dolphins.
While they may be absent some healthy bodies, the Week 14 Patriots are more dangerous on offense. New England will bring a better passing game for the highly skilled Dolphins defense to have to slow down. If (Laurence) Maroney is back, then Miami is going to have a harder time keeping Brady and the offense off the board this time around.
Scott: Not at this time. Both players have seen the field, with Dillon getting the ball close to the end zone while Maroney gets more time when the offense is further away from the end zone.
Some expected the sharing of the burden to get to Dillon, but that hasn't been the case. Dillon is a fighter but he understands that each player has a role and it's a long season. If anyone knows what a long season can do to the longevity of a running back, it's Dillon. He is the 15th player in NFL history to break 11,000 rushing yards, and most of those are hard-earned ones. Having Maroney around helps Dillon keep fresh legs, and at this point in his career it's about winning, not stats.
Q: The Patriots receiving corps seems to have made great strides since earlier in the season; is that a fair assessment?
Scott: Yes, that would be fair to say. When these teams last played, Doug Gabriel had just joined the team, Chad Jackson was still struggling with a hamstring injury, Reche Caldwell was still learning how to make in-game adjustments with Tom Brady and Jabar Gaffney wasn't even part of the offense.
This time, Gabriel has experienced some success and overcome a couple of setbacks. Caldwell has continued to improve each week with a career performance last week vs Detroit. Jackson appears to be recovered from his injuries, although he's not a big part of the offense. And Jabar Gaffney leads the team in average gain per reception.
Q: What kind of season is former Dolphins fullback Heath Evans having?
Scott: Evans picked up where he left off last season. He's a solid run blocker that the Patriots didn't have with FB Patrick Pass, and didn't get when they tried to use a TE in the backfield. On Dillon's touchdown runs, Evans was key in sealing off a defender so Dillon could use his power to get past the one or two who remained in his path.
One of the things that has helped the Patriots ground game isn't just the play of the offensive line, which at times has been better, but also can be attributed to Evans' blocking. Although he hasn't been used much in the passing game, Evans has handled the ball running it. His 4.7 ypc leads all Patriots running backs.