Patriots Rest Some Starters Vs Dolphins

With some of the team's regular contributors resting for the season finale, unfamiliar faces stepped in and stepped up in the Patriots 38 - 7 win over the Dolphins.

The argument against resting starters in the season finale, especially for those teams set to enjoy a bye week in the first weekend of the postseason, is to build momentum heading into important January action. It's all about keeping the ball rolling, so to speak.

The Patriots, the NFL's hottest team over the second half of 2010, indeed kept that ball rolling Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium as Tom Brady and the bulk of New England's healthy starters took care of business to dispatch the Dolphins 38-7 to finish the year 14-2.

With Wes Welker as seemingly the only healthy scratch, the Patriots were pretty intent on closing the door on a successful regular season before opening up the bye week and a potential run at another Super Bowl.

"We'd hate to come out here and not finish the season the way we all expected to," Brady said simply of his two-plus quarters of action in which he extended his streak without an interception to 335 pass attempts while also notching his ninth straight game with at least two touchdowns and no interceptions.

New England's young, developing defense felt the same way. Having now allowed a touchdown or less in four of its last five games, the unit was intent on getting better against Miami and not resting on its laurels.

"We're a young defense and we're gotten better each week," Pro Bowl rookie cornerback Devin McCourty said after recording his seventh interception of the season. "Coach Belichick says that all the time, it's about getting better each week. I think it would have hurt us to come out here and not get better."

Having now closed out an impressive regular season in impressive style, New England gets a week to get healthier, get better and wait to see who it plays coming out of Wild Card Weekend.

"It's good to end the season on this note, but right now we're just like everybody else; everybody is 0-0 at this point in the playoffs, so it's time for us to get focused on the next target," Bill Belichick said of an unknown foe. "But it's a nice way to end the season. I'm proud of the way the guys played; they stepped up and played like the AFC (East) champions that they are."

BY THE NUMBERS: 14 -- Patriots wins in 2010, the fourth season of 14 or more wins in the Bill Belichick era. Belichick became the first coach in NFL history with four 14-win seasons (2003, 2004, 2007, 2010). The only other coaches with multiple 14-win seasons are San Francisco's George Seifert (three) and Washington's Joe Gibbs, Chicago's Mike Ditka and Miami's Don Shula with two each. Each of the previous three times Belichick teams won 14 games his team advanced to the Super Bowl.

LINEUP WATCH: With Aaron Hernandez missing the final two games with a hip injury, Julian Edelman made a bid to become an added option for Tom Brady in the postseason. Edelman had three catches for 72 yards in beating the Dolphins, including a career-long catch-and-run. The receptions were Edelman's first since Week 3.

--WR Wes Welker was a healthy scratch against Miami, sitting out the finale against his former team as the Patriots got ready for the postseason.
--WR Deion Branch (knee) was inactive for the finale after being limited in practice throughout the week.
--TE Aaron Hernandez missed his second straight game with a hip injury. The rookie practiced early last week, but then sat out practice later in the week.
--LB Tully Banta-Cain missed the game with Miami with a groin injury.
--G Dan Connolly missed his second straight game with a concussion.
--DL Ron Brace sat out the finale with an elbow injury and was expected to be placed on injured reserve after the game to make room on the roster for rookie linebacker Brandon Spikes, who missed the final four games of the season to an NFL suspension.
--DL Mike Wright missed his sixth straight game with a concussion.
--WR Taylor Price, a third-round pick out of Ohio, made his NFL debut in the finale. After serving as a healthy scratch for each of the first 15 games, Price finished his debut with three catches 41 yards.

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