Logan Ryan has been among the more vocal members of the Patriots defense when it comes to airing his grievances with that unit's critics this season. So after defeating the Dolphins on Sunday, he made sure to revel in the fact he and his teammates posted a league-best 15.6 points alowed per game average for the season.
It's the first time the Patriots have led the NFL in that category since 2003, when they allowed 14.9 points per game, and their points-allowed average is the best any NFL team has recorded since the Seahawks held teams to 14.4 points per game in 2013.
"It's something we were mindful of for sure," Ryan said. "I’m not going to lie to you. We wanted that. We felt like we were constantly slept on all year. Doubted all year. So for a group that didn’t have a lot of great players, and gave up too many passing yards, and didn’t really create enough turnovers, to be the best scoring defense in the last four years I think speaks for itself."
Here are some quick-hit thoughts on how the Patriots defense was able to finish the regular season as stoutly as it did, holding the Dolphins to just 14 points at home . . .
* Is it possible that a Patriots practice-squad running back had something to do with the team's defensive effort on New Year's Day? Devin McCourty's strip of Dolphins running back Damien Williams deep in Patriots territory with 8:35 left in the game was the second forced fumble of the afternoon for the Patriots -- Malcolm Butler punched the football out of receiver Jarvis Landry's hands earlier in the game, but Landry recovered -- and the seventh fumble the team forced since a Week 12 win over the Jets. So how does a running back not on the 53-man active roster factor into the equation? Asked about Tyler Gaffney last week, Bill Belichick said, "There’s nobody that takes more punches than he does. He must get punched in the stomach 10 times a day. The defense is trying to take the ball out. That’s his role. That’s his job. But they’re slapping at the ball, they’re pulling at it, they’re trying to punch it. Half the time they miss." They hit when it mattered most in Miami.
* The Patriots got two crucial back-to-back third-down stops late in the third quarter helping them protect a 27-14 lead when the outcome was still up for grabs. Ryan made a strong tackle short of the sticks on DeVante Parker with 5:20 remaining in the quarter that forced a punt, and then, on the next Miami drive, Rob Ninkovich won his one-on-one matchup on the left edge, slapping Moore's throwing shoulder and forcing an incompletion. They were plays that in the grand scheme of things will not get as much attention as McCourty's strip, but they were critical to the overall success of the Patriots defense at Hard Rock Stadium.
* Elandon Roberts started the game and made a handful of impressive plays, particularly against the run. The rookie sixth-round linebacker out of the University of Houston has come on strong of late, playing in 28 and 29 snaps, respectively over the last two weeks after seeing just 16 total snaps between Weeks 12 and 15. Against the Dolphins, Roberts played 10 more snaps than Kyle Van Noy -- who appeared to be caught out of position on a 25-yard touchdown pass to Dolphins wideout Kenny Stills -- and he recorded three run-stuffs to go along with a quarterback pressure. "Some of that is circumstantial," Belichick said of Roberts' up-and-down playing time. "The bottom line for him is he does a good job. He’s a productive player. He works very hard. Football is really important to him. He cares a lot about it. He works hard to get things right and to do what he’s asked to do. He’s a great teammate, good communicator. He’s improved a lot over the course of the year so he’s done a good job for us." How the Patriots handle their linebacker spot -- splitting time between Dont'a Hightower, Shea McClellin, Roberts and Van Noy -- will be one area to watch in the postseason as the nationwide focus on this unit sharpens.
* The secret's out. Trey Flowers has earned a few nicknames from his teammates as he's established himself as one of the defense's most impactful players during the second half of the season. One of them was announced by the CBS broadcast crew during Sunday's game: "Technique." Another that Flowers has heard lobbed his way inside the Patriots facilities? "The G.O.A.T." -- as in "greatest of all time." Patriots veterans know that the humble second-year player out of Arkansas gets a little sheepish when they throw compliments his way, and they like to watch him squirm while letting him know how impressed they've been by his work. On Sunday, he had two quarterback hits to go along with three run-stuffs.