FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Rapid reaction from the Patriots’ 28-0 victory over the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium:
What it means: The day couldn’t have worked out much better for the Patriots. With the Patriots beating the Dolphins, and the Texans losing to the Colts earlier in the day, the Patriots earn the No. 2 seed and a first-round playoff bye. That means the team won’t be in action again until the weekend of Jan 12-13. The Broncos are the AFC’s No. 1 seed.
First shutout since 2009. The result was the Patriots’ first shutout since a 59-0 blanking of the Titans on Oct. 18, 2009 at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots dominated the time of possession battle and were in control for most of the game. The turning point came when safety Steve Gregory intercepted quarterback Ryan Tannehill in the first quarter (breaking Tannehill's four-game streak without an interception) and the Patriots scored a touchdown two plays later to go up 7-0. They never looked back.
Gronkowski’s return notable. Tight end Rob Gronkowski returned for the first time since breaking his left forearm on Nov. 18 and played 25 of a possible 80 snaps (including penalties). He wore a protective white padding over his left forearm, extending up to his elbow, and at times looked uncomfortable blocking. He did have a 23-yard catch-and-run touchdown in the fourth quarter, capped off with his trademark spike.
Ninkovich hip injury in second quarter. Starting left defensive end Rob Ninkovich injured his hip in the second quarter and did not return. Ninkovich needed help walking off the field and went directly to the locker room. Ninkovich has been a key member of the defense, playing 85 percent of the snaps this season. The severity of the injury is not known at this time. The Patriots are deep at defensive end, with Jermaine Cunningham, Trevor Scott and Justin Francis next on the depth chart, but losing Ninkovich for any period of time would be a tough blow because of his dependability, consistency and pass-rushing burst.
Seven sacks for defense. The Patriots totaled seven sacks, easily a season-high, as they played terrific run defense and turned the Dolphins into a one-dimensional attack. Rookie defensive end Justin Francis led the way with three, while defensive back Derrick Martin and defensive linemen Vince Wilfork, Trevor Scott and Brandon Deaderick had one apiece.
What’s next: The Patriots will host the best remaining AFC playoff seed on the weekend of Jan. 12-13.