Originally posted on NESN.com  |  Last updated 12/30/12
FOXBORO, Mass. — Christmas came a few days late for the Patriots this year, but Tom Brady‘s fine with that as long as it mean his present came in the form of a first-round bye. “Yeah, it was kind of a late Christmas present,” Brady said with a smile after Sunday’s game, “So we accept.” Santa wasn’t the one delivering the gift at Gillette Stadium on Sunday — that honor would go to Andrew Luck and the folks out in Indianapolis — but all of the pieces still fell into place in the Patriots’ playoff puzzle. The Colts took care of the Houston Texans during the early set of games, opening the window of possibility for a bye week, and the Patriots took care of their business with a 28-0 win over the Dolphins. Now, they’ll have two weeks to prepare for their next big challenge, which is just what the doctor ordered — literally. The Patriots were ailing over the past few weeks, and with a bye week in tow they’ll actually be able to rest, relax and rehab in preparation of the playoffs. Rob Gronkowski was back on the playing field for the first time in six weeks, although in a limited role, and could use some more time to get back fully. Brandon Spikes played just a handful of snaps a week after missing the Jaguars’ game. Aqib Talib was active but didn’t see the field, and Alfonzo Dennard and Marquice Cole were left off the active roster altogether. So, the Patriots, as much any team around the NFL, needed some extra time to recover. The week off offers those players an opportunity to get healthy in time for postseason play and gives the team as a whole a chance to reevaluate and fix any and all of their mistakes. That reassessment period is huge in the minds of the Patriots’ players too. “I think it gives you a chance to really focus on whatever you need to focus on,” Devin McCourty said after the game. “Especially a bye week like this where we won’t know who we’re playing, it gives us a chance to really focus on ourselves and try to improve in that week.” Improvement is huge heading into the postseason, especially for a team that’s struggled to close out games all season long. Health may be even more important, though. Gronk’s return on Sunday helped spark the shutout win, but the playoffs will likely be much more competitive, and they’ll need a full house to overcome some of the challenges ahead. So, the extra week of rest should allow Dennard, Spikes, Talib and others to return to action, which can only serve to help the Patriots in their Super Bowl quest — and that would be the ultimate Christmas gift. Have a question for Luke Hughes? Send it to him via Twitter at @LukeFHughes or send it here.

This article first appeared on NESN.com and was syndicated with permission.

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