The Patriots placed three players on the AFC Pro Bowl roster, led by special teamer Matthew Slater, punter Jake Bailey and cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who is reportedly expected to miss the rest of the season after needing surgery for a partially torn quad.
The Pro Bowl nod does little to dampen the disappointment of losing Gilmore on top of being knocked from the playoff race, but it's a well-deserved accolade for, again, one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. Entering the final year of his contract in 2021, it will be an interesting offseason for Gilmore and the team, with the injury further complicating the situation.
Gilmore will be hard to replace for the final two AFC East tilts, with practice squadder Michael Jackson a possibility for elevation to the game-day roster.
This will be Slater's ninth Pro Bowl and Bailey's first, while it will mark the fourth for Gilmore.
The cross-section of players says a lot about this year's Patriots, who have depended on critical special teams and defensive plays all season long to help produce points. Bailey and Slater were once again excellent against the Dolphins, connecting to place one particular punt inside the five-yard line.
Bailey, in his second year, has helped the Patriots win field position battles all season long.
As for snubs, David Andrews led the fan vote at center while J.C. Jackson picked off another pass against Miami and is now second in the league in interceptions with eight. Both players have had excellent years and might've been late additions after player opt-outs for playoff and injury reasons, but unfortunately, since there will be no actual Pro Bowl game this year, Andrews and Jackson will miss out.
Belichick & Newton re-assess the day after Dolphins loss
"Really, we have a lot of team questions we need to answer, so I think that will be the overriding thing," said head coach Bill Belichick on a Monday morning conference call, as the team plots their next course after being eliminated from playoff contention. "We'll talk about that today, tomorrow – we have an extra day this week – and then start from a bigger picture standpoint."
With injuries mounting, the Patriots don't have a lot of roster tweaking available to them. For the most part, the young players have been thrust into the fire in recent weeks and that's not going to change over the final two games, save one exception, quarterback Jarrett Stidham.
Belichick did not directly rule out the backup quarterback seeing some action, simply saying "we'll see" in the coming days if that's a move they're ready to make.
For his part, starting quarterback Cam Newton isn't ready to call it quits just yet.
"I still have a lot of football left and the urge to be better," Newton told the Greg Hill Show on WEEI on Monday morning. "After putting out this film? I can't go out like this."
The choice might now be out of his hands as the Patriots offense has failed to produce a touchdown the last two weeks in falling out of the playoff race.
"Obviously, haven't played the run well the last two weeks and haven't been able to score a touchdown the last two weeks, so I don't think this is about any one individual," added Belichick. "We had some ability to move the ball, but we ended up with four field goals and no touchdowns. So, we just haven't been able to get the ball into the end zone or even yesterday, kind of we weren't that close to the end zone and field goals, most of them were fairly long. It's hard to feel like you have a lot of control when you don't get the ball into the end zone or get into the red zone."
Could Stidham provide a needed spark for the offense? Or could getting him some experience pay off down the line whether he's competing for a starting job or looking to secure a back-up position? There are still unknowns with the second-year signal-caller, and while many young players have stacked a bunch of experience this season, Stidham has played just 68 snaps in his second year, all in mop-up duty.
A long week of preparation for Monday Night Football as the starter could give the youngster a boost and a real chance to show what he can do with a full gameplan at his disposal. For now, we await what the coaching staff decides.
With the playoffs out of the question, things could be set for a shift this week.