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Patriots Progress Report Fourth Quarter

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Patriots Progress Report  Fourth Quarter AP Photo

After 17 weeks, the 2012 NFL regular season has finally come to an end. The New England Patriots have once more made their way into the postseason, riding a 12-4 record to the 2-seed in the AFC and a first round bye.

The Patriots finished out the year by winning three of their last four, their only loss coming at the hands of the playoff-bound 49ers. While their win over the Jaguars was lackluster, they looked great in demolishing the Texans and shutting out Miami in the season's last game. The team looks to be in solid shape heading toward the Super Bowl.

On to the Progress Report:

Offense A

What else is there to say about this group? Quarterback Tom Brady is on the short list for MVP consideration after putting up over 4,800 passing yards and 34 touchdown passes against just eight interceptions. Receiver Wes Welker caught over 25 balls over the past four games, while tight end Aaron Hernandez has 24 of his own; the team barely missed the injured Rob Gronkowski. The Patriots rushing attack - led by Stevan Ridley and featuring Danny Woodhead and Shane Vereen among others has been top-10 over the past month. The offensive line has looked stronger too. This team continues to score a ton of points and it doesn't look like that is going to stop.

Defense B

Other than a hiccup against a surprisingly dynamic 49ers offense, the Patriots D has looked really good down the stretch. While they gave up 16 to a lousy Jacksonville squad, they also held a very productive Texans team to just two touchdowns not to mention pitching a shutout in their regular season finale. There are still plenty of concerns; while the cornerbacks have looked better, they haven't quite proven their trustworthiness yet. But the linebacking corps is looking increasingly strong, while the defensive line has been stuffing the run effectively and finally finding ways to get to the quarterback.

Special Teams B

This unit is constantly finding ways to contribute to the team's overall success. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski has had his struggles this season, but he has been rock-solid over the past month, making all five of his field goal attempts while continuing to be among the league leaders in touchbacks on kickoffs. Punter Zoltan Mesko has been booming his kicks as of late, averaging over 46 yards per punt over the past four games. The recent return game has been unspectacular, but always solid; the coverage teams have shown their usual disciplined, quality play.

Coaching A

Overcoming the loss of a star player is never an easy task in the NFL. Bill Belichick was without one of the primary focal points of his offense for most of the season's end, but the team never lost a beat, scoring more or less with impunity. He has found schemes to shut down some very strong scoring offenses; there's no shame in losing to San Francisco by one touchdown. And that was the biggest loss of the season for New England. The team seems to be approaching peak performance in advance of the playoffs; a lot of the credit for that has to go to the coaching staff.

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