FOXBOROUGH — Denver’s home loss to San Diego Thursday night has opened the door for the Patriots to potentially grab the AFC’s No. 1 playoff seed, but tread lightly when asking Bill Belichick or his players about that opportunity.
If the Patriots beat the Dolphins Sunday in Miami, they’ll join Denver with the best record in the AFC at 11-3. By virtue of their 34-31 victory over the Broncos Nov. 24, the Patriots hold the head-to-head tiebreaker. Three wins in their final three games, then, would guarantee the Patriots the top playoff seed, and homefield advantage until the Super Bowl, no matter what the Broncos do. So the Patriots control their playoff fate.
Asked about Thursday’s development, Belichick cut the questioner off before he could even finish.
“Yeah, there’s nothing we can do about anything except what we do, so I don’t really care about anybody else,” Belichick said.
Receiver Danny Amendola was similarly uninterested in discussing playoff seeding scenarios.
“We’re just worried about the Miami Dolphins,” Amendola said, when asked if the playoff picture is on anyone’s mind.
A win against Miami would give the Patriots the AFC East title for the fifth straight season, and 10 in the last 11 years. Clinching the division has also been a topic not many Patriots have chosen to comment on; they’d prefer to wait until after the fact, if and when that time comes.
Targeting the helmet
Two players — one on offense and one on defense — wear a green dot on their helmet, able to receive play calls electronically from the coaching staff through a tiny speaker. If you’re in the stadium early enough, you’ll see team staffers walking around the field with the helmets up to their ear, testing to make sure the equipment is working properly. But to hear Belichick and Tom Brady tell it, problems persist.
“I can’t think of a game, certainly not any recently, where there isn’t some type of communication issue with either the headsets or the coach-to-quarterback system, where you either have to replace it, change the helmet — which we’ve had to do several times this year — or the system just goes in and out because the frequency gets jammed or there’s interference or whatever it is,” Belichick said. “It’s not uncommon at all for the quarterback not to get the play that’s called in or the defensive signal-caller for that matter, to not get the play that’s called in. It’s certainly something that you have to think quickly on.”
If communication is spotty, it sometimes forces Brady to improvise.
“That’s happened from time to time with our helmets this year,’’ Brady said. “We have a backup plan; if that backup plan fails and you’re sometimes below that 15-second mark [on the play clock, when communication gets cut off], then you’ve just got to try to scramble and call a play with the guys you have in the huddle. You try to use your best judgment and go with it. But yeah, we’re used to that. We’ve practiced that.”
Aaron Dobson questionable
Rookie receiver Aaron Dobson, who hadn’t practiced since suffering a foot injury against Denver, was back on the field for Friday’s workout, and was later designated by the Patriots as questionable for Sunday’s game.
Dobson was one of nine Patriots listed as questionable; nobody was ruled out, although the Patriots, as the visiting team, have the ability to downgrade players when they travel to south Florida Saturday.
Brady, who was limited in practice Wednesday and Thursday with a right shoulder injury, was one of six Patriots listed as probable.
All in the family
Darqueze Dennard, a cousin of Patriots cornerback Alfonzo Dennard and a senior at Michigan State, won the Jim Thorpe Award Thursday night, which is awarded to the best defensive back in college football. Did Alfonzo teach him everything he knows? “I don’t know about that. He’s the person he is because of hard work,” Dennard said . . . Belichick, whose father, Steve, coached at Navy, said the Patriots’ travel plans Saturday will likely keep him from watching the 114th Army-Navy game. “But I’ll be pulling for Navy to get 11 in a row,” Belichick said. “You can never have too many wins against Army.” The Midshipmen have won 11 straight over Army, a streak that began in 2002. It’s the longest win streak in series history.