By Chris Warner, Patriots Daily Staff

The Patriots got on the “nice” list with a win at Denver and found something in their stockings: the AFC East championship. Now if only Santa could step in at defensive back.

Though far from perfect, the Patriots’ 41-23 conquest in Colorado showed flashes of an opportunistic defense, stout special teams, and of course an offense that creates mismatches week by week.

Keeping that victory in mind, let’s look ahead to the Christmas Eve tilt when the Pats host the Dolphins.

On Ridley, On Woodhead, On Brady: The Pats had some success running the ball in Denver (141 yards on 36 rushes, with quarterback Tom Brady notching his annual rushing TD). This kept their time of possession up and kept their defense off the field. Important elements come playoff time.

They had to step up because –

Run, Run Rudolph (and anyone in a Broncos uniform): Want a scary stat? (Sure you do!) After the first quarter, Denver had rushed for 167 yards – that’s rushing only. They were on pace to run for over 650 yards Sunday. Just for perspective, New England’s BenJarvus Green-Ellis has 635 yards rushing this season.

The jolly old elf might describe that defense as naughty, or at the very least not nice.

Oh Christmas Bush, Oh Christmas Bush: Miami’s Reggie Bush has been a dynamic all-purpose back in recent games. If New England starts this game the same way they did in Denver, that trend will continue.

Mark, The Herald Angels Sing: Kudos to pass-rusher Mark Anderson for his two sacks and forced fumble. That type of pressure will become even more important Saturday with Andre Carter lost to injury and Miami’s efficient QB Matt Moore coming to Foxboro.

Seven Guys A-Blocking, Six Points A-Getting, Chad Ochocinco! Yes, Chad Ochocinco blew by Broncos coverage to score his first TD in a Patriots uniform. And it only took 14 games. So … hooray. Right?

Anyway, it would be nice to see Ochocinco contribute on a more regular – oh for the love of God haven’t we said this a dozen times already?

Tiquan Under-the-mistletoe: Actually, we were happy for Ochocinco, but we’re more intrigued with Tiquan Underwood as the third receiver. He caught one pass and should have caught another (he hugged the sideline too closely on the route and ended up out of bounds), but more importantly, he seems to understand the playbook and doesn’t appear lost in the hurry-up offense.

In The Aaron, There’s A Feeling Of Christmas: When the Broncos took away receiver Wes Welker and tight end Rob Gronkowski, hybrid Aaron Hernandez became the gift that kept on giving, scoring an important touchdown, converting a crucial fourth down, gaining 16 yards on an end-around play and compiling career highs of nine receptions for 129 yards.

Miami’s defense has been playing well, but whom do they cover? How many receivers can they take away?

And that’s all because of…

Three-score Leads, Two Touchdowns, And A QB Named Tom Bra-a-d-y-y: We know this for sure – the Patriots have made the playoffs. We have no idea how far they might get, but, hey, let’s relish the consistency of Brady (320 yards passing to eight different receivers last Sunday). He runs the offense, protects the defense, and even sets up special teams for success.

That, by itself, has been a gift. We wish you a Merry Christmas, New England.

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