By RICH GARVEN
Telegram & Gazette
FOXBORO, Massachusetts â€” Securing the top seed in the AFC playoffs was the biggest benefit to come from the New England Patriots' victory over the New York Jets in Week 17.
It was not, however, the only one.
The regular-season finale also marked the return of linebacker Kyle Van Noy after missing the previous three games and a good chunk of a fourth with a calf injury suffered late in a win here over the Miami Dolphins in Week 12.
Van Noy only played 12 defensive snaps and didn't register on the stat sheet against the Jets, but he benefited physically and mentally from getting back out there.
"I feel like any time you can get some snaps after being on the bench for a little bit always helps," Van Noy said. "Just to be out there with the guys and get back into the rhythm of things before the playoffs is going to be huge."
The Patriots, 13-3 and fresh off a first-round bye, begin defense of their Super Bowl championship at 8:15 p.m. Saturday when they face the Tennessee Titans (10-7) in the divisional round at Gillette Stadium.
This marks the third time in his four NFL seasons Van Noy has been to the playoffs. He made it as a rookie with the Detroit Lions in 2014 and in both of his seasons with the Patriots, who acquired him and a seventh-round Draft pick in exchange for a sixth-rounder last October.
"Super blessed," Van Noy said.
To reinforce that thought, Van Noy brought up Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Kyle Williams, who entered the NFL in 2006 and made it to the playoffs for the first time this season.
"What an incredible story," Van Noy said. "Twelve years in the league and to see how excited he was. People just need to realize how important it is and what an opportunity it is to be in the playoffs."
Van Noy's NFL story is pretty improbable itself in that he's gone from being a Detroit breakdown to a fast-riser in New England in the span of 16 months.
The Lions drafted Van Noy, a 2-time All-American at Brigham Young, in the second round (40th overall) in 2014. Injuries were an issue as a rookie and ineffectiveness characterized the start of his sophomore campaign, chiefly because the Lions didn't put him in a position to succeed.
The Patriots let Van Noy get back to doing what he does best, getting after the quarterback and making plays, after they acquired him.
The 6-3, 243-pound Van Noy responded with 27 tackles, a sack, an interception and a forced fumble in seven games and added seven tackles, a shared sack â€” in Super Bowl LI â€” a pass defensed, and a forced fumble in three playoff games.
The Patriots have upped Van Noy's workload and responsibilities this season, due to both his improvement and the absence of defensive signal-caller Dont'a Hightower for all but five games due to injury.
"At the end of the day, I'm all about winning and whatever they ask me to do, sign me up," the 26-year-old Nevada native said.
Van Noy played 91.3 percent of the defensive snaps and, in Hightower's absence, organized the defense in the first 12 games. He was reliable and productive, making 70 of his career-high 73 tackles and five of his career-high 5Â½ sacks during that span while being deployed at inside and outside linebacker and as a quasi-defensive end.
"It's great," Patriots safety Devin McCourty said. "You know, it helps our defense out a lot, and he's one of a lot of guys on our defense that have been able to play different positions that allow us to do different things defensively. So having him back out there has been great, obviously for his versatility, but also from a communication standpoint because he's a guy that's been in there."
Van Noy gave it a go the week after his injury but was limited to 15 snaps. He shut it down for the next three games before returning for the regular-season finale.
Van Noy said he's feeling "great" physically and mentally, which is definite bonus as the Patriots get ready for what they hope is an extended playoff run.
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency.