FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — By any measure, the New England Patriots’ run defense in the regular season was a mess.

It allowed 4.9 yards per carry, the worst mark of the Bill Belichick era, topping last year’s average of 4.7, which had been the highest since the 2000 season.

It’s not something that seems to concern the Patriots.

“Doesn’t really matter,” said linebacker Elandon Roberts. “I could be the No. 1 run defender in the league, but if I just go out there and don’t play well, the numbers don’t mean anything.”

A statistical oddity: On a per-carry basis, the Patriots’ run defense was fourth-worst in the league. The three teams worse than them – the Seahawks, Chiefs, and Rams – all are heading to the playoffs. The Chiefs and Rams have first-round byes.

Interestingly, the top six run defenses in the league – the Texans, Saints, Ravens, Bears, Cowboys, and Colts – also reached the playoffs.

Heading into the postseason, uncertainty exists on both sides of the ball for the Patriots. The offense as a whole has been uneven. Without Josh Gordon, the explosiveness and efficiency of the passing game remains a question. Defensively, the secondary is a known commodity with Stephon Gilmore playing at an All-Pro level and surrounded by veteran safeties with big-game experience. The potential issue is up front.

For all their struggles this year, the Patriots’ run defense was excellent in Weeks 16 and 17. Bills tailbacks LeSean McCoy and Keith Ford rushed 13 times for 41 yards. In the finale, Jets running backs rushed 22 times for 76 yards. Elijah McGuire carried 18 times, and 10 were for no gain or negative yardage.

“We need to continue to make these plays – no gains, tackle for losses,” defensive tackle Lawrence Guy said. “Right now, we’re critiquing what we need to get done. We look at every game.”

Belichick tinkered with his personnel in the final two weeks, opting to sit pass-rush specialist Adrian Clayborn in favor of the 6-foot-6, 295-pound Ufomba Kamalu. The Pats also brought 335-pound Danny Shelton back into the fold after three straight healthy scratches. His presence was felt early and often.

With 3:17 remaining in the first quarter, Shelton rag-dolled Jets guard Brian Winters and engulfed McGuire at the line of scrimmage. On a third-and-3 at the Pats’ 5-yard line late in the second quarter, Shelton drove Winters backward, causing McGuire to hesitate and redirect in the backfield. Guy and Roberts finished off the play for no gain.

“There’s no one guy that can stop the running game,” Belichick said. “There’s no one guy that can stop the passing game, not in this league. So if we collectively play well as a team, then we have a chance, and coach well and have a good scheme.”

Several Patriots defenders described a commitment to a tough, physical approach as the biggest difference these past few weeks.

“We took pride in going back to the basics, as far as the physicality,” defensive end Trey Flowers said.

“You can’t stop the run unless you’re physical,” Roberts added. “Honestly, we just took it one week at a time, seeing what you need to do. And we just dove in on it.”

Said Guy: “There was a point in the year where we knew we needed to do better. If any team is able to run the ball, we knew we had to be better.”

The Ravens lead the league in rushing attempts. They’ve been borderline unstoppable on the ground since Lamar Jackson took the reins at quarterback. The Texans rank fourth with 472 rushing attempts. And the Chargers are one of the most efficient teams at 4.7 yards per carry.

The Patriots’ run defense has generated some momentum at an ideal time. In a few weeks, it’s sure to have a massive challenge on its hands.