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Sunday's come-from-behind 27-24 victory over the Miami Dolphins not only clinched a first-round AFC playoff bye for the New England Patriots, but basically insured that the Pats will be the No. 1-overall seed in the playoffs. Meaning, the road to Super Bowl XLVI (46) will need to go through Foxborough, MA.
However, that playoff scenario isn't a sure thing. First, the Patriots need to beat the visiting Buffalo Bills in Week 17. If that happens then New England clinches the No. 1 seed. But, if the Bills do beat the Pats then the Baltimore Ravens would need to beat the Cincinnati Bengals; or the Pittsburgh Steelers, who own the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Pats, will need to lose to the at the Cleveland Browns for New England to be No. 1.
AFC Playoff Picture
Cincinnati Bengals (9-6)
In The Hunt
Cincinnati Bengals (9-6)
Tennessee Titans (8-7)
From a first half which saw them completely outclassed to by the Dolphins, to a second half where they dominated in every aspect of the game, the Patriots stormed back from a 17-0 deficit to improve to 12-3 on the season and clinch a first-round bye.
The game started as an absolute rout for the Dolphins. A long pass that picked on the disappointing Devin McCourty brought Miami within range of a field goal on their opening drive, and then not long after it was Brandon Marshall making an all-too-easy grab over McCourty's head as the beleaguered corner failed to turn his head. The latter drive would result in a touchdown and a 10-0 lead.
While the defense hadn't been playing well yet, it got downright comical on the next drive. First on a 3rd-and-12 play, Matt Moore lobbed a pass well over the head of Brian Hartline. Devin McCourty, however, was once again left looking bad, as he made an early tackle on the receiver, picking up a pass interference penalty to gift Miami a free first down. Later in that same drive it would be Rob Ninkovich running directly into Matt Moore--acting as a receiver--as he tried to defend a woefully underthrown ball from Reggie Bush on a trick play. With two free sets of downs, the Dolphins found the end zone, and after a missed field goal from Stephen Gostkowski, took a 17-0 lead into the half.
Then everything changed. Where Tom Brady had been out-of-sorts from the beginning, thrown off by pressure and underthrowing all of his receivers, he came out in the second half firing bullets. Double digit gains from Rob Gronkowski and Wes Welker helped bring the Patriots close enough to nail a 47-yard field goal and finally find their way onto the scoreboard.
From there, it was all the defense. Three plays into the ensuing drive, Vince Wilfork dived on a Matt Moore fumble to give Brady and co. a very short field. They made good when Tom Brady found Deion Branch in the back of the end zone for the touchdown, but right away the defense went back to making big plays. Two sacks forced the Dolphins to punt from their own end zone, and once again Tom Brady had the ball in Dolphins territory. A few quick plays later, and Brady was rolling over his offensive linemen for a 1-yard touchdown run. From 17-0, the Patriots had fought all the way back to 17-17.
While the Dolphins actually managed to pin the Patriots at their own 2-yard line to start the next drive--if by the unconventional method of a Devin McCourty interception--they didn't manage to hold them there for long, or keep points off the board. Rob Gronkowski shed tackler after tackler to pick up 20 quick yards, and later on a 2nd-and-15 play Tom Brady found Wes Welker for 42 yards, draping a beautiful pass right over his shoulder. While a sack would end up keeping the Patriots out of the end zone, they still managed to grab a 20-17 lead.
After a quick 3-and-out, the Patriots all-but iced the game on the next drive. Tom Brady would find Rob Gronkowski and Wes Welker twice a piece to move into the Red Zone, and then handed it off to Stevan Ridley to move it all the way to the one-yard line. From there, it was once again Brady himself putting the ball over the goal line for the score.
The Dolphins would manage to put up another touchdown in short order, as the New England defense allowed a big pass on an all-out blitz, but with Miami kicking it deep Tom Brady needed just one first down to win the game. A quick pass to Wes Welker on a 3rd-and-5 gave them just that, and sealed both the win, and a first round bye.
It's not over yet. Taking just one minute to drive down the field, the Dolphins are back in the game after a beautiful touchdown catch from Davone Bess.
The Patriots' defense has had trouble closing out games for much of the season, and after pitching a shutout for the first 27 minutes of the second half, today proved no different. After Devin McCourty had picked up his first interception of the year, he found himself burned again thanks in part to an all-out blitz that left him with no help at all against Brandon Marshall. The deep ball brought the Dolphins all the way to the Patriots' 40-yard line, and just four plays later Davone Bess made a beautiful diving catch in the end zone to bring the Dolphins back within three.
The Dolphins have elected to kick it deep to the Patriots, who were lucky to have the ball bounce into the end zone for a touchback instead of dying just outside. Now they'll need just one first down to ice the game.
The Patriots are just three minutes away from leaving their fans with a nice present for the holiday season. A late touchdown from Tom Brady--his second one of the game on the ground--has New England up 10 points after a first half which saw them completely outclassed by the Dolphins.
Starting from the 40-yard line, the Patriots put on a three man show with Tom Brady finding Rob Gronkowski and Wes Welker twice a piece to get the ball into the red zone. While Stevan Ridley wouldn't manage to find the zone, gaining eight yards from some plays which could have proved disastrous, he did bring the Patriots close enough that Tom Brady could again simply push it into the end zone behind the offensive line for the touchdown.
New England is in good shape now, but the Dolphins are driving, and the defense has had trouble closing out games in the past. It isn't over just yet.
20 straight points later, and the Patriots have taken their first lead of the game in the fourth quarter.
While it ended the run of touchdowns for New England, the Patriots' drive was actually the most impressive of the four on which they've scored. Starting on their own two after Devin McCourty nabbed his first interception of the year on an underthrown deep ball, Tom Brady once again went to work.
Rob Gronkowski was the man who got the Pats out from their own end zone, bowling through four different defenders before finally being brought down after a 20-yard gain. Wes Welker and a Brady scramble combined to get the Pats another first down, before Stevan Ridley took off up the left sideline for 16 more.
Now at midfield, a false start set the Patriots up with a 2nd-and-15, leaving them in need of a big play. They found one, as Tom Brady made an absolutely perfect pass to Wes Welker's inside shoulder--an impossible to defend play that grabbed 42 yards and a big first down.
Unfortunately, the rest of the passes weren't quite so pretty, and the pressure finally made its way to Tom Brady on a 3rd-and-10 play, leading to a sack and forcing the field goal.
Only three points, but given where they were after the first half, that 20-17 lead looks very attractive right now.
From 17-0 to 17-17, the Patriots have come all the way back thanks to, above all else, a strong defensive performance in the second half.
While the last Patriots touchdown came thanks to a Dolphins fumble, the Patriots would have to settle for a punt this time around. While Matt Moore once again lost the ball as pressure hit him, this time the Dolphins were able to hold onto it to give their punter a shot.
All that ended up doing, however, was giving the Patriots' defense some extra time on the bench. With a very short punt setting New England up just 41 yards from the end zone, Welker gained seven yards on an end around and then left it to Tom Brady. Three quick passes had the Pats 13 yards out, Stevan Ridley picked up 12 of them on his next two runs, and then Brady himself rolled his way past the goal line for six points. With Stephen Gostkowski putting the extra point through, the Patriots found themselves back on even footing with the Miami Dolphins.
The Patriots' turnover advantage has been their defense's saving grace this season, and facing a big deficit in the third quarter, they've struck gold again. On just his third play from scrimmage in the second half, the Matt Moore found himself facing big pressure, and lost the ball to Vince Wilfork at just the 38-yard line.
Suddenly finding themselves with another scoring opportunity, Tom Brady and the Patriots' offense carried over their momentum from their first scoring drive of the game. Completing four passes on four attempts, Tom Brady brought the Patriots inside of the five yard line. While a second down run from BenJarvus Green Ellis wouldn't bring them in, Brady managed to dodge pressure long enough to find Deion Branch in the back of the end zone for the touchdown.
If you can't feel the momentum shift, you're the only one. The Dolphins have already given up a big loss on their next drive, and are getting ready to give the Pats some great field position. How far away is the tie game?
The Patriots are still in bad shape, but have finally gotten onto the scoreboard in the third quarter with a 45-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski.
In desperate need of some points to start the second half, the Patriots came out firing. Danny Woodhead took the opening kickoff back 39 yards to set them up with good field position, and Tom Brady fired one of the first Brady-like passes of the game over the middle to Rob Gronkowski to move into Dolphins territory.
The Patriots would come up short on a 3rd-and-1, but a patented Tom Brady sneak proved enough to pick up a new set of downs. Unfortunately, with a couple throws from Brady coming up too short, they quickly found themselves facing another fourth down. This time, with five yards to cover, there would be no sneak, and Bill Belichick called on Stephen Gostkowski to try again from 45 yards. While he had missed by a mile from a similar distance to close out the first half, in the second he managed to squeeze the ball just inside of the right upright, giving the Pats their first three points of the half.
The Patriots' passing defense has reached rock bottom: it's now so bad that the opposing team doesn't even need to be good at passing for it to give up yards.
This, at least, is the conclusion one has to arrive at after the most recent Dolphins scoring drive, which featured two huge pass interference calls on plays which really had no business gaining yards. After an unnecessary roughness call forced the Dolphins into a 3rd-and-12 situation, Matt Moore lofted a pass well over the head of a leaping Brian Hartline...who Devin McCourty slammed into needlessly. Probably not a catchable pass, but also not a wise decision.
The fresh set of downs gave the Dolphins new life, and they made the best of it, marching down the field in a hurry to set up the next instance of a gifted penalty. Needing three yards for a first from the 20-yard line, a trick play saw Reggie Bush throw up a terrible pass that should have had no chance of leading to a first. But, as before, the defense bit for no reason, with Rob Ninkovich running directly into Matt Moore (acting as a receiver) to give up another penalty for the first.
The second free set of downs proved enough. With just one yard to go, Matt Moore found Charles Clay for the touchdown.
The Dolphins have taken a 10-0 lead over the Patriots in the second quarter, and it's not too hard to figure out how they're doing it: targeting Devin McCourty.
After giving up a 39-yard pass during the first drive to Brian Hartline, McCourty decided to spread the love, this time making it all-too-easy for Brandon Marshall, never turning his head around as Marshall took a small hop and came down with a 47-yard gain bringing the team all the way from the 32-yard line to the New England 20. Just two plays later, and Moore found Brandon Marshall with a bullet to the end zone for the touchdown.
The Patriots, meanwhile, are struggling to keep Tom Brady on his feet. With Matt Light already a late scratch, the Pats were already thin on the offensive line. Now, they're without Logan Mankins for the time being, as the big guard came off the field when a Dolphins player rolled up on his ankle. With Brady constantly hurried, the offense hasn't had much of a chance to get going.
The Dolphins have taken an early 3-0 lead over the Patriots in Gillette Stadium thanks to a 47-yard field goal on the opening drive of the game.
Taking a touchback on the opening kickoff, the Dolphins' offense got underway from the 20 yard line, and quickly picked up a first down on a strong run from Reggie Bush. After the next series of downs started with a Shaun Ellis sack and a run to set up a 3rd-and-9, it seemed like the defense may find its feet early, but as has been the case all-too-often of late, the secondary let the rest of the unit down. Matt Moore's lob downfield wasn't terribly pretty, but with Devin McCourty having fallen well behind his man, the ball dropped cleanly into Brian Hartline's arms for a huge gain that set the Dolphins up just outside of the red zone.
Luckily, while the defense continued to give up big yards, they kept up their record of minimizing the damage, holding the Dolphins to just a field goal after a failed run, an incomplete pass out of the end zone, and a quick toss that was short even before Bill Belichick successfully challenged the catch.
WEEI reports that Light's status became murky two hours before the game when the medical staff examined what appeared to be a lower right leg injury. The injury will likely force Nate Solder to move to left tackle and give rookie Marcus Cannon his first start at right tackle.
The other Patriots inactives are offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer, linebacker Brandon Spikes, safety Patrick Chung, defensive lineman Ron Brace, running back Shane Vereen and quarterback Ryan Mallett.
There were whispers that Spike might play despite missing every practice this week, but he will miss his seventh straight game. Chung will also miss his seventh consecutive game.
Event: Miami Dolphins (5-9) vs. New England Patriots (11-3) - NFL Week 16.
Date/Time: Saturday, December 24, 2011 - 1:00 p.m. EDT.
Location: Gillette Stadium (Capacity: 68,756), Foxboro, MA.
Broadcast Info: Saturday's game between the Patriots and Dolphins will be televised regionally on CBS, with Phil Simms and Jim Nantz serving as the broadcast team. Locally, the game can be heard on the radio on WBZ-FM 98.5 The Sports Hub, with Gil Santos, Gino Cappelletti and Scott Zolak calling the action in the booth and down on the field.
Odds: The Patriots are a 10-point favorite over the Dolphins according to Bodog.
Pats-Dolphins In 2011: New England and Miami have met once this season, with the Patriots posting a 38-24 win in the season opener. Tom Brady threw for a career-high 517 yards and four touchdowns while Wes Welker caught eight passes for 160 yards and two touchdowns and Aaron Hernandez had seven catches for 103 yards and one touchdown. Chad Henne threw for 416 yards and two touchdowns while Brandon Marshall had seven catches for 139 yards.
Last Time Out: New England cruised past Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos last Sunday, posting a 41-23 victory. Brady threw for 320 yards and two scores and Hernandez had nine catches for 129 yards and one touchdown. Stevan Ridley led the Pats' rushing attack, running for 65 yards on 11 carries.
Miami defeated Buffalo, 30-23, behind a 203-yard and one touchdown game from Reggie Bush. Matt Moore completed 10-of-20 passes for 217 yards and two touchdowns while Marshall had three catches for 84 yards and one touchdown.
Statistical Leaders: Brady has thrown for 4,593 yards and 35 touchdowns. BenJarvus Green-Ellis has rushed for 635 yards and nine touchdowns while Wes Welker has 104 catches for 1,380 yards and nine touchdowns and Rob Gronkowski has 75 catches for 1,141 yards and a tight end single-season record 15 touchdowns.
Matt Moore has thrown for 2,081 yards and 12 touchdowns this season. Reggie Bush has rushed for 973 yards and six touchdowns and Marshall leads the team with 1,021 receiving yards and five touchdowns on 70 catches this season.
Storyline: There really isn't anything left to play for (other than pride) for the Dolphins. For the Patriots, there's still the matter of locking up the No. 1 overall seed in the AFC, which they currently hold. Miami shouldn't provide much resistance, either, as they didn't in the first meeting between the two teams. Still, there's always a chance for an upset on any day in the NFL, so Bill Belichick and company will treat this game like any other must win tilt.
Players To Watch: In any game the Patriots play, Tom Brady will be a key player. If Brady is on his game, there's about a five percent chance that Miami can win. Or maybe less. As usual, Wes Welker, Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez will be important to the Pats' success. Believe it or not, Brady can't throw the ball to himself. For Miami, Reggie Bush and Brandon Marshall can both make an impact, especially against a less-than-stellar Patriots defense.
Prediction: The Patriots really have no excuse for coming up short in this game. Miami is a very beatable opponent, one that New England has already topped this season. A win is almost guaranteed. Almost. Final Score: Patriots 35, Dolphins 17.
Game time, TV schedule and more for the Dolphins-Patriots game on Saturday afternoon.
Tom Brady and the New England Patriots will look to push their winning streak to seven games when they host the Miami Dolphins at 1:00 p.m. EDT on Christmas Eve at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, MA (TV/Radio: CBS/WBZ-FM 98.5 The Sports Hub).
New England (11-3) and Miami (5-9) met once earlier in the season, with the Patriots posting a convincing 38-24 win in the season opener. Brady threw for a career-best 517 yards and four touchdowns while Wes Welker reeled in eight catches for 160 yards and two touchdowns. Danny Woodhead also ran for 69 yards on 14 carries for the Patriots.
Chad Henne also had a good day for Miami, throwing for 416 yards and two touchdown while tossing one interception. Brandon Marshall reeled in seven catches for 139 yards and Davone Bess had five catches for 92 yards for Miami.
Last week, the Patriots handed Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos a 41-23 loss. Brady threw for 320 yards and two scores while Aaron Hernandez had nine catches for 129 yards and one touchdown. Miami defeated the Buffalo Bills, 30-23, behind a 203-yard, one touchdown performance from running back Reggie Bush.
New England currently sits in first place in the AFC East, while Miami is in third place.
The New England Patriots released their injury report on Friday ahead of their game on Saturday against the Miami Dolphins. Offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer (Back/Foot) did not practice on Friday and is listed as doubtful for the game. LB Brandon Spikes (Knee) is the only other Patriot who did not practice on Friday. He is listed as questionable.
The following players (except for Spikes) were limited in practice and are listed as questionable for tomorrow's game:
CB Kyle Arrington (Foot)
WR Deion Branch (Groin)
S Pat Chung (Foot)
C Dan Connolly (Groin)
WR Julian Edelman (Back)
LB Dane Fletcher (Thumb)
S Vincent Fuller (Forearm)
RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis (Illness)
S James Ihedigbo (Shoulder)
CB Devin McCourty (Shoulder)
WR Matthew Slater (Shoulder)
LB Brandon Spikes (Knee)
RB Shane Vereen (Hamstring)
G Brian Waters (Ankle)
WR Wes Welker (Knee)
Miami Dolphins also released their injury report. TE Anthony Fasano (Head) is the only player who has been ruled out. CB Will Allen (Wrist), T Jake Long (Back) and WR Brandon Marshall (Knee) are listed as probable.
After missing the last six games because of a right foot injury, New England Patriots safety Patrick Chung is set to return to the playing field Saturday when the Pats visit the Miami Dolphins (1 p.m. ET on CBS). According to the Boston Globe Friday, Chung was seen in the locker room Wednesday, "hopping, running, and bouncing," and is expected to make his much anticipated return to a struggling Pats' secondary.
"It’s a day-to-day process,’’ Chung said, when asked about his rehab. "Just keep working, keep doing whatever I have to do to get better.’’
Was talking to the media in the locker room a good sign he might be playing tomorrow?
"You can think what you want of that,’’ Chung said. "I feel good and I’m working hard.’’
New England has used offensive player Julian Edelman and Matthew Slater as short-term fill ins.
The New England Patriots prepared for the Miami Dolphins on Thursday with two familiar faces back in the fold. Two offensive starters, tight end Aaron Hernandez and running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis, returned to the practice field after missing Wednesday's session.
Neither of the two Wednesday absences were injury related. Hernandez's absence was not explained in detail beyond that he was not injured, and Green-Ellis sat out due to illness. Both players returned on Thursday as the team practiced in sweats and shells.
Only two players missed Thursday's practice for New England: tackle Sebastian Vollmer and linebacker Brandon Spikes. Spikes has not played since injuring his right knee during Week 9 against the New York Giants.
The Patriots meet the Dolphins on Saturday at 1 p.m. for the first time since beating the Dolphins in the season opener for both teams. New England has already clinched the AFC East title, but their playoff seeding is still in doubt.
The New England Patriots practiced at the Dana Farber Field House for their upcoming game against the Miami Dolphins without tight end Aaron Hernandez on Wednesday. Like starting quarterback Tom Brady's limited participation in practices last week, Hernandez' absence today was not injury related (via WEEI.com). In another similarity to Brady, no reason was given for Hernandez missing practice today.
In last week's victory on the road against the Denver Broncos, Hernandez had his best game of the season. He finished the game as the Patriots' leading receiver with 9 catches, 129 yards and a touchdown. He also had a rushing attempt on the stat sheet that went for 16 yards.
Hernandez has made 68 receptions for 736 yards and six touchdowns during the 2011 season. He ranks third on the team in each of those categories.
Tight end Aaron Hernandez and running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis did not practice on Wednesday for the New England Patriots. Neither player was listed on last week's injury report and both finished the victory in Denver without suffering any apparent injury.
Hernandez, in fact, had the best game of his season, catching nine passes for 129 yards and one touchdown to help New England to a 41-23 win against the Broncos. Hernandez even ran the ball once, carrying for 16 yards on an end-around.
Since the Patriots held only a walkthrough on Tuesday before Wednesday's practice, it seems most likely that the two missing offensive starters hurt themselves against the Broncos despite finishing the game on the field. The team was also missing offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer on Wednesday. Vollmer seems likely to sit this weekend for his fourth straight missed game.
Safety Patrick Chung participated in practice for the second straight day. Fellow safety Vincent Fuller, who was officially signed on Wednesday, was present at his first practice with the Patriots, wearing number 26.
New England Patriots free safety Pat Chung returned to practice today (via WEEI.com). Defensive end Eric Moore and offensive tackle Sebastian Vollmer were the only players not participating in the walkthrough. However, Chung did not participate in any drills today (via NESN.com) while the media was present.
Practice today consisted of a walkthrough at the Dana Farber Field House as the team prepares to host a Christmas Eve matchup at 1 p.m. against the Miami Dolphins (5-9) at Gillette Stadium.
Chung has been injured since Nov. 6 when the Patriots were playing the New York Giants. Chung injured his right foot during that contest. He has missed all six games since that point.
Chung has 55 tackles (36 unassisted),4 pass deflections, 1 interception and 1 sack in 7 games this season.
Tim Tebow mania has come and gone in New England, and Tom Brady and the New England Patriots will now shift their attention to the Miami Dolphins, who they will host at 1 p.m. EDT on Saturday (TV/Radio: CBS/98.5 The Sports Hub).
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