Patriots 27, Dolphins 24: Patriots Clinch First-Round Bye With Big Second Half Comeback

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.

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