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Patriots vs. Dolphins 2012: New England nabs AFC East title with hard-fought victory

New England fans are celebrating their fourth straight AFC East title thanks to a strong defensive performance in a 23-16 win over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.

US PRESSWIRE

The New England Patriots secured their fourth straight AFC East crown with a 23-16 victory over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday. The Patriots were uncharacteristically sloppy on offense, as Tom Brady scuffled throughout the day. Poor pass protection was partially to blame for Brady's struggles, as he was sacked four times and pressured on many others.

Despite the struggles of the offense, New England was able to grind out the victory to secure the division, thanks in large part to a strong effort by the defense. Greg Knopping of SB Nation's Patriots blog Pats Pulpit believes this win is a sign of the team's growth, as they might not have pulled out a game like this earlier in the year:

Yet through all of this, the Patriots were able to hang on and get the victory and secure the AFC East crown. At times, it felt like one of those early season games that the Patriots would manage to blow down the stretch - but these aren't your same Patriots.

Now that the division is wrapped up, New England will set their sights on playoff positioning. The Patriots, Denver Broncos and Baltimore Ravens are all 9-3, which is two games behind the Houston Texans in the AFC. The Patriots and Texans square off next Monday night.