After today’s hard fought victory over the Miami Dolphins, the Patriots have now held the AFC East crown for four straight seasons—an impressive feat for the team. Even more impressive was where and how they won it. Since 2001, New England has lost 15 games to AFC East opponents and seven of those defeats have come against the Dolphins.
New England started fast, gaining easy field position on a botched punt from Brandon Fields on Miami’s 22-yard line. Five plays later, running back Steven Ridley broke outside and scored a 2-yard touchdown to put the Patriots up 7-0. It would be the easiest points the Patriots would score and the most production from their ground game until the 4th quarter; they finished the first half with 10 yards rushing.
The Dolphin’s defense played fierce, keeping their team breathing for much of the contest. Tom Brady finished 24/40 for 238 yards, 1 touchdown and 1 interception. More impressively, Miami sacked Brady 4 times while keeping his passes under 6 yards per throw. Until this game, New England’s revolving door at offensive line has held steady and Brady has averaged roughly 10 yards per pass play.
Miami's chances to take the upper hand came early, but not often. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski’s seemingly frustrating struggles continued when he missed a 49-yard field goal after an 11 play, 43-yard drive. Two drives later, Miami corner back Reshad Jones’ interception and touchdown off a pass deep to tight end Aaron Hernandez was called back due to penalty.
For the first time in weeks, the Patriot's defense kept an opposing quarterback under 200 yards passing. Ryan Tannehill’s average day came at the expense of a stout defensive front that often confused the rookie. Defensive end Trevor Scott, in replacement of both defensive ends Chandler Jones and Jermaine Cunningham,finished strong with 2 sacks and one forced fumble.
The Dolphin's lone, impressive touchdown drive began after they converted a 1st and 25 deep in their own territory. Mixing run and pass plays, Tannehill ended an 80-yard, 12 play, 6-minute march with a crafty bootleg outside the left tackle that had him leaping into the end zone.
At 20-13 and with 8 minutes left in the game, Gostkowski capped off one of the Patriot's most impressive drives of the season—16 plays, 77 yards in 7:18—with a field goal. The Dolphins, following up with a quick drive to score a strategic field goal, came within 6 points, but they found themselves short of clock and timeouts to push for overtime.
The Patriots recovered the onside kick and took a kneel down as AFC East Champions with a 23-16 victory.
The New England Patriots face the surging Houston Texans at Gillette Stadium next Monday night at 8:30 pm EST.