Monday, December 26, 2011

Patriots Drop Dolphins

New England had already defeated Miami pretty easily all the way back during their season opener in Week 1 by a score of 38-24, when reigning MVP Tom Brady saw rookie Cam Newton's 422 passing yards on Sunday, then raised him by ringing up 517 of his own on Monday in the late summer Florida heat.  Miami's loss kickstarted a seven game losing streak to open their 2011 campaign, but as the season neared its halfway point the Dolphins suddenly turned their year around by going 5-2 (and one of those losses was a heartbreaking 20-19 defeat in Dallas during Week 12) over the next two months.  Sure, their schedule had eased up a bit, but they seemed to be getting stronger as the season wore on heading into Saturday's rematch with the playoff bound Pats.  This time they would be playing on a chilly Christmas Eve in Foxborough, but neither the cold nor New England's six game winning streak seemed to deter them early on.

Because heading into the lockeroom at halftime, Miami had managed to shut out New England's top tier offense on the way to taking a 17-0 lead.  After allowing Brady to eat their secondary for breakfast, lunch and dinner during Week 1, the Dolphin D turned him into a nonfactor by sacking him three times and limiting the star quarterback to a brutal 7/19 passing.  Brady couldn't hit his receivers, the offense seemed out of sync, and every series ended with a punt into the gray winter sky except for a rare missed field goal by Stephen Gostkowski, who redeemed himself with a pair of long FGs later on.  Matt Moore (two first half TDs, three overall), Reggie Bush (113 yards on 22 carries) and company were rolling, and seemed likely to hand the Patriots just their fourth loss of the year.

But you can never count the Patriots out, especially when Brady is the King of comebacks (apologies, Tim Tebow) and following what was arguably their worst half of the season--the 17 point deficit was their largest of the year--they recovered with their biggest second half comeback in nearly a decade during the second half.  Brady quickly erased any memory of his terrible performance by going 20/27 the rest of the way, accounting for his team's three touchdowns by rushing for a pair and finding Deion Branch (who had an otherwise quiet day, as did Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez) for another.  Brady's return to form sparked a New England rally that tied the game in the third quarter and took the lead in the fourth.  Miami scored with just over a minute left to trim the Pats' lead to 27-24, but it was too little, too late and the home team held on for their twelfth win of the year that clinched their first round playoff bye.  Wes Welker, who finished the day with 138 yards on a dozen catches, shattered the franchise record for most receiving yards in a season set by Randy Moss during New England's perfect regular season four years ago.

The AFC East champions will battle the Bills (6-9) during their regular season finale on New Year's Day.

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