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What we learned: Patriots clinch 6th straight AFC East title with 41-13 win over Dolphins

12.14.14 at 4:10 pm ET
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Rob Gronkowski and Brandon LaFell celebrate a second-half touchdown. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Rob Gronkowski and Brandon LaFell celebrate a second-half touchdown. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — The Patriots clinched their sixth straight AFC East title Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium on the strength of a 24-point third-quarter outburst, routing the Dolphins, 41-13.

Tom Brady led the way, going 21-for-35 for 287 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. In addition, Rob Gronkowski had three catches for 96 yards and a touchdown. On the other side of the ball, Ryan Tannehill was 29-for-47 for 346 yards with one touchdown and two picks. Mike Wallace had five catches for 104 yards and a touchdown.

The Patriots improve to 11-3, and travel to face the Jets next week at MetLife Stadium. Meanwhile, the Dolphins fall to 7-7 and host Minnesota next week.

Here’s what we learned about the Patriots Sunday:

Tom Brady can move.

On New England’s first drive of the second half, the quarterback took off when the pocket started to break down, putting a nice fake on a Miami defender and getting all the way down to the Miami three-yard line before being bumped out of bounds. (According to ESPN Stats & Info, the 17-yard run was his longest since a 19-yarder in Week 9 of the 2007 season.) He also converted a third-and-short when he successfully executed a quarterback keeper midway through the third quarter. Brady wasn’t perfect — he had a number of bad throws early — but was able to do enough to help spark the New England offense.

Jonas Gray is ALIVE.

The running back, who slept in and showed up late for practice last month, finally got out of the doghouse long enough to get some significant snaps for the first time since his 201-yard performance against the Colts in early November. He was the go-to back of choice on a tone-setting drive to start the third quarter, jumpstarting the ground game and doing his part to set up an early third-quarter touchdown from LeGarrette Blount.

Rob Gronkowski can play well against the Dolphins.

The big fella had occasionally struggled against Miami over the course of his career — his average against the Dolphins entering Sunday’s game was four catches for 54 yards, a full catch and more than 10 yards lower than his career average against the rest of the league. (Miami also entered the game as one of the best teams in the league when it came to defending against tight ends.) After being held without a catch in the first half (he was targeted just once in that time), he broke out in the second half with three catches for 96 yards and a touchdown (a 27-yarder midway through the third that added to New England’s scoring onslaught).

Stephen Gostkowski is in the record books.

With his 35-yard field goal with 4:43 left in the third quarter, Stephen Gostkowski increased his career scoring mark to 1,160 points, surpassing Adam Vinatieri for the all-time franchise scoring record.

With Chandler Jones back, they offered some interesting looks up front.

Chandler Jones was back — it was his first action since he suffered a hip injury in a Week 7 win over the Jets — and his presence, combined with some of the versatility of some of the other defensive linemen and some good situational football allowed the Patriots to offer some unique looks up front. Jones was kicked inside on a few occasions, and lined up next to Akeem Ayers, who was on the edge. In addition, there were several instances where New England had Miami in 3rd and long and other passing downs (particularly in the second half) and the Patriots utilized just one or two down linemen. Something to look for as the postseason looms.

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Halftime analysis: Patriots 14, Dolphins 13

12.14.14 at 2:33 pm ET
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Shane Vereen celebrates his first-half touchdown against the Dolphins. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Shane Vereen celebrates his first-half touchdown against the Dolphins. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

FOXBORO — Two quarters are in the books here at Gillette Stadium, and the Patriots have a 14-13 lead on a feisty Dolphins team that has managed to hang around. For New England, Tom Brady is 8-for-15 for 82 yards and an interception, while Julian Edelman has three catches for 37 yards.

On the other side of the field, Ryan Tannehill is 14-for-22 for 197 yards  with one touchdown and one interception. Tight end Charles Clay had four catches for 52 yards.

Here are a few quick notes:

— The Patriots opened in nickel, and the Dolphins went right after rookie corner Malcolm Butler — Tannehill and Mike Wallace hooked up on a 50-yard pass play to open the game. The Dolphins stalled out in New England territory, and had to settle for a field goal attempt, but as the group has done time and again consistently over the course of the season, special teams made a big play. This time, it was Jamie Collins, as the second-year linebacker blocked the 41-yard field goal attempt and Kyle Arrington raced 62 yards for a touchdown. The third field goal block of the season tied a franchise record.

— Brady had a ball tipped by Miami’s Jason Trusnik that was caught by the linebacker for a turnover on the Patriots’ first offensive possession. It was the eighth pick of the season for Brady, and the second in as many games. The Dolphins turned it around with a 24-yard field goal to make it 7-3 with 59 seconds left in the first quarter, a nine-play drive that was highlighted by a 15-yard run from Tannehill. (It could have gone for a touchdown, but Devin McCourty had a really nice pass breakup in the end zone on a ball intended for Clay.)

— The Patriots presented a few interesting wrinkles defensively in the first half, as they used Chandler Jones on the interior on occasion in his first action back since a Week 7 hip injury against the Jets. He had multiple guys lined up on the outside on his hip, including Akeem Ayers and Dont’a Hightower. The best defensive moment of the first half likely came when Duron Harmon picked off a Tannehill pass midway through the second quarter on a ball that was slightly overthrown by the quarterback in an attempt to lead receiver Jarvis Landry a little bit ahead of Darrelle Revis. (It appeared Landry had a step on him off the line.) Harmon returned it all the way to the eight. Three plays later, Shane Vereen barreled in from three yards out to make it 14-3 with 7:59 left in the second quarter.

— Miami’s offense came alive at the end of the first half when Tannehill guided them on a seven-play, 38-yard drive. On that sequence, the biggest play of the drive came on a pass interference penalty on Brandon Browner, a questionable play that allowed the Dolphins to pick up 25 yards and get to the Patriots 36-yard line. It ended with a 53-yard field goal from Caleb Sturgis that made it 14-6 with 4:26 left in the half. On that drive, Arrington went down with what the team announced as a hamstring injury — he’s questionable to return.

— The Dolphins then tacked on another score at the end of the first half when Miami took advantage of some boneheaded play-calling on the part of the Patriots. Backed up against its own goal line, New England ran three running plays deep in its own territory, and then punted the ball away with less than a minute to go. Then Tannehill found Wallace — who made an AMAZING catch in the end zone with five seconds left — on a 32-yard pass play to cut the Patriots’ lead to one with five seconds left in the half.

Live Blog: Tom Brady, Patriots take on Dolphins at Gillette Stadium

12.14.14 at 12:42 pm ET
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Live Blog Patriots vs. Dolphins, live blog
 

Chandler Jones, Dont’a Hightower active vs. Dolphins

12.14.14 at 11:36 am ET
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FOXBORO — The following Patriots players are inactive for Sunday’s game against the Dolphins: defensive end Zach Moore, defensive lineman Dominque Easley, cornerback Alfonzo Dennard, offensive lineman Jordan Devey and Cameron Fleming, running back James White and linebacker Chris White.

Easley (knee) had been ruled out on Friday, and this will be the third game this season he has missed. Dennard (healthy inactive) had been active for two of the last three games, but he will be inactive for his eighth game of the season. Fleming (ankle) hasn’t played since injuring his ankle late in the Colts game.

The big news is both Chandler Jones and Dont’a Hightower are active. Jones will play for the first time since suffering his hip injury in Week 7 against the Jets, while Hightower (shoulder) missed last Sunday’s game in San Diego. It will be worth monitoring how much playing time each of them get.

For more Patriots news, visit weei.com/patriots.

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Report: Bill Belichick utilized Miami quotes following opening loss as motivation this week

12.14.14 at 11:06 am ET
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In the days leading up to this week’s game against the Dolphins, Patriots coach Bill Belichick apparently leaned heavily on some postgame quotes from Miami in the wake of the Dolphins’ Week 1 win over New England, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

Schefter reported Sunday morning that all week on screens inside Patriots’ training facility, the team displayed quotes from Miami players after they beat Patriots in opener by a 33-20 count. According to Schefter, the bulk of those quotes were about how Patriots quit, about how the Dolphins took it to them. Each member of the team was able to repeatedly walk past and read the multitude of quotes the Miami players said about them after the opener.

For more Patriots news, check out weei.com/patriots.

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Week 15 fantasy football live chat, 11 a.m.

12.14.14 at 10:21 am ET
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Join Pete Davidson of WEEI.com and Rotobahn.com for a fantasy football live chat, starting at 11 a.m. Let Davidson help you get ready for all your Week 15 matchups. Get your questions in now …

Live Blog Week 15 Fantasy Football live chat
 

Setting the scene: Patriots look for hat, t-shirt against Dolphins at Gillette Stadium

12.14.14 at 9:52 am ET
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A panoramic view of a chilly Gillette Stadium as the Patriots look for a 6th straight AFC East title. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

A panoramic view of a chilly Gillette Stadium as the Patriots look for a 6th straight AFC East title. (Mike Petraglia/WEEI.com)

FOXBORO — Sunny skies and temperatures in the low 40s are expected for the 1 p.m. kickoff between the Patriots and Dolphins at Gillette Stadium.

There is no precipitation in the forecast but a breeze out of the northwest at 8 MPH will put a bite in air, making it feel like 33.

That will be roughly 50 degrees cooler than it was on Sept. 7 when the Patriots traveled to South Florida and lost the season opener, 33-20, to the Dolphins. Adding to the difficult conditions, relative humidity registered at 60 percent, making it feel like 95.

With a win or tie, the Patriots will clinch their sixth straight AFC East crown, joining the Steelers (6, 1974-79), Vikings (6, 1973-78) and Rams (7, 1973-79) as teams to win at least six straight divisions since the 1970 merger.

Tedy Bruschi famously termed the game, “a hat and t-shirt game” as each player would have a hat and t-shirt waiting for them at their locker after the division-clinching win.

The Patriots have another streak on the line. A win would ensure not being swept in the division for a 14th straight season. The Patriots haven’t been swept in the AFC East since 2000 when the Dolphins and Jets turned the trick. That season, the Patriots went just 1-5 in the division. Since then, the Patriots have won 11 division titles and would clinch their 12th with a win today.

The Patriots are also looking for their 14th division title in the Robert Kraft era that began in 1994. The Steelers and Packers are next with 10 division titles apiece.

Since 2001, the Patriots are 65-18 (.783) in the division, the best intra-division mark in the NFL. The Patriots have also won 16 straight home games against the AFC East and are 32-5 against the division since Gillette Stadium opened in 2002.

Bill Belichick enters the game with 228 career wins. One more would tie him with Green Bay legend Curly Lambeau for fourth place on the all-time list.

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