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Halftime analysis: Dolphins 17, Patriots 0

12.24.11 at 2:33 pm ET
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FOXBORO — Two quarters are in he books here at Gillette Stadium, and the Dolphins hold a 17-0 lead on the Patriots.

‘€¢It was an ugly first half for the Patriots, who didn’t run a single play in Miami territory until there was less than a minute left in the first half. Meanwhile, the Miami offense had little trouble carving up the Patriots on the way to a pair of first-half passing touchdowns from quarterback Matt Moore.

‘€¢The Patriots saw left tackle Matt Light go down in warmups, and were already without Sebastian Vollmer, so they cobbled together an offensive line that had Logan Mankins move from left guard to left tackle (and make his first NFL start at the position), while Solder moved from right tackle to tight end and back again throughout the first half. (Marcus Cannon was at right tackle when Solder moved to tight end.) Taking Mankins spot at left guard was Donald Thomas, who appeared overwhelmed at times in pass protection early on. Then, things went from bad to worse, as Mankins went down with what appeared to be a knee injury.

‘€¢Predictably, the Patriots struggled, as the patched together offensive line had problems with picking up a Miami defense that blitzed a lot early on. (Both BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead whiffed on early blocks that led to havoc in the Patriots’ backfield.) For the half, Brady was sacked three times and the Patriots punted six times. It all culminated with a missed 51-yard field-goal attempt from Stephen Gostkowski before the end of the half.

‘€¢For New England, the defensive highlight of the first half likely came early, when Shaun Ellis made his presence felt for the first time all year when he busted in for an early sack on Moore, but the Patriots gave that yardage back (and more) when Moore found Brian Hartline for a 39-yard completion on a play where Hartline beat Devin McCourty. On that drive, the Dolphins got on the board when Dan Carpenter drilled a 47-yard field goal to make it 3-0.

‘€¢McCourty had a couple of nice pass breakups early on Brandon Marshall, but Marshall quickly got his revenge. A 47-yard completion down the Miami sideline from Miami quarterback Matt Moore to Marshall early in the second quarter (at the expense of McCourty) set up the Dolphins nicely for their first touchdown of the game, a 19-yard touchdown pass from Moore to Marshall to make it 10-0 with 13:45 left in the second quarter. On the next Miami drive, McCourty also got nailed with a defensive pass interference call that allow Miami to keep moving the chains. (That was one of two DPI calls on third-down that kept Dolphin drives alive, with the second coming on Rob Ninkovich on a funky play where Reggie Bush tried to throw a touchdown pass after a handoff from quarterback Matt Moore … but Ninkovich failed to turn around and bumped into Moore.) Moore hit Charles Clay on a one-yard pass play to make it 17-0 midway through the second quarter, drawing loud boos at Gillette.

Patriots/Dolphins Live Blog – Pats look to keep marching towards top seed

12.24.11 at 12:18 pm ET
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When the two teams met in Week 1, the Patriots assaulted the Dolphins with a devastating offensive attack that set the tone for New England’s season. Tom Brady threw for a career-high 517 yards, as the Patriots claimed a comfortable 38-24 win in Miami. The season has seen more of the same: The Patriots have scored 437 points, easily the most in the AFC, allowing them to cover any defensive shortcomings in most weeks. The Pats have outscored opponents this year by 140 points, easily the most in the conference, helping to explain an 11-3 record that will allow them to claim home field advantage throughout the playoffs if the win out against the Dolphins and Bills.

For all the latest news, analysis and updates from the Patriots’ quest to win an NFL-best seventh straight game, join the WEEI.com Live Blog, below.

Patriots/Dolphins Live Blog

Matt Light late scratch after on-field medical test

12.24.11 at 11:39 am ET
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FOXBORO — The status of Patriots starting left tackle Matt Light came into question about two hours before kickoff Saturday as the team’s medical staff checked on what appeared to be a lower right leg injury. He was officially scratched with a leg issue when inactives came out 90 minutes before kickoff.

Light was not on the injury report all week leading into the game with the Dolphins. He has not been on the injury report since recovering from his right foot injury suffered against the Chiefs on Nov. 21, when he left the stadium in a walking boot.

Team doctor Thomas Gill and strength and conditioning coach Harold Nash were among the several Patriots staffers to examine Light as he went through pass-blocking drop back drills to his left and right.

At first glance, rookie Nate Solder, who has played primarily on the right side as tackle and tackle eligible figured to move over and start at left tackle while fellow rookie Marcus Cannon would get his first career start at right tackle. Donald Thomas, who has played in eight games this season but hasn’t started, figured as the third floating tackle option for the team, and could also serve as a tackle eligible, a role usually reserved for Solder.

But as the Patriots went through their final on-field warmups, Solder lined up at right tackle while Logan Mankins moved from left guard to left tackle with Donald Thomas taking Mankins’ spot at left guard. The thought was probably not to have two rookies starting on the edge.

The task will be formidable today as the Dolphins feature Cameron Wake and Jason Taylor off the edge.

Read More: Cameron Wake, Donald Thomas, Jason Taylor, Logan Mankins

Setting the scene: Patriots-Dolphins

12.24.11 at 9:37 am ET
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FOXBORO — The coldest temperatures of the season will greet the Patriots as they host in the Dolphins in the next-to-last game of the regular season. The forecast calls for sunny skies but temperatures hovering right around the freezing mark for the 1 p.m. ET kickoff (WBZ-TV, Ch. 4).

It’ll feel even colder with winds out of northeast at 10 MPH making it feel like 22.

The 11-3 Patriots – who clinched their third AFC East title last Sunday – have plenty to play for, as the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs and home field advantage throughout is on the line.

With a win, the Patriots will clinch a bye in the first round, thanks to Houston’s stunning 19-16 loss to the Colts on Thursday night. The Texans fell to 10-5 while the Patriots will capture their 12th win with a victory.

On the injury front, today could mark the return of Patrick Chung from a right foot injury. He will test the foot in warmups, as he did on Nov. 13 in New York. That night, he attempted to play but was not cleared by the medical staff. He has missed the last six games since injuring the foot late in the fourth quarter of New England’s loss to the Giants on Nov. 6.

Chung was listed as questionable on Friday’s injury report, along with 14 other Patriots. Linebacker Brandon Spikes could also make his return today after missing the same amount of time with a right knee injury.

The Patriots will likely activate defensive lineman Alex Silvestro and defensive back Sterling Moore today after promoting them from the practice squad on Friday.

As they have been all season, Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski are the two Patriots stars to watch, with both having significant milestones at hand.

Brady has a current streak of 30 games with at least one passing TD, a Patriots record. Brady has 35 TD passes this season, needing five to become just the second quarterback in history with two seasons of at least 40. Keep in mind, Brady threw four TD passes and a franchise record 517 yards in the season opener against the Dolphins on Sept. 12 in Miami.

Gronkowski already has an NFL-record 15 touchdown receptions for a tight end and another TD rushing. With 1,141 yards, Gronkowski needs just 34 yards to set the new Patriots record for most receiving yards by a tight end. Ben Coates had 1,174 yards in 1994.

The 5-9 Dolphins are playing for jobs and pride. They won their first game under interim coach Todd Bowles last Sunday, beating the Bills in the flurries in Western New York, 30-23.

Keep an eye on Dolphins tailback Reggie Bush. He has been an absolute beast of late and one of the best big-play playmakers in the league in the second half of the season.

Bush has 12 runs of 15 yards or more this season, two more than the 2010 Dolphins had as a team. Last week, after the Bills closed to within 23-13 in the fourth quarter, Bush went left tackle and broke off a 76-yard run to put the game away. He finished with a career-high 203 yards on 25 carries.

One weapon the Patriots won’t have to worry about is Dolphins tight end Anthony Fasano, who caught a 22-yard TD last week from Matt Moore. Fasano, with five TDs this season and 19 in his career, is out with a concussion.

Read More: AFC Playoffs, Anthony Fasano, matt moore, Miami Dolphins

Is this the week Patrick Chung returns?

12.23.11 at 10:50 am ET
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FOXBORO — It’s been a long six weeks for Patrick Chung.

The starting safety hasn’t played in a game since injuring his right foot late in the loss to the Giants on Nov. 6. He tried to return the next week against the Jets. He even tested his foot in warmups before the game at MetLife Stadium but no dice.

Ever since, it’s been a series of ups and downs, practicing, sitting out games and just waiting for the foot to heal to the point where the team’s training and medical staff and he can all feel comfortable going full speed.

Last week, he stayed behind in Boston and watched the Celtics in a scrimmage courtside while his teammates were jetting to Denver to take on Tim Tebow and the Broncos.

“Watching us win, it feels awesome,” Chung said Thursday. “I wasn’t part of it but we’re winning. We’re a team, not individuals here so, I’m not worried about that. We’re winning.

“It’s just a day-to-day process, just keep working, keep doing what I have to do to get better, just a day-to-day process.”

Has the thought entered his mind at all that he might not return this season?

“Oh, never, never, never,” Chung said. “Like I said, it’s just day-to-day. Sometimes, it feels good, sometimes it doesn’t. I’m working, working hard, I’m going to continue working.”

Has this experience taught you patience or are you chomping at the bit even more?

“A little of both, a little of both but they’ve got to be safe,” Chung said. Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Julian Edelman, Matthew Slater, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots

Nuggetpalooza: Do the stats show the Dolphins as a threat to the Patriots’ streak?

12.23.11 at 9:00 am ET
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As Santa loads his sleigh and lines up his reindeer for his annual journey, the Patriots continue their quest for the AFC’s top seed by hosting the Dolphins in a Saturday matinee in Foxboro. Instead of nuggets, let’s call these statistical “chestnuts” this week:

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* – Who’d have thunk? The Dolphins have won seven of their last nine road games after December 1, dating back to the 2008 season. From 2001 through 2007, Miami won only three of their 16 December and January road tilts. Their last two late season trips to Foxboro have resulted in losses of 28-7 (12/23/07) and 38-7 (1/2/11).

Note this: New England is 23-2 in regular season home games on or after December 1 since the start of the 2001 season. The Patriots (along with Old Man Winter) have allowed an average of 12.4 points in those games, the lowest in the league in that span:

12.4 – Patriots
14.7 – Packers
15.4 – Jets
16.0 – Steelers

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* – If I asked you which NFL team has gotten big gains (25 or more yards) on the highest percentage of their pass plays (pass attempts plus sacks) in 2011, who would you guess? Nope. Wrong. That’s wrong too. Because I’m pretty sure that none of you shouted out “THE DOLPHINS”. They’ve had 34 gains of 25 or more yards this season on 451 pass plays (7.54%):

7.54% – Dolphins
7.17% – Packers
6.69% – Cowboys
6.68% – Panthers

It’s quite a turnaround for Miami as they had finished in the bottom 10 in that category in each of the last five seasons. Their highest percentage in any of those years was 3.87%, just barely half of their 2011 rate.

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* – Miami LB Cameron Wake leads the NFL in combined quarterback knockdowns and hurries this season:

37.0 – Cameron Wake, Dolphins
36.5 – Tamba Hali, Chiefs
36.5 – Clay Matthews, Packers

Overall, the Dolphins have gotten a knockdown or hurry on 23.8% of opponent pass plays this year, the fifth highest rate in the league.

Note this: The Patriots come in ranked 21st at 18.6%, but last week they roughed up Tim Tebow to the tune of five knockdowns and five hurries on 27 pass plays, a league high rate of 37.0%. That was their highest rate of the season and their second over 30%. The other was Week 1 at Miami (32.6%).

———————————————————————————————————————— Read the rest of this entry »

In Focus: Charting the offensive opportunities for the Patriots’ skill position players through 14 games

12.22.11 at 3:58 pm ET
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Every week over the course of the 2011 NFL season, we’€™ll present a list of the Patriots’€™ ‘€œoffensive touches,’€ a running tally of which one of the offensive skill position players is getting the most looks. Like our weekly look at targets, it can occasionally be an inexact stat, but it remains a good barometer of how confident the coaches (and quarterback) are when it comes to the skill position players at their disposal. Fourteen games into the season, here’€™s a breakdown of the New England offense for 2011:

BenJarvus Green-Ellis: 179 (171 carries, eight receptions) nine touchdowns ‘€” 11 negative plays
Wes Welker: 107 (3 carries, 104 receptions) nine touchdowns ‘€” two negative plays
Danny Woodhead: 88 (72 carries, 16 receptions) one touchdown ‘€” two negative plays
Rob Gronkowski: 76 (1 carry, 75 receptions), 16 touchdowns ‘€” one negative play
Aaron Hernandez: 70 (2 carries, 68 receptions), six touchdowns ‘€” two negative plays
Stevan Ridley: 62 (59 carries, 3 receptions), one touchdown ‘€” six negative plays
Deion Branch: 48 (0 carries, 48 receptions), four touchdowns
Tom Brady: 34 (34 carries, 0 receptions) 35 passing touchdowns, zero rushing touchdowns ‘€” 23 negative plays, all sacks. (Brady took one zero-yard sack this season.)
Kevin Faulk: 24 (17 carries, 7 receptions) zero touchdowns ‘€” two negative plays
Shane Vereen: 15 (15 carries, 0 receptions) ‘€” two negative plays
Chad Ochocinco: 14 (0 carries, 14 receptions) one touchdown
Julian Edelman: 7 (3 carries, 4 receptions) zero touchdowns ‘€” two negative plays, both runs
Tiquan Underwood: 3 (0 carries, 3 receptions), zero touchdowns
Matthew Slater: 1 (0 carries, 1 reception), zero touchdowns
TOTAL: 728 touches (377 carries, 351 receptions) ‘€” 53 negative plays (excluding kneeldowns)

Read More: Aaron Hernandez, BenJarvus Green Ellis, Chad Ochocinco, Danny Woodhead
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