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Snap Judgments: Patriots clinch AFC East title with victory over Dolphins

12.02.12 at 4:13 pm ET

The Patriots escaped from Miami with a 23-16 win over the Dolphins Sunday afternoon in South Florida. With the victory, New England clinched the AFC East title, it’s 10th since 2001.

New England jumped to a 17-3 lead but held on down the stretch — the Dolphins would get to within a touchdown in the fourth quarter — but the Patriots would put the game out of reach with an impressive fourth-quarter drive that saw them grind out the clock in style. A 16-play, 77-yard sequence that took 7:18 ended with a 20-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski and effectively ended things for New England.

The Patriots were led by quarterback Tom Brady, who went 24-for-40 for 238 yards with one touchdown and one pick. Stevan Ridley added 19 carries for 71 yards and a touchdown, while Wes Welker had 12 catches for 103 yards and a touchdown. (Per ESPN, Ridley went over 1,000 yards for the season, and became the fourth Patriots’ running back to reach 1,000 yards in 12 games — Curtis Martin and Jim Nance each did it twice, while Corey Dillon did it once.)

On the other side of the ball, Ryan Tannehill was 13-for-29 for 186 yards, Reggie Bush had 15 carries for 64 yards and Brian Hartline finished with 5 catches for 84 yards

Here are a few notes on what happened:


‘€¢Despite a fourth-quarter drop in the end zone, Wes Welker was immense against his old team, coming away with one of his best games of the season. He was at his best on the first drive of the second quarter for the Patriots, when he sparked a 75-yard drive by coming up with 38 yards on his own, including a seven-yard touchdown pass that came on a neatly executed slip screen that saw the receiver walk into the end zone.

‘€¢Defensive lineman Vince Wilfork was also big, consistently taking on two defenders and opening things up for the linebackers to be able to make plays. He came away with a fumble recovery, which was the result of a strip sack from Trevor Scott. (Scott played well in place of Jermaine Cunningham.

‘€¢Linebacker Jerod Mayo also gets points in the thumbs-up column for plastering Tannehill on a delayed blitz midway through the fourth quarter that forced Miami to settle for a field goal instead of a touchdown. (The field goal cut New England’s lead from 20-10 to 20-13.)

‘€¢The New England running game struggled early on against Miami’s run defense, but it was impressive down the stretch, as Ridley (who finished the game with 71 yards) did an excellent job helping move the chains and doing the bulk of the work in what might have been the best fourth-quarter drive of the season for the Patriots. Ridley accounted for 46 of the 77 yards on the final drive.


‘€¢The Patriots stalled out in the red zone in the fourth quarter, getting the ball all the way to the Miami 2-yard line. But the Dolphins were equal to the task, stopping New England and forcing them to settle for a 32-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal. (Gostkowski also missed on his first field-goal attempt of the game, a 49-yarder.)

‘€¢The group struggled through injury, but the Patriots’ offensive line had one of its worst games of the season. Against an elite run defense (Miami entered the game seventh in the league in run defense), New England was unable to get much going on the ground through the first three quarters. Meanwhile, the Dolphins sacked Brady four times, tied for the most sacks allowed in one game by the Patriots this season. Right guard Dan Connolly left with a back injury, and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer was clearly hobbled as well.



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