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Patriots capture fifth straight AFC East title as Dolphins lose in Buffalo 12.22.13 at 4:10 pm ET
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Fred Jackson (center) celebrates a touchdown in Buffalo's upset win over the Dolphins. (AP)

Fred Jackson (center) celebrates a touchdown in Buffalo’s upset win over the Dolphins. (AP)

BALTIMORE — The Patriots were winners in warmups.

New England captured its fifth straight AFC East division crown before taking a single snap at M&T Bank Stadium Sunday as the Buffalo Bills shutout the Miami Dolphins, 19-0, Sunday at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

It is the fifth straight division title for the Patriots, the ninth in 10 seasons and 11th in 13 years for Bill Belichick. The 11 division titles ties Belichick with Don Shula for the most division titles since the 1970 merger. It also marks the 15th playoff berth in 20 years of ownership by Robert Kraft.

Tom Brady also captured his 11th division title, extending his NFL record by any starting quarterback.

With the division sewed up, the Patriots are guaranteed of a home playoff game for a fifth straight year.

The Patriots were able to soak in the satisfaction while watching the video board inside M&T Bank Stadium, which was showing the Bills-Dolphins games on one half of the scoreboard while featuring the Bengals-Vikings on the other half.

Both games had direct impact on the Patriots and Ravens.

With the Dolphins losing, the Patriots weren’t the only ones punching their playoff ticket as the Bengals clinched their third straight playoff berth with a blowout 42-14 win at home over the Vikings.

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Bill Belichick on S&H: ‘In the end, [we] just couldn’t quite make enough plays’ 12.17.13 at 10:14 am ET
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Patriots coach Bill Belichick joined Salk & Holley on Monday afternoon to discuss New England’s disappointing 24-20 loss to the Dolphins on Sunday, the team’s injured defensive unit, as well as next Sunday’s opponent, the Ravens.

Bill Belichick

Bill Belichick

After Miami took a 24-20 lead with just 1:15 remaining in the game, the Patriots once again made things interesting, as Tom Brady orchestrated a drive that had the Patriots in the red zone with just a few seconds left on the clock. However, the Patriots were unable to pull off another comeback, as Brady was picked off by Michael Thomas in the end zone, sealing the victory for Miami.

“It didn’t end up being our day,” Belichick said. “Real competitive game, but in the end, [we] just couldn’t quite make enough plays. … I think that all of us that participated in the game all think about one or two things we could have done better that probably would have made a difference. I know I feel that way, I’m sure everybody on the team feels that way, too.”

One player in particular who had a rough day was kicker Stephen Gostkowski, who missed a 48-yard field goal in the second half and also sent a fourth-quarter kickoff out of bounds, giving Miami excellent field position for its winning drive. Sunday’s tough showing certainly was an outlier on Gostkowski’s otherwise Pro Bowl-caliber season, as the 29-year-old kicker has converted 94 percent of his field goals, with six of those kicks coming from 50 or more yards out.

“That’s one of the plays where we were just talking about. I’m sure he would like to have that one back,” Belichick said. “We’ve all watched great golfers on the golf course hit them down the middle every drive and then miss one. Steve has been very consistent for us. He’s had a great year. I’m sure he’d like to have that back.”

Injuries once again served as a major talking point after the game, as the Patriots have lost a number of key players this season, especially on the defensive side of the ball with Vince WilforkJerod Mayo and Tommy Kelly all being placed on IR earlier this season.

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Bill Belichick breaks down the breakdowns in Miami: ‘We just have to play it a little bit better’ 12.16.13 at 6:05 pm ET
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Bill Belichick (left) and Tom Brady couldn't figure things out Sunday in a loss to Miami. (AP)

Bill Belichick (left) and Tom Brady couldn’t figure things out Sunday in a loss to Miami. (AP)

After watching film of Sunday’s 24-20 loss to the Dolphins, Bill Belichick had a chance to more closely review what went wrong and the key areas that need improvement, namely red area execution on offense and defending third and fourth downs.

The Patriots were just 1-for-4 inside the 20 Sunday, including a pair of 15-play drives that ended in Stephen Gostkowski field goals. The final failure, of course, ended with a Michael Thomas interception of a Tom Brady pass intended for Austin Collie.

During his conference call with reporters Monday, Belichick was reminded that on the first drive in the red zone, the Patriots threw three times.

Then on the final drive in the final 30 seconds from the Miami 19 and then the Miami 14, Tom Brady threw to the end zone.

“I’d say generally speaking, you’re better off throwing closer to the goal line than farther away from it, to a point,” Belichick explained. “Once you get inside the five yard line, then I’m not sure that that’s true. But I’d rather throw from the 10 than the 15, just keep going on like that. I thought we had a mixture of plays in the red area. The first drive, we hit the quick out to Julian [Edelman] down there on their sideline and we were second-and-four, which isn’t a bad place to be and ended up not being able to finish it.

“Then I think on the other series, we ran the ball on second down – first down threw it, second down we ran it, got it to third-and-two and they pressured us and we weren’t able to get a good execution on the passing game. They were trying to disguise their coverages. They pressured us some down there, they showed some pressure and pulled out of it, which are things they’ve done in the past. It’s kind of what they do, it wasn’t anything we hadn’t seen before but they did a good job of it. We probably need to collectively, from our plays to our execution, just obviously need to be a little bit sharper down there.

Another key moment was an incompletion on a Miami blitz when – on third-and-two – Brady had to throw it quick to Shane Vereen. Instead of punching it in for the tying touchdown, the Patriots had to settle for a field goal that cut Miami’s lead to 17-13. Should that have been a hot read and should someone have turned around or did they just call the right rush at the time?

“I wouldn’t say it was going to happen regardless but when they have everybody up there, you can’t block them all,” Belichick said. “You can only block – we’ve got one guy at quarterback – so we can only account for 10 of the 11 guys. They put them all up there a lot – that was basically their game plan in the red area, was to put everybody up pretty close to the line of scrimmage. Sometimes they came, sometimes they didn’t come; sometimes a couple guys came, so they had a couple different combinations there.

“On that particular play, we were kind of one short on the protection based on the blitz that they ran. The pressure came from the right side there and we weren’t really able to get, obviously, get into the whole pattern. That was the one where [Derrick] Shelby came free. But that’s part of the chess match down there in the red area. When they show pressure, to be able to block it but then they don’t always come so you don’t want to be keeping everybody in and have two of your three guys get doubled out there, so it’s a little bit of a back-and-forth game.”

Defensively, Belichick addressed the 4th-and-5 conversion by Miami that kept their drive alive and allowed the Dolphins to score the eventual game-winning touchdown.

“Well, it’s close. It’s close,” Belichick said. “Obviously we just have to play it a little bit better. They didn’t get the first down by much, but they got it. We just need to do a little better job on that play.

“I think it definitely could have been played better. Like I said, we were there. We had two guys there making the tackle right there at the sticks and he was able to fall forward for the yard. I mean, had we gotten there a step quicker, it was obviously a close play – that they made – but we were pretty close. We just need to play a little bit better. There were several things on the play that we could have just been a tiny bit better, might have made a difference. It just wasn’t quite enough.”

As for the play before that set up Miami’s fourth down conversion, Belichick said quarterback Ryan Tannehill simply did a good job managing third-and-16.

“Good throw,” Belichick said of the 11-yard connection with Brian Hartline. “We tackled him as soon as he caught the ball. I don’t think that’s the kind of situation where you really want to get pass interference or be too overly aggressive playing the ball and miss it and have the guy turn up and run for a first down or whatever. Fourth-and-[five], defensively that’s a situation that you don’t mind being in. I don’t really second guess too much of what happened on that play. It was a good throw and a good catch. It wasn’t like we weren’t on the receiver but he made a good throw.”

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Bill Belichick: ‘We came up short in every area’ 12.15.13 at 5:53 pm ET
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Bill Belichick (left) and Tom Brady couldn't figure things out Sunday in a loss to Miami. (AP)

Bill Belichick (left) and Tom Brady couldn’t figure things out Sunday in a loss to Miami. (AP)

Bill Belichick is not one to call out any player or point to a single play to characterize a loss.

But there were several key moments that the Patriots can point to as the reason they came up short in a 24-20 loss to the Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium. And Belichick addressed all of them Sunday.

There was the dropped pass by Danny Amendola at the goal line with 25 seconds remaining that would’ve given the Patriots the AFC East title. There were the passes to Julian Edelman and Michael Hoomanawanui that likewise could’ve have capped another stunning comeback.

Defensively, there was no play that symbolized a day of missed chances than Charles Clay catching his only reception for six yards on 4th-and-5 from the Miami 45 with under three minutes left. If the defense holds, the Patriots likely run out the clock.

“We had a chance to make a play on a 4th-and-5 and we couldn’t make it,” Belichick said. “Just came up a little bit short on that one.”

On special teams, there was no bigger play than usually reliable Stephen Gostkowski kicking the ball out of bounds on the kickoff after Tom Brady hit Edelman for the go-ahead touchdown. The Dolphins set up shop at their 40 and went on their game-winning drive.

“We just didn’t make enough plays in any of the three phases of the game to win,” Belichick said. “[We] could have used one or two more plays in each phase of the game.

“We came up short in every area,” Belichick said. “I mean nothing was really good enough. Yeah, there were some good things, but nothing was really good enough. We’ve just got to do a better job all the way around; offense, defense, special teams, coaching, playing, blocking, tackling, throwing, catching, everything. We’ve just got to do a better job. I don’t think any of it was bad, but it just wasn’t good enough. Or, if they were a little bit better…however you want to look at it.”

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Tom Brady ticked off after losing heartbreaker in Miami at 4:44 pm ET
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Tom Brady couldn't finish off another comeback as the Patriots fell to the Dolphins on Sunday in Miami. (AP)

Tom Brady couldn’t finish off another comeback as the Patriots fell to the Dolphins on Sunday in Miami. (AP)

It was short and not so sweet for Tom Brady in his press conference following Sunday’s 24-20 loss to the Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium.

Asked about the final drive and the three chances at the end zone from the 19-yard line, Brady didn’t hold back.

“We had plenty of chances all day. We make some good plays and then we make plenty of [expletive] plays,” Brady said before walking off the podium to catch the team bus for the flight back to Boston.

Brady was asked about the team’s offensive failures in the red area, which were highlighted on the final drive. Danny Amendola couldn’t hold on to a pass at the goal line. Julian Edelman had a pass broken up and Michael Hoomanawanui had a ball knocked away in the end zone.

“We didn’t do a good job getting into the red area and we didn’t do a good job finishing drives. So, you know, turns out you come up on the short end of the stick,” Bradys aid. “Just wasn’t a good day. Just couldn’t make enough plays when we had a chance to.”

The best chance might have been when the Patriots had the ball first-and-10 from the Miami 19 with 27 seconds remaining. Brady lofted a perfect pass that Amendola appeared to have in his hands at the goal line. But corner back Michael Thomas, signed off San Francisco’s practice squad just last week by Miami, hit Amendola, who dropped the pass just as it appeared he was hauling it in.

“I’d like to have that one. I have to look at film. Game is on the line and I’d really like to have that one,” Amendola said.

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Patriots rule out Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins for Sunday vs. Dolphins 12.14.13 at 8:40 pm ET
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Aaron Dobson won't get the chance to catch a pass against the Dolphins Sunday as he was ruled out Saturday night. (AP)

Aaron Dobson won’t get the chance to catch a pass against the Dolphins Sunday as he was ruled out Saturday night. (AP)

Despite returning to practice on Friday after missing the last two games with a sore left foot, rookie receiver Aaron Dobson was one of two players the Patriots ruled out on Saturday night for Sunday afternoon’s game in South Florida. Also ruled out Sunday is fellow rookie receiver Kenbrell Thompkins with a hip injury.

Dobson injured his left foot in the game against the Broncos and played just 36 of 87 snaps. After catching six passes for 56 yards against Denver on Nov. 24, Thompkins was held to just one catch for 16 yards against Houston on Dec. 1 and injured his hip.

Both Thompkins and Hobson watched last Sunday’s come-from-behind win over the Browns from the press box. Dobson was wearing a boot on his left foot before discarding it for Friday’s practice.

Dobson and Thompkins were among the nine listed as questionable on Friday’s injury report, but the only two ruled out by the team Saturday after the team arrived in South Florida. It is standard procedure for road teams not to travel players who are ruled out the night before the game.

For more, including coverage from Chris Price in South Florida, visit the Patriots team page at weei.com/patriots.

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Patriots Friday injury report: Aaron Dobson returns, among nine questionable vs. Dolphins 12.13.13 at 4:37 pm ET
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Aaron Dobson

Aaron Dobson

FOXBORO — One day after left tackle Nate Solder returned to Patriots practice and was limited, rookie receiver Aaron Dobson got out of the walking boot on his left foot and was limited at practice on Friday.

Solder and Dobson are among nine officially listed as questionable for Sunday’s game in South Florida against the Dolphins.

Tom Brady, Steve Gregory and Aqib Talib also made strides on Friday as they were upgraded from limited to full participation at practice. All three are among the six Patriots officially listed as probable for Sunday.

Here is Friday’s complete report:

Limited Participation
WR Aaron Dobson (foot) QUESTIONABLE
CB Kyle Arrington (groin) QUESTIONABLE
RT Marcus Cannon (ankle) QUESTIONABLE
CB Alfonzo Dennard (knee) QUESTIONABLE
TE Michael Hoomanawanui (knee) QUESTIONABLE
LT Nate Solder (concussion) QUESTIONABLE
LB Brandon Spikes (knee) QUESTIONABLE
OT Will Svitek (ankle) QUESTIONABLE
WR Kenbrell Thompkins (hip) QUESTIONABLE

Full Participation
QB Tom Brady (right shoulder) PROBABLE
S Steve Gregory (finger) PROBABLE
CB Aqib Talib (hip) PROBABLE
WR Danny Amendola (groin) PROBABLE
WR Matthew Slater (wrist) PROBABLE
RB Shane Vereen (wrist) PROBABLE

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