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Bill Belichick takes the blame for Kenny Stills racing past Kyle Van Noy for TD 01.03.17 at 1:02 pm ET
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Jan 1, 2017; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins wide receiver Kenny Stills (10) hauls in a catch for a touchdown during the second half against New England Patriots at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Kenny Stills grabs a 25-yard TD Sunday vs. the Patriots. (Steve Mitchell/USA Today Sports)

The tape never lies but sometimes it can be misleading.

Case in point: When Kenny Stills raced past linebacker Kyle Van Noy Sunday and was left uncovered and wide open for Matt Moore to loft a pass to him for a 25-yard touchdown Sunday, everyone assumed Van Noy was to blame for cheating up and not getting back to cover the receiver.

“Yeah, what was supposed to happen was we were supposed to have the pattern covered but we didn’t,” Belichick said Tuesday in classic deadpan form when asked what happened.”

On the play, Jabaal Sheard essentially gave a free release to Stills at the line, passing him off to the second level. The Patriots were in nickel coverage with Devin McCourty supporting Malcolm Butler and Logan Ryan on the offensive right side while Patrick Chung was on the left with Eric Rowe. The Dolphins flooded the right side with three receivers and when Sheard passed off Stills to Van Noy, there was no help deep, allowing Stills to race wide open.

Tuesday, it was Belichick taking responsibility for the defense not quite rotating their coverage to help Van Noy in that instance.

“I think really, that play was probably my fault than anybody else’s,” Belichick said. “There were certainly things that could’ve been better on it but in the end, we had some flexibility in our coverages and we make adjustment in coverages from time to time, based on a formation or based on the type of pattern that another team is running. I think this is just one of those where really the players were trying to do the right thing. We were trying to get to something that would’ve helped us but it just kind of didn’t work out and that’s again, really, probably more my fault because we just didn’t have it clean enough.

“It just wasn’t presented well enough [and] they didn’t understand it and it just obviously didn’t play out the way we wanted it to. The players are trying to do the right thing. They had the right idea. We were trying to apply something and we just didn’t quite have it right and that really, that goes back to me more than anybody else. I’ll take that one.”

Read More: Bill Belichick, Kenny Stills, Kyle Van Noy, Miami Dolphins
Snap Judgments: Tom Brady makes more NFL history, Patriots cruise to No. 1 seed with win over Dolphins 01.01.17 at 3:55 pm ET
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Jan 1, 2017; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (12) throws a pass against Miami Dolphins during the first half at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Tom Brady drops back to pass Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium. (Steve Mitchell/USA Today Sports)

Tom Brady and the Patriots left almost no doubt Sunday.

Nearly a year to the day after they let a No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs slip through their hands with an underwhelming 20-10 loss to the Dolphins in South Florida, the Patriots atoned with a 35-14 win over the playoff-bound Dolphins Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium.

The win gives the Patriots (14-2) home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs, leading up to Super Bowl LI in Houston Feb. 5. The Patriots also became the seventh team in NFL history to go 8-0 on the road since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule in 1978. It’s the second time the Patriots have accomplished the feat, having turned the trick in 2007. The Dolphins finished the regular season 10-6 and will open the playoffs next weekend as a wild card at AFC North champ Pittsburgh.

Brady made his best MVP case to date.

The Patriots quarterback threw touchdown passes to Martellus Bennett, Michael Floyd and Julian Edelman to finish the regular season with 28 touchdowns and just two interceptions, setting a new NFL standard for touchdown-to-interception ratio in a single season. He played a nearly flawless game, completing 25-of-33 passes for 276 yards and a 130.4 rating. Brady finished the season with 254 pass attempts on the road without an interception, also a new NFL record. Jimmy Garoppolo came on to finish the final three minutes of the game.

As expected with Malcolm Mitchell (knee) sidelined, Michael Floyd played a huge role. Not only did he catch a touchdown, he delivered a crushing block that sprung Edelman for a career-long 77-yard touchdown in the third quarter. Edelman caught eight passes for 151 yards, giving him 98 catches and a career-high 1,106 yards.

LeGarrette Blount closed out the game with a one-yard touchdown run, his 18th of the season, extending his Patriots franchise record and marking the most touchdown runs in the NFL since Adrian Peterson ran for 18 in 2009.

The Patriots snapped a three-game losing streak in Miami, dating back to a 23-16 win over the Dolphins on Dec. 2, 2012.

The game was played on a highly-questionable sod turf, ripped up between the numbers after Friday night’s Orange Bowl. The middle square portion of the field – around the 50 – with the Dolphins logo was brand new but the rest of the field looked very worn, causing Patriots staffers – led by Bill Belichick – to closely survey the surface before the game. The conditions brought back some bad memories for many Patriots fans to the season finale in Houston in 2009 when a game played in similar conditions resulted in the season-ending ACL tear for Wes Welker.

The Patriots’ defense continue its late-season dominance. They did not allow a touchdown until 28 seconds left in the second quarter, snapping a streak of 170 minutes without allowing a touchdown.

The Patriots dominated in every possible way in the first quarter. New England had the ball for 12 minutes, 25 seconds and ran 24 offensive plays while Miami had just five plays.

Brady completed all six passes on the opening drive for 41 yards and found five different receivers, capping off the drive with an easy 2-yard pass over the middle to a wide-open Martellus Bennett.

The second drive featured a heavy dose of LeGarrette Blount before Michael Floyd capped off the drive with his most impressive play in his short time with the Patriots. He caught a short slant at the Miami 10 and battled through four Miami tacklers inside the 5 and, as he was falling to the turf, stretching his left arm over the goal line with the ball. The 14-yard touchdown connection put the Patriots up, 14-0. Floyd had another nice toe-tap catch on the right sideline late in the second quarter at the Miami 17.

The Patriots opened the second quarter with a 40-yard field goal from Stephen Gostkowski to push the lead to 17-0. Gosktowski made it 20-0 with a 26-yarder with 3:21 left in the first half.

The Dolphins finally showed life with a 10-play, 75-yard drive toward the end of the first half. The drive was capped off when Moore found a cutting Jarvis Landry across the middle. Like Floyd in the first quarter, Landry showed toughness to get in the end zone. He took on Dont’a Hightower head-on and bounced off and beat Patrick Chung to the left pylon. But in celebrating the first touchdown surrendered by the Patriots since Week 14, Landry slammed his helmet to the ground, drawing an unsportsmanlike penalty. On the ensuing kickoff from the 20, Andrew Franks slipped and James Develin returned the ball to the Patriots 43 with 23 seconds left. The Patriots got the ball to the Miami 35 but Stephen Gostkowski’s plant foot slipped and he pushed a 52-yard attempt wide right at the halftime gun.

The Dolphins continued their momentum to open the second half. Moore put together another 75-yard scoring drive on 12 plays. With Moore connecting on short underneath passes to Damien Williams and Landry, the Dolphins marched down to the Patriots 25. Moore then dropped back and lofted a perfect pass to Kenny Stills, who ran right past Kyle Van Noy, who appeared to be looking for an underneath route. The Dolphins suddenly had cut the Patriots lead to 20-14 with over eight minutes left in the third. Patriots fans were having flashbacks to Week 2, when the Patriots nearly wasted a 31-3 lead and had to hang on for a 31-24 win.

Closing Time noteThe Patriots finished 14-2 for the 4th time (2003, ’04, 10) and finished with No. 1 seed for 6th time.

[For a full box score and stats, click here.]

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Read More: Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, Tom Brady,
Bill Belichick agrees: Jacoby Brissett’s extra time with Michael Floyd has ‘definitely helped’ 12.30.16 at 12:43 pm ET
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Oct 2, 2016; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Jacoby Brissett (7) throws during the second half of the Buffalo Bills 16-0 win over the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Jacoby Brissett hasn’t seen any game action since Oct. 2 against the Bills. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

FOXBORO — There’s been plenty of talk this week about the effect Jacoby Brissett has had on helping Michael Floyd assimilate into the Patriots offense in time to have a positive impact.

Much of that talk has come from Floyd himself, who said the back-up quarterback has been essential in working with him in practice.

Bill Belichick broke down exactly how it the relationship actually works to keep both quarterback and receiver sharp should they be called upon in a pinch, either this week or even in the playoffs.

“I think in a lot of cases we would facilitate it. I think in this particular case it helps both players. I think when you have to explain what you’re doing to somebody else it helps you understand it better,” Belichick said Friday of the benefit to Brissett. “The coaches are involved in a lot of – I mean we all have the things that we have to do on a regular weekly basis. Preparing our different position groups, and breaking down film, and getting ready for practice, and organizing meetings and so forth, so it’s hard for a coach just to drop what he’s doing for two or three hours and go meet with a player.

“I mean we do that and we balance it all, but there’s also a place where if you have a player that’s available that can do it that it’s kind of the right situation like this one is, then that can be beneficial to the coaching staff, can be beneficial to the player, can be beneficial to the new player to have somebody to go through that with. Not as a coach, but in this case probably the guy who’s more important than the coach, the guy that’s throwing him the ball. That’s an important relationship to have between the receiver and the quarterback. Sometimes it works out.

“Again, there’s no set formula or way to do it. In this case we happen to be in a situation where that has I think, again, there’s a lot of benefit all the way around. I think it’s been good. It’s helped Floyd and it’s definitely helped Brissett and it’s helped Chad [O’Shea] and Josh [McDaniels], too.”

There’s another factor to consider, as Belichick noted Friday. With Brady tapering down, due to his own management of reps in practice and his own health issues (thigh), Jimmy Garoppolo and Brissett have been able to step in and pick up the load in practice.
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Read More: Jacoby Brissett, Miami Dolphins, Michael Floyd, New England Patriots
Mike Petraglia, Ryan Hannable preview Patriots-Dolphins, who plays, who sits and what’s at stake 12.28.16 at 11:14 am ET
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FOXBORO — Who plays and who doesn’t this Sunday in Miami? Mike Petraglia and Ryan Hannable preview Patriots-Dolphins inside Gillette Stadium.

Read More: Miami Dolphins, Mike Petraglia, New England Patriots, Ryan Hannable
Why have Dolphins improved so much? Start with their third-down defense 12.27.16 at 3:38 pm ET
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Sep 18, 2016; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Jacoby Brissett (7) drives the ball for the first down against the Miami Dolphins in the second half at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots defeated the Miami Dolphins 31-24.  Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The Dolphins made life tough on Jacoby Brissett and the Patriots in the second half of their Week 2 matchup at Gillette. (David Butler II/USA Today Sports)

When the Dolphins started 1-4, not much of anything was going right for Adam Gase’s bunch. That included his team’s ability to stop teams on third down and get their talented defense off the field.

One of the issues that hurt Miami in New England’s 31-24 win in Foxboro in Week 2 was its inability to get a key stop. The Patriots were 7-for-14 in that game on third down, including 4-for-4 to start the game with two touchdowns.

Since then, the Dolphins have improved on that stat drastically. They now lead the NFL in third-down defense, allowing a stingy 34.83 percent conversion rate. (The Patriots are 3rd in the league at 35.4 percent). And a big part of that third-down defense is keeping teams in third-and-long.

“They do a lot of different things on third down,” McDaniels said in a conference call Tuesday. “But I would say the thing that they do the best is they challenge you at all three levels. They have a really good pass rush. Obviously, they have a lot of guys that can be effective in getting to the quarterback and creating pressure so you force the ball out before you really want to. They get on you tight in the secondary and really challenge your ability to get open versus man coverage, and then they have a pressure package that they have some different unique looks that they will give you and challenge your ability to pick up pressures in those types of situations, and they execute them very well.”

The Dolphins have won 9-of-10 and sit 10-5 with a playoff berth locked up.

“I think the thing that stands out to us is they have more third-and-10-plus situations than they do any other situations, and I think any time you play a defense that creates more long-yardage situations than they have shorter distances to defend, you’re usually going to find that they’re ranked highly in third down efficiency, and that is the case with Dolphins,” McDaniels added.

Because of pressure from the likes of Ndamukong Suh, Cameron Wake, Jordan Phillips and Mario Williams, the Dolphins are one of the best teams in the NFL at forcing third down situations of 10 yards or more.
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Read More: Cameron Wake, Miami Dolphins, Ndamukong Suh, New England Patriots
Bill Belichick stresses ‘a lot of water under the bridge’ since Week 2 win over Dolphins at 2:59 pm ET
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Jan 3, 2016; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi (23) is tackled by New England Patriots outside linebacker Jamie Collins (91) during the second half at Sun Life Stadium. The Dolphins won 20-10. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi closed out his rookie season last January with a game against Jamie Collins and the Patriots defense. (Steve Mitchell/USA Today Sports)

The last time the Patriots played the Dolphins, Jimmy Garoppolo was the starting quarterback and threw three touchdown passes in the first 20 minutes of the game as the Patriots raced out to a 21-0 lead.

There was all kinds of excitement around the potential Garoppolo was showing in the offense. Then Kiko Alonso drove Garoppolo’s right shoulder into the turf with 4:57 left in the second quarter and the game changed. Jacoby Brissett came in and managed the Patriots to a field goal to put the lead up to 24-0.

The Dolphins notched a field goal as time expired in the first half but the Patriots went up 31-3 on a LeGarrette Blount touchdown run. Then the Dolphins began chipping away as the Patriots got conservative with their offense behind Brissett. Miami, behind the passing of Ryan Tannehill crept back in the game and actually had a chance to tie the game but Duron Harmon picked off Tannehill in the end zone with nine seconds remaining to preserve the win.

The Dolphins fell to 0-2 with the loss and eventually went onto start 1-4 before turning their season around. In that game, Tannehill was the leading rusher with 35 yards on six carries.

Most significantly, Jay Ajayi, benched by the team for the season opener in Seattle, had not turned into the force he’s become (3 games of 200 yards rushing and over 1,200 yards for the season). Now, the Dolphins are force behind Ajayi, Tannehill and receivers Jarvis Landry and Devante Parker.

“I mean we’ll certainly take a look at that game and we’ll factor that in but it was a long time ago,” Bill Belichick said Tuesday in a conference call. “There was a lot of water under the bridge for both teams in terms of personnel but also just the development of your team, the improvements that both teams have made in that, whatever it is, three month period. Even if it’s the same players it’s not the same.

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Read More: Jay Ajayi, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots,
Bill Belichick shoots down any notion of resting starters in season finale 12.26.16 at 11:21 am ET
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Bill Belichick has a shot at his first undefeated preseason since 2003. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Bill Belichick has a shot at his first undefeated preseason since 2003. (Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

Two starting quarterbacks went down Saturday with broken legs but that doesn’t mean Bill Belichick is going to play it safe with his starters going into the season finale against the Dolphins on New Year’s Day.

The reason?

Simple math. There aren’t enough players to rest starters in the regular season. The Patriots carry 53 players on their active roster. They can declare seven players inactive, leaving 46 players to play the game. Of those 46 players there’s not enough to rest all the starters across the board in all three phases of the game.

“Right. Look, I really don’t understand that question,” Belichick said. “We have – I don’t know how many starters we have but we have a lot more than … We can only inactivate seven players so this isn’t like a preseason game where you have 75 guys on your roster. This is a regular season game.

“I don’t really understand that whole line of questioning. I’m not saying I’m a great mathematician or anything but the numbers just add up for that type of conversation. So, there’s no use getting involved in it.”

One of the rites of late-season football over the last 15 years in New England has been the annual question to the Patriots coach about taking the chance to rest starters in the season finale with most of playoff position assured. He was asked Monday if he would like to rest starters as his 13-2 team takes on the 10-5 Dolphins, who are fighting for their playoff lives in the game.

Of course, the one player Belichick could choose to rest is Tom Brady but with the Patriots still needing a win to clinch the No. 1 overall seed, and learning from what happened last year in Miami when Brady played but only threw the ball four times in the first half, that’s not a likely scenario.

Brady indicated after Saturday’s win that he “expects” to play in the season finale. In the Christmas Eve game against the Jets, Dont’a Hightower (knee) and Matthew Slater (left foot) did rest and were inactive as a precautionary step.

Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota broke his leg against Jacksonville and Derek Carr broke his leg in the second half against the Colts. The Titans have been eliminated but the Raiders need to beat the Broncos in Denver while hoping for a Patriots loss in Miami to clinch the No. 1 seed.

Read More: Bill Belichick, Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots, nfl
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