Patriots Phin-ish Miami in playoff tune-up
Monday, December 31, 2012
Before the game began in Foxboro Sunday, the New England Patriots knew exactly what they would be playing for.
Thanks to the Indianapolis Colts' 28-16 win over the Houston Texans earlier in the afternoon, the Pats knew before kicking off with Miami all they needed was a win...to get next week off and a first round bye in the upcoming playoffs. They got what they needed with a solid, if unspectacular 28-0 win over the Dolphins at frosty Gillette Stadium.
Unspectacular, however, if you like offensive fireworks. If defense is your cup o' tea, the Patriots' play was a huge boost heading into the post-season.
After a couple of misfires from the offense, it was the defense that got the Pats' day started. Steve Gregory intercepted Miami QB Ryan Tannehill with just over seven minutes to play in the first quarter...setting the Patriots up at the Miami 28. After a big "welcome back" 19-yard completion to TE Rob Gronkowski, Tom Brady found Wes Welker from nine yards out for the score. 7-0 New England, with 6:40 left in the period. The TD pass makes it 48 straight games for Brady to throw at least one...moving him into 2nd place in NFL history behind Drew Brees, and surpassing Hall-of-Famer Johnny Unitas.
With 10:26 left in the 2nd quarter, the Patriots capped off a monster 13-play, 92 yard drive with a 4th down TD plunge from Stevan Ridley to go up 14-0. The offense converted three third down plays, plus the 4th down touchdown run, on the drive...giving them the two-score advantage.
Miami got a lift soon thereafter, thanks in part to a 3rd down roughing-the-passer call on Dont'a Hightower that put the Dolphins in position to score. However, Nate Kaeding missed to the left on a 41-yard field goal attempt with 6:24 to play in the half, leaving the Dolphins scoreless. And giving the Patriots a chance to put the squish on the fish before the end of the half.
With 1:00 left in the half...the Patriots finished off another big drive, moving 69 yards in 14 plays, as Ridley rammed it home from two yards out for the score to make it 21-0, leaving the Dolphins reeling, perhaps, heading into the locker room.
Down to 4:13 left in the 3rd quarter, Miami looked as if they might crack the scoring column, facing a 2nd and goal at the NE three. Reggie Bush, however, lost the handoff from Tannehill, and Dont'a Hightower recovered at the one...slamming the door on their best offensive drive of the game (8 plays, 66 yards). For the day, the Patriots' defense applied plenty of pressure throughout the game. They sacked Tannehill seven times, getting three of those from Justin Francis.
"It feels good when you can shut out a team, especially a division rival," Vince Wilfork said afterward. "To go in here and do what we did tonight was some pretty good stuff. We played well together as a team. We made some plays; we executed very, very well. So I’m very proud of that."
With 9:20 to play, the Patriots finished the fish with a 23-yard Brady-to-Gronkowski connection for a touchdown, capping a 47-yard drive in the process for a 28-0 lead. The remainder of the game could be classified as "garbage" time. Or, retreat to the heat of your car in the parking lot time.
Whatever the case, New England very much played like a team that knew exactly what it was playing for.
Post Game Notes
With the victory over Miami, a Houston loss and a Denver victory, the Patriots earned the number two seed in the AFC playoff field. The NFL has announced the Patriots will play either Houston, Baltimore or Indianapolis in a 4:30 pm ET kickoff for the Divisional Round on Sunday, Jan. 13 at Gillette Stadium...the Patriots recorded their first shutout of the season and their first since downing the Tennessee Titans 59-0 on Oct. 18, 2009. The shutout is the eighth for the Patriots since Bill Belichick became head coach in 2000...the Patriots set a new NFL record for most first downs in a season after gaining 28 first downs against Miami to give them a total of 444 in 2012...Stephen Gostkowski set a single-season career-high after gaining four points against Miami to push his season total to 153. Gostkowski’s previous best was 148 points in 2008. Gino Cappelletti has the Patriots record with 155 points in 1964...speaking of Cappelletti, he and Gil Santos were honored pre-game for their 28 years together as the Patriots radio broadcast team, with Santos also being added to the Patriots Hall of Fame by the Kraft family...the seven sacks recorded by the defense is the most in a game for the Patriots since they had seven against Miami on December 23, 2007...Welker finished the season with 1,354 receiving yards, the fourth highest in franchise history and the second highest total of his career. He had a franchise record 1,569 in 2011...the Patriots finished first in the NFL with 557 points in 2012, which is second in team history to the NFL record of 589 points set by the 2007 team and third in NFL history...they also finished the season with 6,846 net yards of total offense, the second highest in team history and the fifth highest in NFL history...since the NFL went to a 16-game season in 1978, Tom Brady is the only quarterback to have thrown for at least one touchdown pass in each game for three consecutive seasons...Stevan Ridley has a total of 1,263 rushing yards after gaining 74 against Miami. Ridley is the fifth Patriots player to reach 1,200 yards and his 1,263 is fourth in franchise history...