The Patriots made sure to end the Foxboro Stadium era in style, jumping all over Miami early and then holding off a late rally attempt en route to a 20-13 victory.
Earlier in the week, Head Coach Bill Belichick said if his team could play well in all three phases of the game at once, New England could play with just about anyone in the league. The Patriots played very well in all three phases and absolutely dominated the Dolphins until the final moments to put themselves in sole possession of first place in the AFC East for the first time since they started 4-0 in 1999.
After struggling in the first meeting with Miami, running back Antowain Smith had a career day, rushing 26 times for 156 yards and a touchdown. As a team the Patriots ran for 196 yards, a major reason they held the ball for nearly 37 minutes and held a 13-minute advantage in time of possession.
"Given the nature of the game, the importance of the game, it was important for us to come out and establish the running game the way we did," said Smith, who scored on a 2-yard run on the first play of the second quarter. "We saw some things from the San Francisco game and wanted to exploit them."
That touchdown was set up by a touch of trickery. Running back Kevin Faulk took a pitch right from Tom Brady. He ran outside, stopped and threw back to Brady, who took his first career reception 23 yards before going out of bounds.
"I was real excited when the play came in," said Faulk, who last threw a pass in a game during his junior season at Louisiana State. "I think Tom was more excited than me. Coming out of my hands it was like a jump shot; I knew it was good."
The defense held to three-and-out on the ensuing possession, and Smith struck early. On first down he burst through the left side of the line for a 44-yard gain, which put him over the 1,000-yard mark on the season. He finished the game with 1,076, and is the first Patriot to eclipse the mark since Robert Edwards in 1998.
Three snaps after Smith's long run, Brady slipped a screen pass to Patrick Pass. The play was made possible because J.R. Redmond had a big block to pick up a blitz. Pass took it all the way for a 23-yard touchdown pass that put the Patriots up 14-0. It was the first score of his career.
"Each week it seems like we are talking about different people, but somebody steps up makes the plays," Belichick said. "Whether it is Patrick Pass on the touchdown, J.R. making the block. It was a great, emotional day with the crowd and fans out there. The football team really played their hearts out."
New England did not let up on defense, again holding Miami to a three-and-out and getting the ball back to the offense. It was apparent that Dolphins quarterback Jay Fiedler was going to have to throw the ball for Miami to win. The Patriots held Miami to 58 yards rushing after giving up 144 to Lamar Smith in the Week Four meeting. With the game on Fiedler's shoulders, the Dolphins could not move the ball until the fourth quarter.
"We were hungry today," Brandon Mitchell said. "We had a great time."
The party continued when Adam Vinatieri drilled a 32-yard field goal to put New England up 17-0. The field goal put him over the 100-point mark for the season, marking the sixth straight year he has done just that. He joined Denver's Jason Elam as the only players to achieve the mark in their first six seasons.
After that field goal, the Patriots went for the kill. Vinatieri sent a short pooch kickoff in the direction of tight end Ed Perry. Because of the angle of the sun and the windy conditions, it was a tough play for Perry, and he fumbled it.
"We were getting into a tendency of kicking balls deep left all the time," Vinatieri said. "They started to play us left a bit and cheating guys outside. We wanted to make it look like we were going left and then wrap around a hit it short right over the guys head. The first time he fair caught it, and the second time he couldn't handle it. Best case scenario we get a fumble, and worse case scenario they don't get any return and start at the 30, which we've been seeing anyway. With the conditions, we knew we weren't going to be able to kick to the goal line anyway, so we tried a different approach."
Fred Coleman recovered the kick at the Miami 42, and the Patriots were able to drive for a 23-yard Vinatieri field goal to extend to a 20-0 lead that they made stand up. Miami got a 36-yard field goal from Olindo Mare with three seconds to go in the half, but did not score again until the fourth quarter.
The only black eye for New England was a late touchdown on a 10-yard pass from Fielder to Jeff Ogden that snapped a string of 14 consecutive quarters without allowing a touchdown for the defense. Fortunately Coleman recovered the ensuing onside kick and the Patriots were able to run out the final minutes of the game.
When the clock expired, the Patriots players took a final lap around the field, shaking hands and hugging the fans around the stadium. This was the final regular season game ever at Foxboro Stadium, but there is now a good chance for New England to host a playoff game. The team will clinch a postseason spot if Baltimore, Seattle or the Jets lose this weekend, and a victory over Carolina in two weeks would match the team record for most wins on a season.