The New England Patriots take on the Miami Dolphins in a Week 17 game at Hard Rock Stadium on Sunday, January 1, 2017.
The Patriots locked down the No. 1 seed in the AFC with a convincing 35-14 victory over the Miami Dolphins, snapping a three-game losing streak in South Florida in the process.
Here some random thoughts from the Patriots 14th victory of the season.
Reversal of fortune – Much has been made of the Patriots late-season surge, which stands in stark contrast to how the team finished last season. The 2015 Patriots had every opportunity to earn the top seed in the AFC but lost four of their last six games and wound up as the No. 2 and the season eventually ended in Denver in the conference title game. The last two of those losses came against the Jets and Dolphins, which was exactly the same tandem they finished with this season. This time around New England took care of business, blowing out the Jets and more impressively taking care of the Dolphins in Miami. That final win gave the Patriots an 8-0 mark on the road, something Tom Brady talked about being quite proud of. Speaking of Brady, he capped off a tremendous season with three more touchdown passes, giving him 28 on the season, and once again went without a pick. He finished with 28 touchdowns and just two interceptions, setting a record for the best touchdown/interception ratio in NFL history, topping the 27 to 2 mark set by Philadelphia's Nick Foles in 2013. Logan Ryan explained after the game that the win in Miami allowed the team "to right a lot of wrongs."
Hot start – It would be tough to improve upon the start to the game that Trey Flowers enjoyed. The second-year defensive end opened the day by stuffing Miami's Jay Ajayi for a pair of 1-yard runs on the first two plays from scrimmage. On third-and-eight he came up with a huge play when he pressured Matt Moore and forced the Dolphins backup to throw before he wanted to and that cause his pass intended for Damian Williams to be slightly overthrown. That proved to be quite important because Williams got behind Kyle Van Noy and was wide open for a potential big play down the sideline, but Flowers' presence forced the throw to land roughly a yard too long and eventually led to a Miami punt. Flowers continued to play well after that, stuffing Ajayi for no gain and once again preventing a potential big play with heavy pressure on Moore that caused an incomplete pass.
Hot Jules – It was an interesting first half for Julian Edelman, who was able to top the 1,000-yard receiving mark and cost the Patriots a potential touchdown when he lost his cool – all in the first 30 minutes. Edelman caught five passes for 58 yards but it was a pass that fell incomplete in his direction that led to the problem. On first-and-10 from the Miami 24 Tom Brady tried to hit Edelman in the end zone but Bobby McCain provided tight coverage and the pass fell incomplete. McCain let Edelman know about his coverage as the receiver as on the ground, and Edelman responded by springing back to his feet and head-butting McCain, drawing an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in the process. That pushed the Patriots into a long-yardage situation and forced them to settle for a Stephen Gostkowski field goal. Edelman responded after the break, however, when he ripped off a 77-yard touchdown catch-and-run after Miami had trimmed the lead to 20-6. He finished with eight catches for 151 yards on the afternoon.
Turning over –The Patriots defense continued its recent success when it comes to taking the football away. After going three straight games without forcing a single turnover, the defense has now forced 14 over the final six games of the season including a pair in the finale against the Dolphins. The first came in the first quarter when Moore underthrew his target down the sideline and Logan Ryan picked it off. The second takeaway was a huge play in the fourth quarter and basically ended the Dolphins comeback hopes. Trailing 27-14 midway through the final quarter, the Dolphins marched inside the Patriots 10 and appeared poised to trim the lead to six when Williams caught a pass inside the 5 before getting tackled from behind by Devin McCourty. The safety knocked the ball loose and Shea McClellin recovered and returned it 69 yards – the longest fumble return in team history – to set up LeGarrette Blount's clinching touchdown. Bill Belichick explained after the game that the defense has done a nice job of "hawking the ball" lately.
Play action success – The Patriots enjoyed some success on the ground in the early going and that led to some opportunities for Brady to utilize the play-action passing game. He did so effectively on a handful of chances, all to Martellus Bennett. The two hooked up on three occasions – all when the Dolphins linebackers bit of play-action fakes and allowed the tight end to slip into the clear. The first went for 11 yards and a first down and later on the first drive Bennett grabbed a 2-yard touchdown to open the scoring. It was Bennett's career-high seventh touchdown of the season. In the second half the play action worked again when Brady hit Bennett for 18 yards. Those three catches (for 33 yards) accounted for Bennett's production on the afternoon.
Floyd! – Newcomer Michael Floyd made a huge impact on the game and recorded his first touchdown as a Patriot. He finished with three catches for 36 yards and his 14-yard touchdown was one of the most memorable plays of the season. He caught a quick slant from Brady and fought his way through several Miami tacklers before managing to get the ball to break the plane of the goal line. Later he delivered a knockout blow during Edelman's 77-yard touchdown when he blew up Dolphins cornerback Tony Lippett with a blind-side block. At 6-3, Floyd is bigger than most Patriots receivers and the physicality that his size provides was on full display in Miami.
Extra points – Miami's touchdown late in the second quarter was the first allowed by the Patriots defense since Week 14 against Baltimore. … When the Patriots took a 20-0 lead late in the second quarter, they held a 17-1 edge in first downs. … The Patriots finished 14-2 for the fourth time in team history (2003, 04, 2010) and have won 14 or more five times. … The win over Miami pushed New England's record against AFC East opponents to 76-22 since 2001. … Brady has now thrown for 61,582 yards in his career, moving past Dan Marino for fourth most in NFL history. … Blount notched his 18th touchdown of the season.