Personnel highs and lows from the Patriots (14-2) strong finale performance to clinch homefield advantage throughout the playoffs with the 35-14 win over the Dolphins (10-6).
Tom Brady –* *New England's leader finished the season just the way he wanted – strong. The MVP candidate moved past Dolphins legend Dan Marino for fourth all time in passing yards. He was a perfect 6-for-6 on the opening drive on the way to an impressive day in a place where he's had some significant struggles over the years. Brady completed 25 of 33 passes for 276 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions for a 130.4 rating. He finishes the year with an NFL-record 28-2 touchdown-to-interception differential. He also helped the Patriots become just the seventh team to finish a season 8-0 on the road by closing out the season without throwing an interception on the road. As the Patriots fans in attendance at Hard Rock Stadium chanted in the third quarter – M-V-P!
Julian Edelman – The slot machine not only completed a 16-game season for the first time since 2013 but finished with maybe his best game. His eight catches for a game-high 151 yards pushed him past 1,000 yards for the first time since 2013, as well. Edelman had the biggest play of the day, turning a third-quarter third-down reception into a 77-yard touchdown with the help of a massive Michael Floyd block. Edelman's fire has never burned more hot, though that feisty play earned him a silly 15-yard penalty in the red zone that cost the Patriots four points. That's not something that can happen in a postseason game or it could be even more costly.
Trey Flowers – Not hard to make an argument that Flowers has been New England's breakout defensive player this fall, especially over the second half of the season. The second-year defensive lineman was a beast against Miami. He had a pair of tackles and a QB hit on Matt Moore on the opening drive by the Dolphins. The hit on Moore derailed what could have been a big play in the passing game for Miami. Flowers had a similar play-saving hit late in the fourth quarter, too. Flowers finished with five tackles and two of New England's five QB hits on the afternoon.
Marcus Cannon/Shaq Mason/Cameron Fleming/Joe Thuney – Even with the Patriots running the ball well, mostly in the first half, it wasn't a marquee day for the New England line. Marcus Cannon struggled early dealing with Pro Bowler Cameron Wake, both in pass protection and on running plays. Mason, Fleming and Thuney all earned penalties on the so-so afternoon up front.
Hard Rock Stadium turf –Two days after hosting the Orange Bowl, the playing surface at the newly-renovated Dolphins home was far from good. The wet, slippery, ugly grass was a major topic on social media prior to the game and then saw a lot of players slipping throughout the day's action. Not sure who, if anyone, is to blame. But it was a bad look for a stadium that wants to be a key figure in college football and future Super Bowls. Thankfully it didn't look like the issue led to any serious injuries for either team.
Stephen Gostkowski –* *New England's veteran kicker had been on fire leading up to his 52-yard attempt prior to halftime of Sunday's win in Miami. Gostkowski pushed the long attempt on the very poor playing surface wide right. Otherwise, Gostkowski was solid, hitting field goals from 40 and 26 yards as well as has four PAT attempts. With upcoming kicks on the friendly synthetic surface at Gillette, Gostkowski won't have to deal with the type of bad grass moving forward that was clearly an issue on Sunday.
Michael Floyd – New England's late season pickup began to really make his presence felt in the finale against Miami. Floyd had three catches for 36 yards, including a 14-yard touchdown in the first quarter in which he fought through multiple Miami tacklers to cross the plane. Floyd's biggest play, though, came on a huge touchdown-freeing, blindside block on backup cornerback Tony Lippett to send Edelman to the long score. Floyd still is learning on the fly and needed some direction from Brady when breaking the huddle, but the veteran showed some of his potential to close out the regular season.
Devin McCourty – The veteran Pro Bowl safety led a back end that had its ups and downs. There was an ugly touchdown allowed to Kenny Stills that saw the veteran wide open down the middle, with linebacker Kyle Van Noy the nearest defender. It was either a bad play call or bad communication. But McCourty also had a nice forced fumble that led to Shea McClellin's team-record 69-yard fumble return. McCourty continues to play with a more physical style and tied for a team high with seven tackles. Adding a Logan Ryan's interception, it was another solid day for the Patriots streak of takeaways that's blown up over the last six games, with 14 of the team's 23 on the season in that stretch that followed up an unprecedented three-game span with no takeaways.
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