Yessssssssssssssssssss. The New England Patriots (12-4) defeated the Miami Dolphins (7-9) 28-0 on Sunday to clinch a first round bye following a Houston loss to Indianapolis. Tom Brady threw for two touchdowns, Stevan Ridley ran for two, and the defense recorded a season high seven sacks en route to the Patriots' first shutout since a 59-0 annihilation of the Tennessee Titans in October of 2009.
Rob Gronkowski made his return after missing five straight games with a broken forearm. He finished with two catches for 42 yards and a touchdown while playing in 31% of the Patriots' offensive snaps.
"It felt good. I haven't gotten hit in a while," Gronkowski said after the game. "I got limited reps (but) you always want to get some reps before heading into the playoffs."
The Dolphins finished at (7-9), a respectable season after being ranked near the bottom of almost every pre-season power ranking. This marks their fourth consecutive losing season and first under rookie head coach Joe Philbin.
The Patriots came into the game having posted two straight lackluster performances but they turned it around against the Dolphins. In both of their previous two games they had found themselves behind early, trailing 31-3 against the 49ers and 10-0 to the Jaguars.
The offense began a little slow for the third straight week, however, after a Stevan Gregory interception set up a New England first down from the Miami 28, it took Brady only two plays to punch the ball into the end zone on a nine yard Wes Welker touchdown grab. The Patriots proceeded to run 27 plays on their next two drives as they methodically moved the ball down the field to set up two Stevan Ridley touchdown runs and a 21-0 halftime lead.
They scored their fourth touchdown on a 23 yard pass from Brady to Gronkowski near the beginning of the fourth quarter but were forced to punt on each of their other four second half possessions. Although slowed a times, the offense controlled the ball throughout the course of the game, holding it 35:38 compared with the Dolphins 24:22.
Brady's first touchdown pass marked the first time in NFL history that a player has thrown at least one touchdown pass in all 16 games for three straight seasons. Brady has thrown a touchdown pass in 48 consecutive games.
The defense shined in this one even as starting corners Aqib Talib and Alfonzo Dennard sat out with injuries. The Dolphins really only threatened to score twice. Nate Kaeding missed an ill advised 41 yard field goal attempt into swirling wind, and Reggie Bush botched a hand off from Ryan Tannehill on second and goal from the New England three yard line. The ball went bounding towards the goal line, where Dont'a Hightower fell on it at the one.
With a Patriots win and the Houston loss, the Patriots moved into the AFC's second seed and have earned a first round bye. They will play the top seeded winner of wild card weekend in Foxborough.
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