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Sunday, December 2, 2012

Definition Of Yawn: Pats Win 10th AFC East Title In 12 Years With 23-16 Triumph In Miami

When your division is as putrid as the AFC East has been for the better part of a decade, it's tough to get too excited over trivial things like an AFC East title. New England (9-3, 5-2 away) beat Miami (5-7, 3-3 home) 23-16 this afternoon at Sun Life Stadium for the Patriots' sixth straight win. New England became the first team in the NFL to clinch a playoff spot in 2012 so there's that insignificant fact.

With the victory, the Patriots claimed their fourth straight AFC East title, the ninth in the in the last 10 years and 10th in the last 12 seasons. It is a crazy mark of consistency that shows no sign of stopping while the rest of the division continues to go in circles and pee down their legs. Did you know the Dolphins have used 17 different guys at quarterback since Dan Marino retired? I rest my case.

Yes New England usually struggles when they go down to the humidity of South Florida but this gave them five consecutive wins against Miami. For the most part, it was a pretty boring contest as the Patriots played one of their more sloppy games of the season yet still found a way to get it done.

Tom Brady (24 of 40, 238 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) wasn't himself but Wes Welker (12 catches, 103 yards, TD) and Aaron Hernandez (8 catches, 97 yards) picked up the slack for Rob Gronkowski (still out) and Brandon Lloyd (1 catch, 10 yards) who has been completely fazed out of the passing attack. New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels kept Stevan Ridley (19 carries, 71 yards, TD) out of the majority of the action until he inserted him in the fourth quarter to effectively wear down the Dolphins defense.

This was Ryan Tannehill's (13 of 29, 186 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs) first career game against the Patriots and while it wasn't a disaster by any means, he certainly looked like a guy that is still squarely in the project stage. Brian Hartline (5 catches, 84 yards) and Reggie Bush (15 carries, 64 yards) are Miami's two best offensive weapons, which should tell you exactly where their franchise is at this moment.

Chandler Jones' absence wasn't a huge deal since Trevor Scott (3 tackles, 2 sacks, tackle for loss) stepped up and Vince Wilfork (3 tackles, 2 solo, tackle for loss, fumble recovery) continued to play at a very high level.

Competing against an inferior team like the Dolphins means that the Patriots are comfortably able to survive an interception by Reshad Jones and another missed field goal by Stephen Gostkowski (from 49 yards in 1st quarter; his 3rd in 4 games at the time). The only things to worry about were some more injuries: right guard Dan Connolly left with a back injury and Julian Edelman departed with a foot injury. Neither guy returned to the field after that.

Miami was up to their usual tomfoolery after they were forced to punt on their first drive and punter Brandon Fields couldn't properly control a bad snap. He got tackled by a host of Patriots at the Dolphins' 12. Five plays later, Ridley had a 2-yard touchdown run. Dan Carpenter's 44-yard field goal with one second left in the first quarter got Miami on the board.

Welker cashed in on a 7-yard slip screen and Gostkowski atoned for his miss with a 43-yard field goal as the Patriots led 17-3 in the second quarter. Tannehill's 2-yard touchdown run with 25 seconds left in the first half gave the Dolphins fans something to cheer about.

I don't know which was more boring: the third quarter which featured a grand total of zero combined points or the fourth which had two field goals apiece for both teams? Gostkowski hit a 32-yard field goal, Carpenter hit a 33-yard field goal, Gostkowski added a chip shot 20-yard kick then Carpenter wrapped it up with a 42-yard field goal.

Miami tried an onside kick but Lloyd fell on it to clinch the win for the Patriots. After weeks of playing mostly terrible teams (except for the Colts), you won't hear me complaining the next two weeks. We've had these two games circled all season: they host the Texans (11-1) next Monday (8:30 p.m., ESPN) then the Niners the following Sunday night (8:20, NBC). Houston is currently the top team in the AFC while San Francisco is the second best team (record wise) in the NFC. Now if we could just coax some snow or at least wintry conditions out of the sky.

UPDATE 12/3: Multiple sources report that the Patriots have re-signed wide receiver Donte' Stallworth. He was cut in August after what seemed like a decent preseason. He hadn't caught on with any other NFL team so this move was probably made since A) Julian Edelman's foot injury is serious and B) Deion Branch's hamstring is still in bad shape so they can't use him at this point.

Also, the Pats lost another guy from the practice squad as the Eagles signed offensive tackle Matt Kopa. The Stanford product had spent the last two seasons on New England's practice squad.

UPDATE 12/4: Pro Football Talk says that New England gets a one-week roster exemption for rookie running back Brandon Bolden. He can return to practice now and they don't have to activate him until December 11. He has missed the past four games thanks to a PED suspension. They can activate him at any time but they would have to release another guy from the 53-man roster.

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