December 16, 2013

Dolphins hold off Patriots to remain alive in AFC

A late Miami interception seals New England’s fate.

By Steven Wine
The Associated Press

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — When Tom Brady’s day ended with an errant final pass, he hung his head, unsnapped his chin strap and looked up at the scoreboard, which summarized his frustrating afternoon.

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Miami’s Michael Thomas intercepts a Tom Brady pass intended for New England receiver Austin Collie, who’s double-teamed by Will Davis, on the last play of Sunday’s game in Miami Gardens. Despite the loss, the Patriots still are in control of the AFC East and could wrap up the title with a win in the next two weeks.

Photos by The Associated Press

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Quarterback Tom Brady, shown plotting with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, couldn’t add to his impressive string of fourth-quarter come-from-behind victories.

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Dolphins 24, Patriots 20.

A late drive and the Patriots’ latest comeback bid came up short Sunday, and they missed a chance to clinch their fifth consecutive AFC East title.

Brady was intercepted in the end zone on fourth down with 2 seconds left by Dolphins newcomer Michael Thomas. That was the last in a series of squandered scoring chances for the Patriots (10-4), and a miffed Brady answered only two questions at his postgame news conference before ending the session.

“We didn’t do a good job in the red area, and didn’t do a good job finishing drives,” he said. “We came up on the short end of the stick. It wasn’t a good day. Just couldn’t make enough plays.”

The Dolphins (8-6) won their third game in a row to help their AFC wild-card chances, and snapped a streak of seven consecutive losses to the Patriots.

“We were short in every area,” New England Coach Bill Belichick said. “Nothing was really good enough.”

Brady threw for 364 yards, but drives of 16, 15 and 13 plays produced a total of only six points.

The last drive came in the final 1:15, when Brady led the Patriots from their own 20 to the Miami 14. It was familiar stuff from the Patriots, who had mounted second-half rallies to win their past three games.

With New England out of timeouts, Brady threw for the end zone four times in a row. The first three passes went incomplete, including one intended for Danny Amendola that Thomas broke up on first down.

Then, Thomas stepped in front of Austin Collie to make his interception on the Patriots’ final play. The reserve safety, signed Tuesday off the San Francisco 49ers’ practice squad, was making his NFL debut.

“I knew being the new guy that Tom Brady would come after me,” Thomas said. “He’s a great quarterback, and he’s going to exploit any weaknesses. I knew if I got in there, I would have a chance. I saw the ball in the air and I made a play.”

Thomas was part of an injury-depleted secondary that also included backups at both cornerback spots on the final drive.

Brady went 34 for 55 and threw two scores. Julian Edelman made 13 catches for 139 yards, and Amendola added 10 receptions for 131 yards.

New England took a 20-17 lead when Edelman scored on a 24-yard reception with four minutes left, but the Dolphins caught a break when the ensuing kickoff by Stephen Gostkowski went out of bounds, allowing them to start at their 40.

Charles Clay kept the drive going when he turned a short pass into a 6-yard gain on fourth-and-5 at midfield, and Thigpen scored five plays later.

“They were in some tight situations, especially late in the game,” Patriots cornerback Kyle Arrington said. “They just wanted it more.”

New England, accustomed to slow starts, took a 10-0 lead on Michael Hoomanawanui’s one-handed, 13-yard touchdown reception. But on other trips to the red zone, they missed tight end Rob Gronkowski, who suffered a season-ending knee injury a week ago.

The Patriots mounted drives of 16 and 15 plays but settled for a field goal each time, and Gostkowski misfired on a field-goal try for only the third time this year when he sailed a 48-yard attempt wide left.

“Today just wasn’t my day,” Gostkowski said.

“It stinks to play terrible and your team loses. It’s like salt on the wound.”

NOTES: Patriots T Nate Solder aggravated a head injury in the second half and sat out rest of game. ... Dolphins DT Paul Soliai sat out the last three quarters with an ankle injury. CB Nolan Carroll (knee) was limited in the second half, and CB Brent Grimes (cramps) went to the sideline in the fourth quarter. ... The Dolphins botched a field-goal try when John Denney snapped the ball before holder Brandon Fields was ready, and the ball hit Fields in the facemask. ... Miami’s seven home games have been decided by a total of 23 points.

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New England Patriots defensive back Nate Ebner (43), center, is congratulated by his teammates, Dont’a Hightower (54) and defensive end Jake Bequette (92), after Ebner recovered a fumbled field goal by the Miami Dolphins during the first half of Sunday’s game.

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Miami Dolphins running back Marcus Thigpen scores a touchdown during the second half against the New England Patriots on Sunday.


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