December 2, 2012

Patriots: Ending up in the end zone

New England has an offense that may be the best the NFL ever has seen

By Mike Lowe mlowe@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - Buckle up.

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From left, Tom Brady, Stevan Ridley and Wes Walker

Photos by The Associated Press

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New England Patriots (8-3) at Miami Dolphins (5-6)

WHEN: 1 p.m. Sunday

WHERE: Sun Life Stadium, Miami

TELEVISION: Channel 13

WHEN: 1 p.m. Sunday

WHERE: Sun Life Stadium

TELEVISION: CBS

SERIES RECORD: Dolphins lead 50-43

LAST MEETING: Patriots beat Dolphins 27-24, Dec. 24, 2011

LAST WEEK: Patriots beat Jets, 49-19; Dolphins beat Seahawks, 24-21

PATRIOTS OFFENSE: Overall -- 1, rush -- 6, pass -- 4

PATRIOTS DEFENSE: Overall -- 27, rush -- 10, pass -- 29

DOLPHINS OFFENSE: Overall -- 26, rush -- 16, pass -- 22

DOLPHINS DEFENSE: Overall -- 21, rush -- 7, pass -- 26

STREAKS, STATS AND NOTES: Since 2001, Patriots have lost 15 games to AFC East teams. Seven of those defeats came against Miami. Miami's Brandon Fields ranks second in NFL in punting. New England's Zoltan Mesko is 28th. With a victory, Patriots would clinch the AFC East for the fourth consecutive season and would clinch their 12th winning season in row. ... New England has won 11 consecutive December games. ... The Patriots lead the NFL in points and yards per game. They're converting 53 percent of their third downs, best in the league. In past four weeks the Patriots have scored 190 points, more than four teams have totaled all year. ... In 420 pass attempts, Tom Brady has thrown three interceptions. ... In Miami last year, Brady threw for a team-record 517 yards, the most ever allowed by the Dolphins. ... Dan Carpenter's 43-yard field goal on the final play to beat Seattle last week was his fifth winning kick. ... The Dolphins rank third-best in red zone defense, allowing touchdowns on 40 percent. ... Over the past four seasons, the Dolphins are last in the NFL with 70 takeaways. They have none in the past four games. ... Opponents have 16 fumbles but Miami has recovered only three. ... Miami's Ryan Tannehill has passer rating of 59.1 on third down, worst among NFL starters.

– The Associated Press

WES WELKER

80 catches, 961 yards (12.0)

3 touchdowns

On pace for an NFL-record fifth season with 100-plus catches

STEVAN RIDLEY

206 rushes

939 yards (4.6 average)

8 touchdowns

On pace for more than 1,300 rushing yards, which would be fourth in team history

TOM BRADY

274 for 421 passing, 3,299 yards

24 touchdowns, 3 interceptions

Has thrown a TD pass in 43 straight games, the NFL's longest active streak

If the New England Patriots are looking for a catch-phrase for the 2012 season, they might consider those two words.

For the second time in five seasons, the Patriots are putting on an offensive clinic every time they step onto the field, be it at Gillette Stadium or on the road, as they are Sunday in Miami.

Quarterback Tom Brady is quietly having an MVP-type season in leading an offense on pace to set NFL records for points in a season (currently 589, set by the 2007 Patriots), average points per game (36.8, also 2007 Patriots) and first downs (416, New Orleans, 2011). They have already set an NFL record for consecutive games with at least 350 yards (17, the streak snapped Nov. 11 with only 347 against Buffalo).

The Patriots are the first team to score at least 30 points in a quarter twice in a season (35 in the second against the Jets on Thanksgiving; 31 against Buffalo in the fourth on Sept. 30).

They set a franchise record with 35 first downs against Denver and tied the franchise record with 59 points against Indianapolis. They scored 108 points in back-to-back wins against the Colts and Jets, another team record.

With five games left in the regular season, the Patriots compare favorably to some of the greatest offenses in NFL history (see graphic). One stat worth noting from the comparison is that this year's Patriots team runs the ball much better than any of the others, allowing for a balance that the others may have lacked.

And they're still looking to improve.

"I think last week we played well," Brady said of New England's 49-19 whacking of the Jets. "Hopefully we play well this week. But I don't think you can just assume that we're going to go play well next week. I think we have to go out and prove it.

"We have to go out and go through our week of practice, and try to execute well in practice so that leads to confidence and anticipation going into the game, and then going out there and executing in the game."

The reasons for this year's offensive prowess are multiple: Brady's efficiency (only three interceptions in 421 passes, none in a five-game winning streak), a strong running game (143.7 yards per game), good pass protection (15 sacks, only two in the last five games), a gifted group of receivers and a defense that gives the offense the ball in good field position.

The Patriots led the NFL with a plus-24 turnover differential. They have forced 32 turnovers while only allowing eight. Five of those turnovers have been turned into touchdowns. The others set up the offense.

"We pride ourselves on being a defense that can create turnovers," said safety Steve Gregory, who has two interceptions, two fumble recoveries and a forced fumble.

"That's what we want to do, get the ball back into the hands of those guys on the other side of the ball because we know what they're capable of. The more chances we can give them, the better off we can all be."

The Patriots are averaging 43.8 points in their five-game winning streak, a number made even more impressive because tight end Aaron Hernandez missed three games and Rob Gronkowski, who leads the NFL with 37 touchdown catches in the last three years, missed the last.

Miami Coach Joe Philbin, whose team plays the Patriots Sunday, said he hasn't seen any drop-off.

"They looked pretty good the other night when I saw them," he said.

"Obviously (Gronkowski) is a heck of a football player but they have good players and, as you guys know, when injuries occur, teams have to adjust and move on. They moved on quite well against the Jets."

(Continued on page 2)

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