December 30, 2012

Stakes aplenty for Patriots in the finale

By HOWARD ULMAN The Associated Press

(Continued from page 1)

DOLPHINS (7-8) at PATRIOTS (11-4)

WHEN: 4:25 p.m. Sunday

WHERE: Gillette Stadium


SERIES RECORD: Dolphins lead 50-44

LAST MEETING: Patriots beat Dolphins 23-16, Dec. 2

LAST WEEK: Dolphins beat Bills 24-10; Patriots beat Jaguars 23-16

DOLPHINS OFFENSE: Overall -- 26, rush -- 13, pass -- 26

DOLPHINS DEFENSE: Overall -- 18, rush -- 10, pass -- 25

PATRIOTS OFFENSE: Overall -- 1, rush -- 8, pass -- 4

PATRIOTS DEFENSE: Overall -- 27, rush -- 12, pass -- 29

STREAKS, STATS AND NOTES: In first meeting four weeks ago, Patriots clinched AFC East title for fourth straight season by beating Dolphins. ... Patriots have won five straight against Dolphins since losing 22-21 in second meeting in 2009. ... Dolphins missed playoffs for fourth straight season and 10th in 11 despite winning past two games. ... Miami looking to avoid fourth consecutive losing season. ... RB Reggie Bush needs 40 yards rushing to reach 1,000 for second time. Also did it last season, his first with Miami since spending five with New Orleans. ... Rookie QB Ryan Tannehill has thrown for 12 TDs and 12 interceptions but in last five games has five TD passes and no interceptions. ... S Reshad Jones recovered two fumbles and intercepted pass last Sunday. ... DE Cameron Wake has career-high 15 sacks. ... Patriots enter weekend with chance of being seeded in any of top four AFC spots. ... QB Tom Brady needs three TD passes to become first player with at least 35 in four seasons, also tied for second with Johnny Unitas with TD pass in 47 straight games. ... Patriots won 20 straight December games at home before losing two weeks ago to San Francisco 49ers, 41-34. ... In first start since sixth game of season, safety Patrick Chung had two interceptions last Sunday. ... WR Brandon Lloyd needs 98 yards receiving to reach 1,000 for second time. ... DE Rob Ninkovich and DT Vince Wilfork tied for second in NFL with four fumble recoveries.

-- The Associated Press

"You want to be playing well so you have confidence going into the playoffs," Patriots Coach Bill Belichick said, but "whatever we do this weekend isn't going to have any bearing on what happens in the playoff (game) the following week. What's going to have a bearing on the playoff (game) is how we prepare for that week, and the opponent and our scheme and our execution."

The Patriots miss the receiving and blocking of tight end Rob Gronkowski, sidelined the past five games with a broken left forearm. Even if he returns, he may not be at full strength.

Without him, Brady has been sacked 11 times in the last four games after being sacked only 15 times in the first 11. Now the Patriots must stop Cameron Wake, who has a career-high 15 sacks.

The Patriots don't expect him to stop charging just because the Dolphins won't be in the playoffs.

"We expect every opponent we play, each player and each team, to perform at their best," Belichick said. "That's what we prepare for -- their best performance, not a poor one."

And the Patriots usually succeed.

"They've dominated this division for over a decade," Miami Coach Joe Philbin said. "So if you can't get excited about playing the best in your division to close out your season, then you're not a professional football player."


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