FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Duron Harmon knew something was wrong with the New England Patriots defense early in the year.

“How we played at the beginning of the year was not the way that I’ve ever played football, as a defense, since I’ve been here,” said Harmon, a fifth-year safety for New England.

Well the Patriots have obviously figured out whatever was ailing them. New England defeated the Miami Dolphins 35-17 Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium for its seventh consecutive win. And the defense was front and center.

The Patriots sacked Miami quarterback Matt Moore seven times (for 61 yards in losses), intercepted him twice (by Harmon and a likely game-changer by cornerback Stephon Gilmore in the end zone at the end of the first half) and recovered a fumble (by Patrick Chung).

The Patriots held the Dolphins to just 221 total yards – remarkable given that they were giving up an NFL-worst 401.9 average coming into the game.

“Just consistency,” said Harmon. “We’re not giving up as many big plays as we did. Everybody is on the same page. Communication is a hell of lot better. Tackling is better. We’re consistent all across the board.”

This was also the seventh consecutive game in which the Patriots held their opponent to 17 points or fewer.

Safety Devin McCourty said the defense has simply come together.

“Obviously every play is not going to be perfect,” he said. “I think we understand what we’re trying to do and we’re trying to just keep that going.”

Harmon believes the best is yet to come.

“It was a great effort, something we really feel that we can build on,” he said. “We’ll come in, watch the film. Although it was a good day, it wasn’t perfect. We still have a lot that we can learn from and improve upon.”

THE VICTORY clinched New England’s 17th consecutive winning season, at 9-2, an NFL record for most consecutive winning seasons since the 1970 merger.

“The expectations are really high because of what teams in the past have done,” said quarterback Tom Brady.

“And I think the guys that come in … and look up at Coach (Bill) Belichick and understand kind of what we’re playing for and the history of the team and the expectations. They understand that.”

NATE EBNER’S first professional carry was a 14-yard run on a fake punt on New England’s opening series of the game. It could also be his last play of the season.

Ebner, one of New England’s top special teams players, suffered a knee injury at the end of the play, apparently when he planted his right foot to make a cut.

While the extent of the injury isn’t known, it doesn’t look good for Ebner, who this year became the first NFL player to participate in the Olympics (as a member of the U.S. rugby team in Barcelona) and win a Super Bowl championship in the same year.

RUNNING BACK Mike Gillislee, who leads the Patriots with four rushing touchdowns, was inactive for the third consecutive week as a healthy scratch. With the emergence of Dion Lewis and Rex Burkhead, Gillislee has become the odd man out in New England’s crowded backfield.

Right tackle Marcus Cannon, who is battling an ankle injury, was also out for the third consecutive game, and center David Andrews missed his second consecutive game with an undisclosed illness.

Other inactive players for the Patriots included wide receiver Chris Hogan (shoulder), special teams ace Matthew Slater (hamstring), cornerback Eric Rowe (groin) and tight end Martellus Bennett (shoulder/hamstring).