Patriots Live Blog: Pats Top Dolphins 27-24, Clinch First-Round Bye in Playoffs


December 24, 2011

Patriots Live Blog: Pats Top Dolphins 27-24, Clinch First-Round Bye in Playoffs

Final, Patriots 27-24: The Patriots escaped on Christmas Eve and locked up a first-round bye in the playoffs. They'll clinch the No. 1 seed next week with a victory or losses from the Steelers and Ravens.

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Fourth quarter, 1:48, Patriots 27-24: Well, it isn't over yet, as the Patriots' defense once again allowed some guys to make plays with the outcome seemingly in hand. Matt Moore threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Davone Bess, who beat Nate Jones and made an outstanding diving play to haul it in for the score. The Dolphins have three timeouts here, so the decision to kick off or go for the onside will be an interesting one. With nothing to play for, I think the onside makes the most sense, but that's just me.

Devin McCourty gave up another big play to Brandon Marshall, too, by biting on a fake post before falling behind Marshall on a go route. An up-and-down day for McCourty, for sure.

Fourth quarter, 2:56, Patriots 27-17: The turnaround is complete, as Tom Brady's second quarterback keeper for a touchdown has extended the lead and all but put the Dolphins to bed. Rob Gronkowski and Wes Welker were making plays on that drive, and it shows how difficult it can be to keep both of those guys at bay for an entire game.

If the Patriots hold on, they'll clinch a first-round bye. They won't be able to lock up the No. 1 seed Saturday, though. That will have to wait until next week.

Fourth quarter, 7:42, Patriots 20-17: The Patriots really picked on the B-gap between the left guard and left tackle on consecutive plays, as Dane Fletcher hit Matt Moore (but whiffed on the sack) and Jerod Mayo finished the job on third down. The offensive line had no chance with the lack of communication and execution, which is a pretty horrible combination. That's what happens when someone like Jake Long goes down.

Tom Brady and the offense take over at their own 41 with a chance for the kill shot. Cornerback Vontae Davis, who has historically been a thorn in Brady's side, is questionable return with an elbow injury, too.

Fourth quarter, 8:55, Patriots 20-17: Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 42-yard field goal to give the Patriots their first lead of the game, but the Patriots were going in the wrong direction with a penalty and a sack at the end of the drive. Even with this momentum, it's tough to leave points on the board at this stage of the game.

The score was set up by a 42-yard pass in a go-route to Wes Welker, who was single covered by a linebacker. That favors Welker every day of the week and twice on Saturday (see what I did there?), and Welker surpassed 100 yards for the 23rd time in his career.

Tom Brady has also set a new career high for passing yards in a season, which was inevitable in Week 1 when he threw for 519 yards against Miami.

Fourth quarter, 12:40, 17-17: Devin McCourty doesn't have to be mad at himself anymore because he's got his first interception of the season, playing the ball all the way and stealing an underthrown pass away from Matt Moore for Brian Hartline at the New England 2-yard line.

The Patriots are out of challenges after Bill Belichick was denied on the play before the pick. He challenged the spot of a completion, which looked like the right thing to do, but those spot challenges are tough to win.

Reggie Bush has surpassed 100 yards for the fourth consecutive game. He's so good if he makes the first assignment miss, whether it's a tackler or a player who got pushed out of his gap. I'm definitely impressed with his performance in this game, but this is also the third consecutive game in which the Patriots have struggled to stop the run. That could be an issue against a team like Baltimore or Houston in the playoffs.

Third quarter, 2:17, 17-17: Unreal how quickly this game has changed. The Patriots have picked up the pace and executed much better, and it took them less than 13 minutes to erase a 17-point deficit in the third quarter.

Tom Brady's quarterbac sneak was good for a one-yard touchdown, and the Dolphins weren't exactly ready for it. The Dolphins haven't generated as much pressure this quarter because the receivers have done a better job to get open quicker. It was a multi-layered problem in the first half, but it's been better across the board in the third quarter.

Third quarter, 5:02, Dolphins 17-10: The Patriots are getting a lot more pressure on Matt Moore, and the coverage has been much better over the middle, where Moore stares when he's in trouble. It looks like the linebackers are getting into some more man coverage, which has thrown off Miami's passing game.

Kevin Faulk returned the punt to the Miami 41, and the Patriots are threatening to tie this thing.

Third quarter, 7:10, Dolphins 17-10: Tom Brady scrambled to his left to keep a third-and-goal play alive before hitting Deion Branch for a one-yard touchdown. The read was to Gronkowski on a deep out-route, but the pressure was too quick on the right side, and Brady had to duck out of the way before shifting to Branch as his next read. The play was reviewed to make sure Branch didn't step out of bounds, but it held up.

The Patriots are back in it, and the series continue to get even bigger for the New England defense.

Third quarter, 10:45, Dolphins 17-3: And there it is. Matt Moore couldn't handle the snap under center, and Vince Wilfork recovered it to set up the Patriots at the Miami 38-yard line. The Dolphins have given the Patriots some energy early in the third quarter.

By the way, Stephen Gostkowski made a diving tackle to trip up Clyde Gates and prevent him from taking a kickoff to the house. Awful coverage there, and Gostkowski was the Patriots' last chance. That tackle could turn out to be gigantic.

Third quarter, 11:39, Dolphins 17-3: The crowd let out a Bronx cheer as Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 45-yard field goal to put the Patriots on the board. On the failed third down, Tom Brady skipped a quick pass to Deion Branch in the right flat, which is the latest example of Brady missing an open player. Most of that has to do with rushing throws due to the poor protection, but when Brady gets rushed consistently, his whole game gets thrown off.

During a Dolphins injury timeout, offensive line coach Dante Scarnecchia called Marcus Cannon toward the sideline for some one-on-one coaching. Scarnecchia never lets off the gas with his young guys.

Third quarter, 12:54, Dolphins 17-0: Logan Mankins did not return to the sideline after halftime, which is an almost certain sign he won't return to this game.

Third quarter, 15:00, Dolphins 17-0: New England opens at its own 20. This should be one of the most interesting performances of the season. The Patriots have shown some great character before, but they've never had to bounce back like this.

Halftime, Dolphins 17-0: There are a lot of adjectives to describe the Patriots' first half, and not a single one of them is good. The Patriots tried to put some points on the board late, but two mistakes cost them an opportunity. Deion Branch beat poor coverage down the left sideline for a 31-yard gain, but he tried to go for the home run and cut inside between two defensive backs, who were ready for that exact move and tackled him inbounds with 12 seconds to play, forcing the Patriots to call their last timeout. Two plays later, Stephen Gostkowski badly pulled a 51-yard field-goal attempt. It's hard to fault a kicker for missing a 50-some-odd yarder, but Gostkowski never misses them that badly.

Bill Belichick isn't much of a screamer, but I'm guessing he's unleashing on his team right now. Horrendous execution all over the place in that first half, which might have been the worst 30 minutes of the Patriots' season.

Second quarter, 0:51, Dolphins 17-0: The Patriots have put together two straight defensive stops, and Kyle Arrington made a nice play to break up a deep pass for Brian Hartline on second down. Let's see if the offense can put together a drive from its own 18 with two timeouts. Let's see, indeed.

Second quarter, 2:45, Dolphins 17-0: Yeah, so much for that. Nate Solder got beat to the inside yet again and gave up a third-down sack. Tom Brady might kill someone.

Second quarter, 3:57, Dolphins 17-0: Here's where the Patriots can make a run, as they forced a three-and-out and could put together back-to-back possessions if they play their cards right, as they'll receive the second-half kickoff. New England forced a quick punt, and Dolphins center Mike Pouncey hobbled off the field, which would be another blow to the offensive line in this game. Already, Logan Mankins and Jake Long have gone down, and Matt Light surprisingly couldn't play.

Second quarter, 5:31, Dolphins 17-0: I don't own a boo-o-meter, but the Gillette crowd might have just given the home team its loudest chorus of boos since the 2009 season. This is awful on both sides of the ball. Another three-and-out. Unless something changes drastically, this will get worse before it gets better.

Second quarter, 6:31, Dolphins 17-0: There is no excuse for how poorly the Patriots are playing on defense right now. It's awful, and it could keep them from nabbing the AFC's top playoff seed.

Matt Moore hit Charles Clay on a crossing pattern for a one-yard touchdown on third-and-goal, and it capped off one of the most poorly executed drives of New England's season. Devin McCourty committed a stupid penalty to hold Brian Hartline as he jumped for a ball on third-and-12. The Patriots pleaded for it to be ruled an uncatchable ball, but there's no excuse for the late grab. Awful.

Then, on a pass to Matt Moore — yeah, the quarterback — Rob Ninkovich collided with him down the field for another pass interference penalty. Just dumbfounding.

Second quarter, 12:24, Dolphins 10-0: Can't blame the offensive line for all of these issues. Rob Gronkowski was breaking free from Yeremiah Bell with a double move in the right seam, but Tom Brady chose to throw it to a covered Wes Welker on third-and-1, and the ball was knocked away. This has been ugly and unexpected, to say the least.

Logan Mankins has departed for the locker room, which is a terrible sign, obviously, for the Patriots.

Second quarter, 13:45, Dolphins 10-0: Matt Moore hit Brandon Marshall for a 19-yard touchdown up the right seam, and Miami is taking control early at this one. Marshall beat Devin McCourty two plays eariler for 47 yards down the right sideline. McCourty had good positioning, but he — once again — never turned his head to try to make a play on the ball. That, more than anything, has been his biggest issue this season.

Left tackle Jake Long, one of the two best in the business, is out with an arm injury, and he's questionable to return. That'd be a huge blow for Miami.

First quarter, 0:54, Dolphins 3-0: That's another ugly series for the Patriots, who look horrendous on offense. Logan Mankins stayed on the bench to get his left knee wrapped, but I'm guessing he'll be back when that's done. Nate Solder moved to left tackle, and Marcus Cannon played at right tackle.

Miami takes over at its own 18 after Zoltan Mesko tied a career best with a 65-yard punt.

First quarter, 2:13, Dolphins 3-0: Brandon Marshall had a big drop on second down, and the Dolphins couldn't recover. Logan Mankins got some attention from the trainers on the sideline, and he'll be replaced for the time being. The Patriots take over at their own 10.

First quarter, 3:08, Dolphins 3-0: Tom Brady keeps getting pressured, and the Patriots went three-and-out. Nate Solder got beat by Jason Taylor on that series, and Tom Brady missed an open Wes Welker on third down.

Danny Woodhead got tackled and rolled up on Logan Mankins' legs on second down, causing Mankins to stay down for a moment and hobble back to the huddle. He blocked just fine on third down, but that's obviously not a headache they want to deal with.

First quarter, 4:36, Dolphins 3-0: The Patriots held up despite some shaky run defense on third down, as Reggie Bush exploded through a gap to pick up 12 yards on third-and-17. The Patriots' third-down package has included Vince Wilfork and Kyle Love inside with Rob Ninkovich and Mark Anderson outside and Nate Jones as a nickel back.

Devin McCourty did a nice job to dive and break up an out-route, though Matt Moore's lack of arm strength helped McCourty out. Either way, McCourty plays better when he's playing with confidence, and that should help him in this game.

Good call by Julian Edelman to let that punt bounce. It was a low kick, and he ran hard to catch up to it, but he might have gotten killed if he got his hands on the ball. The Patriots take over at their own 21.

First quarter, 7:08, Dolphins 3-0: The Patriots stalled at midfield after safety Yeremiah Bell sacked Tom Brady on third down, and it was the second time Brady was hit after someone came off the left edge of the offensive line.

As expected off pregame warmups, Logan Mankins, Donald Thomas, Dan Connolly, Brian Waters and Nate Solder started from left to right on the offensive line.

First quarter, 10:59, Dolphins 3-0: Dan Carpenter kicked a 47-yard field goal to cap off the opening drive after Bill Belichick challenged a third-down pass that pushed the attempt six yards backward. Davone Bess was given a catch, but the replay showed the ball hit the ground, prompting Belichick to challenge the play. Obviously, it didn't work out, but I think if you've got a chance to affect a scoring play, it's a worthwhile challenge, especially when you know you're going to win it. However, Belichick has to be careful with his next challenge now.

Matt Moore threw a beautiful pass to Brian Hartline for a 39-yard gain on third-and-9. Hartline ran a perfect out-and-up route, and Devin McCourty bit toward the sideline. Initially, I thought Moore was throwing the ball away, as he threw it as Hartline was still facing the sideline, but it turned out to be a perfectly executed play. Tough to fault McCourty with that one. Sometimes, you've just got to tip your cap.

Shaun Ellis also recorded his first sack as a Patriot.

First quarter, 15:00, 0-0: The opening kickoff went for a touchback. Shaun Ellis and Brandon Deaderick start at defensive end in a 4-3, and Sergio Brown is at safety next to James Ihedigbo. You know the rest of the starters.

1:00 p.m.: The Dolphins won the toss and elected to receive the opening kickoff, so the Patriots will get it at the start of the third quarter once again.

12:36 p.m.: Big development here. All of Logan Mankins' reps during 11-on-11 drills came at left tackle. That was with the first team and the backups, so it really looks like he'll start at left tackle with Nate Solder at right tackle. Marcus Cannon probably won't be starting after all.

And these rotations usually hold very true to form. Sure, there could be some gamesmanship, but it's really looking like Mankins starts at left tackle.

With Mankins at left tackle, Donald Thomas was working at left guard with the first team.

12:00 p.m.: Dolphins outside linebacker Cameron Wake has three career sacks against the Patriots, including one in the season opener. But he's only got 2.5 sacks in his last eight games, which is interesting. Obviously, that could change this week. Nate Solder will likely start at left tackle for the first time in his career, and Marcus Cannon will make his first career start.

11:38 a.m.: Matt Light will not play due to an apparent right ankle injury, though he wasn't on the injury report (check below for details). Sebastian Vollmer, Brandon Spikes, Patrick Chung, Ron Brace, Shane Vereen and Ryan Mallett are also inactive.

Deion Branch and Nick McDonald are back in the lineup after missing last week's game, and Alex Silvestro and Sterling Moore are active after Saturday's promotion.

More details to follow.

11:16 a.m.: Matt Light's workout has ended, as he departed to the locker room with the full strength staff. And he was more than loosening up. Light appeared to be testing his right ankle or foot by planting and blocking. Newly-promoted defensive end Alex Silvestro helped him out with that.

Light wasn't on the injury report, so this was a surprise.

He left Gillette Stadium in a walking boot on that right foot after the Chiefs game, so I'm guessing that's the issue here.

11:07 a.m.: Linebacker Rob Ninkovich and left tackle Matt Light have been warming up with strength and conditioning coach Harold Nash. Ninkovich had been doing it for several weeks, but this is the first time I can remember Light doing this before a game. Neither player is on the injury report, but with the cold, I wonder if Light is just trying to get extra loose before the game.

10:40 a.m.: Punter Zoltan Mesko, kicker Stephen Gostkowski and long snapper Danny Aiken are the only Patriots on the field right now. Typical pregame routine for a home game.

10:20 a.m.: Good morning from Gillette Stadium, where it's currently 28 degrees and partly cloudy. It's cold, no doubt, but there isn't any wind at this point, which should help the players a great deal. It's apparently not supposed to get a whole lot warmer than this for the game, either.

Under almost all circumstances, I'd say this weather really favors the Patriots, and I still think it does to an extent. But the Dolphins beat the Bills in a snowstorm last week, so they've been able to adjust to it.

Plus, the Patriots practiced inside the Dana-Farber Field House twice this week before moving outside Thursday when it was about 60 degrees. So it's not like the Patriots have been completely accustomed to playing in this cold weather just yet — at least not by normal December standards.

8:00 a.m. ET: It's a big day for the Patriots as they try to dispose of the Dolphins and improve their record to 12-3. With a victory, New England would lock up a first-round bye in the playoffs, too, which would be a nice way to head into Christmas.

The Patriots can clinch the No. 1 seed as early as Saturday if they beat Miami and the Steelers (home against St. Louis) and Ravens (home against Cleveland) both lose. All three games kick off at 1 p.m.
If it doesn't happen Saturday, the Patriots can still clinch the top seed by beating the Dolphins and Bills, so they're in a good spot regardless.

While New England is expected to take care of business against Miami, remember, the Dolphins have stung the Patriots before. Since 2001, the Pats are 25-3 in December and January against teams with losing records, but the Dolphins have provided the only blemishes to that record (2004, 2006, 2009).

As always, stay with's live blog throughout the day for wall-to-wall coverage, and if you're feeling festive, save us some eggnog for later. 


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