DAVIE, Fla. — The Miami Dolphins face an unenviable task in trying to snap a three-game losing streak.
They’ll be visiting the AFC East-leading New England Patriots, who are coming off a loss.
They’ll be trying to defeat the Patriots for the first time in seven tries.
They’ll be trying to win at New England for the first time since Sept. 21, 2008, when the Patriots played without an injured Tom Brady.
No such luck on Sunday, when Brady will oppose a Miami defense that has already faced premier quarterbacks Andrew Luck (Indianapolis), Matt Ryan (Atlanta), Drew Brees (New Orleans) and Joe Flacco (Baltimore).
“I think Brady’s the same as always. They’ve been struggling though,” linebacker Philip Wheeler told FOX Sports Florida. “Hopefully, we can take advantage of them struggling.”
The 5-2 Patriots, struggling?
In last week’s loss at the New York Jets, New England’s offense was held under 300 yards for the second time in three games and the third time this year. The Patriots were also 1 for 12 on third down.
That, despite the return of tight end Rob Gronkowski, who missed New England’s first six games following offseason surgery to repair his forearm.
“It all starts with No. 12, he knows what do with the football,” Dolphins cornerback Nolan Carroll said. “And now that they have Gronkowski back … they targeted him about 17 times last week. Brady’s really force-feeding him the ball. He’s happy to have that guy back.”
Gronkowski adds another challenge in trying to stop the Patriots’ fast-paced, no-huddle offense.
“You don’t want him to catch the big balls down the field,” defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle said. “If you can kind of keep him contained where he’s catching shallow balls that is a good thing.”
New England also has had issues on defense, which allowed a season-high 30 points to the Jets.
Cornerback Aqib Talib (hip) didn’t play against New York. That’s a significant injury to a unit that already lost defensive tackle Vince Wilfork and linebacker Jerod Mayo to season-ending injuries.
Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill, though, said there’s still reason to respect the Pats’ D.
“They may give up a little bit of yardage moving down the field, but when they are in the red zone, they do a great job of keeping people out of the end zone,” Tannehill said.
“They show some different looks down in the red zone. They mix in double coverage depending on who they are playing and it can present some problems how they line up. It’s not a clear picture as you see most weeks. They do a good job of passing guys off and funneling them to their help.”
Miami, which fell to 3-3 with last week’s home loss to Buffalo, will try to avoid falling to 0-2 in the division.
How big is the New England game?
“I could probably roll back last week and give you a verbatim answer that I probably gave — a division game, all of the repercussions,” defensive end Cameron Wake said. “But it’s the next game, which is the most important game.”
Offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie could make his Dolphins debut against the Patriots. He was acquired Monday from Baltimore to help an offensive line that has allowed 26 sacks.
For coach Joe Philbin, protecting Tannehill is a major concern, but not the only one.
“We pointed out to the football team that when we had our three-game winning streak, our turnover margin was positive for the first three games and we won three games in a row,” Philbin said. “The last three games our turnover margin is minus-3 and we lost three games.
“I think the other thing we’ve pointed out to the team is, we haven’t made as many plays in the fourth quarter in the last three weeks. That’s why the outcome of the game has been not in our favor.”