Dolphins end season on downer, lose to Pats 28-0
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP)
The Miami Dolphins were hoping to avoid their fourth consecutive losing season and enter the new year on a positive note.
After winning back-to-back games, they ran into New England's defense. Actually, the Patriots ran smack into them.
Rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill was sacked a season-high seven times and the Dolphins turned the ball over twice, including a fumble at the 1-yard line midway through the third quarter of a 28-0 loss to the Patriots in Sunday's regular-season finale.
''They're the division champs and today the scoreboard tells you we were four touchdowns behind them, so we have some work to do,'' Miami coach Joe Philbin said. ''I think we made progress in areas, but we have a ton of work to do. We've got to get started on that as soon as possible.''
Tannehill finished 20 of 35 for 235 yards with one interception for the Dolphins, who trailed 21-0 at halftime and failed to establish an effective running game. Reggie Bush carried the ball only eight times for 26 yards, coming up 14 yards shy of his second straight 1,000-yard season.
''It's obviously not what we planned to do and it's not how we planned to finish the season,'' said Bush, whose contract expires after the season. ''We came in here with the mentality that we needed to finish the season strong and we obviously didn't do that today. We just have to take it and get better next year.''
Philbin knew that for his team to hang with the AFC East champions they had to do two things: protect the football and disrupt the Patriots' potent passing game.
Instead, it was New England (12-4) that accomplished both, and Miami (7-9) was shut out for the first time since a 16-0 loss to the Chicago Bears on Nov. 18, 2010.
''You know when you play a team like New England that doesn't make a lot of mistakes, you can't give the ball away a couple of times,'' Philbin said. ''When you're minus-two in the turnover margin, regardless of your opponent, you usually don't win those games.''
Brady threw two scoring passes and Stevan Ridley ran for two touchdowns to help the Patriots earn the second seed in the AFC and a first-round bye.
''Hopefully, this will be a good game that we can step off from and keep working to improve,'' coach Bill Belichick said.
Rebounding from two mediocre performances, the Patriots will have an extra week to savor the win and prepare for their postseason opener. The Denver Broncos got the top spot by beating the Kansas City Chiefs.
New England used a ball-control offense and a defense that posted the team's first shutout since a 59-0 rout of the Tennessee Titans on Oct. 18, 2009.
The Patriots scored on Brady's 9-yard touchdown pass to Wes Welker and Ridley's runs of 1 and 2 yards, capping drives lasting 14 and 13 plays. Their last touchdown came in the fourth quarter on Brady's 23-yard scoring pass to Rob Gronkowski, who missed the previous five games after breaking his left forearm.
''It felt good. I haven't gotten hit in a while,'' Gronkowski said. ''I got limited reps (but) you always want to get some reps before heading into the playoffs.''
But after turning it around against the Dolphins, there are still plenty of mistakes for Belichick to point out.
''He never falls short of having a bunch of things that we need to fix,'' cornerback Devin McCourty said. ''There's no coach that gets you better prepared to go into the playoffs.''
The Patriots got a break on their third series.
Under heavy pressure, Tannehill threw a pass that was intercepted by Steve Gregory, who returned it 13 yards to the Miami 28. Gronkowski gained 19 yards on the first pass thrown to him. On the second play of the series, Brady connected with Welker over the middle for a milestone completion.
Brady moved into second place in NFL history with a touchdown pass in 48 consecutive games, breaking a tie with Hall of Famer Johnny Unitas. And Brady became the first player to throw at least one scoring pass in all 16 games for three straight seasons.
Brady finished with 22 completions in 36 attempts for 284 yards and New England's top-rated offense got plenty of help from an improving defense.
Rookie Justin Francis had three sacks. Another rookie, Dont'a Hightower, recovered a fumble at the Patriots 1 on a botched handoff from Tannehill to Bush.
On the ensuing drive, a pass to Welker popped loose and Miami's Chris Clemons came up with the ball and ran about 60 yards for what officials ruled a touchdown. But the call was reversed and the play was ruled an incomplete pass upon video review.
''This is like our playoff game,'' Miami center Mike Pouncey said, ''and we didn't go out and perform the way we should have.''
Notes: The Patriots won their sixth straight game against the Dolphins and finished with 11 wins in their last 12 games. ... Tannehill set Miami rookie records with 282 completions, 484 attempts and 3,294 yards passing ... The Patriots set an NFL record with 444 first downs after getting 28. They began the game tied with the 2011 New Orleans Saints at 416. ... Miami's Anthony Fasano and Kevin Burnett left the game in the third quarter and were evaluated for concussions. No results were announced.
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