Preview: Dolphins face stiff test against Patriots, even minus Rob Gronkowski
Time: 8:30 p.m.
MIAMI (AP) — Good news for the Miami Dolphins: They won’t face New England tight end Rob Gronkowski on Monday night.
It may not matter, however, given the disparity between the teams in the lopsided rivalry.
The Patriots’ three-time All-Pro tight end will sit out in serving one-game suspension for a late, gratuitous hit to the head of Buffalo Bills defensive back Tre’Davious White.
Even so, New England is an 11-point favorite on the road. That line didn’t budget after Gronkowski’s suspension was announced.
The Patriots (10-2) have won five of their past six games against Miami (5-7), including a 35-17 drubbing two weeks ago, when Gronkowski caught two touchdown passes.
Here are some things to know about the rematch:
With Gronk out, New England will turn to Dwayne Allen, who has endured a rough season.
The Patriots traded for him last offseason to replace Martellus Bennett, who signed with the Green Bay Packers. Allen was targeted just six times in the Patriots’ first eight games, with no catches, which led New England to re-sign Bennett after he was waived by Green Bay in October.
Allen has showed improvement over the past four games, with five catches for 40 yards and touchdown.
“He’s ready to go and always prepared and always works hard at his job, tries to get it right,” coach Bill Belichick said. “We all make mistakes. We all correct them and try to do better the next time. He has embraced that.”
Gronkowski has eight touchdowns in 11 games against Miami. But coach Adam Gase said the Patriots will be tough to stop even without him, thanks to Tom Brady and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.
“It’s always difficult, because Josh will do a good job of using the guys that he has and putting them in different positions, and really forcing your defense to try to figure out where everybody is,” Gase said.
“You see a formation one time, and then you’ll never see it again. You’ve got one shot to try to make a good play. That’s why he’s really good. That’s why they’ve had a lot of success. They have good players, but at the same time, he puts those guys in a really good position.”
That makes good players less indispensable than on other teams. The Patriots are 20-5 without Gronkowski since his rookie season in 2010, including 9-0 since the start of the 2016 season.
If Buffalo loses Sunday to Indianapolis, the Patriots will clinch their ninth consecutive AFC East title and their 17th division title since Robert Kraft purchased the team in 1994.
If Buffalo wins, the Patriots can clinch by beating Miami. The Patriots already own the record for the most division titles since 1994. Next are the Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers with 12 each.
The Dolphins have already been eliminated from the race for the division title. They’ve made the playoffs only once since 2008.
BEATING FATHER TIME
Tom Brady leads the NFL with 3,632 yards passing and needs just 47 yards to pass Warren Moon (3,678 for Seattle in 1997) for the most yards passing by a 40-year-old quarterback in a single season.
The oldest player to lead the league in passing was Fran Tarkenton with 3,468 yards for Minnesota in 1978 at age 38.
One of the most viral moments from the Patriots’ win over the Bills last week didn’t even happen on the field. It came on the sideline when Brady and McDaniels got into a heated exchange in the first quarter after a 14-play drive yielded only a field goal.
Brady dismissed it as “just football,” and McDaniels echoed that assessment.
“It’s a very competitive game and emotional game, and things like that can happen,” he said. “Being in the game a long time, and understanding that Tommy’s a very emotional person and emotional player — it’s part of what makes him great. You understand that those things happen, and it’s never personal.”
Dolphins quarterback Jay Cutler is 0-3 against the Patriots, with five interceptions, seven sacks and a dismal passer rating of 70.5.
He lost to them once with Denver and twice with Chicago, and his teams were outscored 128-37.
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