Dolphins’ Gase seeks breakthrough win against Patriots

FILE - At left, in an Oct. 22, 2017, file photo, Miami Dolphins quarterback Jay Cutler (6) looks to pass during the first half of an NFL football game against the New York Jets, in Miami Gardens, Fla. At right, in a Nov. 26, 2017, file photo, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady rolls out to pass against the Miami Dolphins during the first half of an NFL football game, in Foxborough, Mass. New England plays at Miami on Monday night, Dec. 11. (AP Photo/File)

MIAMI (AP) Adam Gase has yet to overtake the New England Patriots because he has yet to beat them.

Or even come close.

The Miami Dolphins’ second-year coach is 0-3 against the Patriots and faces them again Monday night. Gase has trailed 24-3, 20-7 and 21-10 at halftime against New England, including two weeks ago when the Patriots won 35-17.

And so the yawning gap persists between New England (10-2) and the rest of the AFC East. A victory will give the Patriots their ninth consecutive division title with three weeks of the regular season still to go.

The Dolphins (5-7) will likely sit out the playoffs for the 14th time in the past 16 years.

The divide with New England is such that Miami is an 11-point underdog at home, even though the Patriots will be without tight end Rob Gronkowski, who is serving a one-game suspension for a late hit to the head of Buffalo Bills defensive back Tre’Davious White.

The Dolphins hired Gase with the goal of passing the Patriots, and he gained ground in the standings as a rookie coach last season, when Miami won 10 games and reached the playoffs as a wild-card team.

But the Dolphins regressed this season, and were knocked out of postseason contention with a winless November that included their ninth consecutive defeat in Foxborough.

Gase is the Dolphins’ eighth coach since New England hired Bill Belichick in 2000. Now Gase is in danger of becoming the first Miami coach to lose his first four meetings with the Patriots.

In three games against New England, Gase’s Dolphins have been outscored 101-55.

”We’ve started slow in all three games,” Gase said. ”It’s really hard to challenge them the way you need to challenge them if you’re down 21, 14, 20 before you even get going. They’re a hard enough team to play when it’s close.”

While the Patriots are coasting to another division title, no team is better at avoiding a letup, and Belichick predicted the rematch with Miami will play out differently than the first meeting.

”It’s not a continuation of last week’s game,” Belichick said. ”It’s starting all over again, and that’s what we have to be ready to do.”

Motivation won’t be an issue, Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty said.

”It’s going to be chippy,” he said. ”You get into December, no one wants to lose anymore. Everyone wants to win games and build and get better.”

The Patriots easily beat Miami last month despite not playing very well. A botched snap gave the Dolphins a touchdown, and Tom Brady threw a rare interception.

But a 14-0 deficit after 10 minutes doomed the Dolphins, and their habit of starting slowly will be tough to break. They’ve been outscored 158-76 in the first half, and last week’s win against Denver was the first time all season the Dolphins led to start the fourth quarter.

Even if the Dolphins play better early, they’ll need to hold onto the ball. They’ve committed nine turnovers in their past three games against New England.

”You can’t give them free possessions, and you’ve got to make every one count,” Gase said. ”You can’t turn the ball over and give a guy like Tom Brady an extra possession.”

While Gase is virtually assured of returning for a third season with Miami, there could be a significant shakeup among his assistants if the Dolphins don’t finish well.

Gase’s record is only 15-14, but he’s 9-4 at home. And Brady has played some of his worst games in Miami, where the Patriots lost three seasons in a row through 2015.

”We’re in a northern environment; they’re in a southern environment,” Brady said. ”I think it’s hard for them to come up here; I think it’s challenging for us to go down there. And that’s just the way it has always been.”

More AP NFL: http://pro32.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-NFL

Follow Steven Wine on Twitter: http://twitter.com/Steve-Wine.