Patriots keep winning even when offense falters

Tom Brady actually threw an interception.

Don’t worry Patriots fans, your team finally has a decent

defense and big-play special teams to step up when the NFL’s best

offense falters.

On a day when Brady was picked off for the first time in six

games and New England gained a season-low 321 yards, the

once-suspect defense delivered. It had its second stingiest game of

the year, allowing just 277 yards, in a 23-16 win over the Miami

Dolphins on Sunday.

That clinched the ninth AFC East title in 10 years for the

Patriots (9-3) and extended their winning streak to six games.

”When (the) offense struggles, it’s a chance for us to showcase

how special we are on the defensive end,” tackle Vince Wilfork

said. ”Offense is OK to have a bad game here and there. They’ve

done so much for us and one thing we want to do around here is we

always want to play as a team.”

They’ve been doing that quite well lately.

In their last three games, the Patriots have scored 11

touchdowns on offense, three on defense and two on special


They’ve cut down on the long completions by opposing

quarterbacks. They’ve improved over the last two games from

allowing the fifth most yards in the NFL to seventh.

Their turnover differential has gotten much better with 17

takeaways and just three giveaways during their six-game surge.

”We’ve had some better results recently, statistically,” coach

Bill Belichick said Monday. ”We’ve continued to win.”

If the defensive players improve the communication among

themselves and their execution the longer they’re together, he

said, ”then we’ll play better next week than we played this


Even when the defense doesn’t score, it’s helped the offense by

stopping opponents deep in their own territory and forcing them to

punt. The Dolphins managed just two first downs on their first five

possessions and gained less than 10 yards on six of their first

nine series.

”(Sunday) was a great example of a team win,” offensive

coordinator Josh McDaniels said. ”The defense really has made a

lot of plays for us all season long, set us up with great field

position with turnovers, and given us opportunities to get the ball

in plus-field position a number of times.”

But McDaniels isn’t used to seeing his offense sputter the way

it did for much of the game in Miami. It had gained more than 440

yards in six of its previous eight games. Brady had thrown 20

touchdowns and two interceptions in that stretch.

But they didn’t score a touchdown after the first six minutes of

the second quarter against Miami.

”We didn’t convert as often as we like,” Brady said.

But they did that when they had a chance to close out the game.

Leading 20-13, the Patriots got the ball with 8:28 and didn’t give

it back until just 1:10 remained. That 16-play, 77-yard drive

lasted 7:18 and led to a field goal that made it a two-possession


That mattered a lot more to Belichick than the poor production


”We don’t go into any game thinking, `It’s going to be this way

or it’s going to be that way. This is going to be a 50-49 game or

it’s going to be a 3-2 game or that kind of thing,”’ he said.

”Ultimately, at the end, it comes down to being able to make the

plays you need to make to win the game.”

They did that Sunday.

”We’ve been in those situations before where we’ve thrown up a

lot of big numbers,” Belichick said, ”or scored some points and

then get to that (late) point in the game and go


Avoiding that could be critical next Monday night when Houston


The Texans (11-1) currently have the top seed in the AFC with

the Baltimore Ravens second. The Patriots must pass one of them in

their four remaining regular-season games to get a first-round


So coordinator Matt Patricia knows his defense will have to keep

playing well against Houston.

”You’re talking about a very balanced, very well-put-together

offense,” he said.

If the game is close, Belichick hopes his team can come up with

big plays down the stretch, just as it did in Miami.

”That’s what I’d like to see from an offense or a defense or

any part of your team for that matter, to make the critical plays

that you need to make to win the game,” he said. ”That’s really

what it’s all about, not a bunch of stats.”

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