It’s not that the New England Patriots are trying to sugarcoat
the loss of Rob Gronkowski, but they feel fortunate to have
succeeded in this situation before.
With a chance to clinch the AFC East on Sunday against the host
Miami Dolphins, they are doing their best to take it in stride.
Gronkowski suffered a serious knee injury in last week’s 27-26
comeback win over Cleveland and will be out for the rest of the
season, playing in just seven games after missing the first six due
to back and forearm issues.
New England (10-3) went 5-1 in the star tight end’s absence.
“I’d like to think there’s going to be some carry-over there,
not only (from) the first six weeks of the season, but the entire
training camp as well,” coach Bill Belichick said. “That’s the way
we practiced and played most of the year.”
Tom Brady surely will miss one of his favorite targets, but he
isn’t going to sulk over Gronkowski’s latest injury.
“I mean, it’s disappointing to lose anybody, but we’ve faced
that before this year and at different times, so I’d say at least
we’re adjusted to it a little bit,” Brady said. “We still have
confidence that we can go out and win games.”
A win or tie Sunday would give the Patriots their fifth straight
division title and 10th in 11 seasons, and they’d clinch a playoff
berth regardless of the result if Baltimore doesn’t win in Detroit
on Monday night.
Victories haven’t come easy lately, though.
New England’s three-game winning streak hasn’t been for the
faint of heart. It overcame a 24-point deficit to beat Denver 34-31
in overtime Nov. 24, then rallied from 10 down at halftime before
Stephen Gostkowski kicked a pair of 53-yard field goals in the
final 7:16 for a 34-31 win over Houston on Dec. 1.
The Patriots scored 13 points and recovered an onside kick in
the final 61 seconds last week.
“Sometimes the stars align in your favor,” special teams captain
Matthew Slater said. “We’ve been real blessed this year to have the
ball bounce our way and we’re just going to go with it. We’re not
going to question the why of it.”
New England had to rally from a 17-3 halftime deficit against
the Dolphins in the first meeting Oct. 27, scoring 24 unanswered
points to earn its seventh straight victory in the series.
Brady finished 13 of 22 for 116 yards – his fewest when playing
a full game since throwing for 78 against the Dolphins on Dec. 10,
2006 – and he’s expecting Miami to present another tough
“They’ve got a really good scheme. There are really no easy
plays out there, so we’ve got to go out there and earn it,” Brady
said. “Hopefully we can follow it up so we’re most prepared, and
then go down and try to win a really important game.”
This contest may be more important for the Dolphins (7-6), who
are tied with Baltimore for the AFC’s final playoff spot. They’ve
won back-to-back games after last week’s wild 34-28 victory in
After this game, Miami visits Buffalo next week before closing
its schedule at home against the New York Jets on Dec. 29.
“All the games are going to be tough,” cornerback Brent Grimes
said. “We just need to win. I don’t know how you’re looking at it,
but we need to win. We need to take care of our business.”
The Dolphins have been to the playoffs once in the last 11
seasons, but coach Joe Philbin is refusing to look ahead as
“All that matters is that with an excellent team coming to town,
that’s a full plate,” Philbin said. “We’re going to have to play
extremely well. That’s what we have to keep focused on.”
Miami set a season high for points scored despite the tough
conditions last week, and it will go up against a Patriots defense
that ranks 24th in total defense at 372.3 yards per game. New
England has just four sacks in the last three games, but the
Dolphins’ Ryan Tannehill has been sacked a league-high 48
Tannehill threw a career high-tying three touchdown passes last
week – two going to Charles Clay, who finished with seven catches
for 97 yards.
Clay has emerged as one of Tannehill’s top targets, and his 678
yards are 114 short of breaking Randy McMichael’s single-season
franchise record for a tight end set in 2004.
“He’s a heck of an athlete that makes small plays and big
plays,” Tannehill said.
Clay had five catches for 37 yards in the last meeting for
Miami, which hasn’t beaten New England since a 22-21 home win Dec.