Patriots rally, clinch first-round bye

Posted Dec. 24, 2011 @ 4:39 p.m.
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By Howard Ulman, AP Sports Writer

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Tom Brady and the New England Patriots looked lost in a terrible first half. Then they rallied to finish as winners, clinching a playoff bye with a 27-24 win over the Miami Dolphins on Saturday.

The Patriots trailed 17-0 at halftime then scored on their first five possessions in the second half. The Dolphins helped when Matt Moore lost a fumble at his 38-yard line then threw an interception that Devin McCourty picked off at the Patriots 2.

New England (12-3) won its seventh straight game. After the Houston Texans lost to the Indianapolis Colts on Thursday night, the Patriots needed a win or a tie to lock up one of the top two spots in the AFC.

Miami (5-10) lost for the third time in eight games after opening at 0-7 and is 1-1 under Todd Bowles, who took over when Tony Sparano was fired.

But the Dolphins seemed headed for a victory and got a break even before the game started when Patriots OLT Matt Light hurt his ankle in warmups and didn't play. OLG Logan Mankins took his spot, but he left with a knee injury suffered on New England's second series.

Their absence showed as the Dolphins kept pressuring Brady. He completed just 7-of-19 passes for 87 yards and was sacked three times in the half. But once the third quarter began, Brady and the Patriots — both their offense and defense — looked completely different, starting with the very first play, a 22-yard completion to Rob Gronkowski.

Brady completed 20-of-27 passes for 217 yards in the second half, finishing at 27-for-46 for 304 and leading one scoring drive after another — a 45-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski, a 1-yard pass to Deion Branch, a 1-yard sneak by Brady that tied the game, a go-ahead 42-yard field goal by Gostkowski after McCourty's first interception of the year, and another 1-yard sneak by Brady with 2:56 to go.

The Dolphins made it closer on Moore's 15-yard scoring pass to Davone Bess with 1:48 to play. They had three timeouts left, but their hopes faded when Brady hit Wes Welker for a 6-yard gain and a first down. Welker had 12 catches for 138 yards.

Reggie Bush had another outstanding game for Miami with his fourth straight rushing day of at least 100 yards. He finished with 113 on 22 carries one week after gaining a career-high 203 yards.

The Dolphins had taken a 3-0 lead on Dan Carpenter's 47-yard field goal 4:01 into the game and made it 10-0 with 1:15 gone in the second quarter on Moore's 19-yard pass to Brandon Marshall.

They stretched that to 17-0, the Patriots' biggest deficit of the season, on a 1-yard touchdown pass from Moore to Charles Clay. The 89-yard drive was helped by two defensive pass-interference penalties on third down.

The Patriots punted on their first six possessions, then wasted a chance to score when Gostkowski's 51-yard field goal attempt on the next to last play of the half went wide to the left.

Game stats

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