Final

Dolphins 24

(5-10, 2-6 away)

Patriots 27

(12-3, 6-1 home)

Coverage: CBS

1:00 PM ET, December 24, 2011

Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, MA 

1 2 3 4 T
MIA 3 14 0 724
NE 0 0 17 1027

Top Performers

Passing: T. Brady (NE) - 304 YDS, 1 TD

Rushing: R. Bush (MIA) - 22 CAR, 113 YDS

Receiving: B. Marshall (MIA) - 6 REC, 143 YDS, 1 TD

Dolphins-Patriots Preview

STATS LLC

After a weekend in which every relevant result broke the New England Patriots' way, their path to the No. 1 seed in the AFC couldn't be clearer.

It remains murky, however, whether their struggling defense can improve enough to make a playoff run -- especially without their biggest pass-rushing presence.

The Patriots must move on without standout defensive end Andre Carter as they try to move closer to securing home-field advantage throughout the postseason Saturday by defeating the Miami Dolphins.

Home victories the next two weeks over 5-9 foes Miami and Buffalo would ensure New England (11-3) won't play anywhere but Foxborough until either the Super Bowl or next season.

Of course, the Patriots also had the conference's top seed last postseason, only to be upset by the rival New York Jets in the divisional round -- the second straight year they've dropped their playoff opener at home.

Despite its stellar record, Bill Belichick's team hardly seems like a safe bet to return to the Super Bowl for the first time since its bid for a perfect season was spoiled there four years ago.

The Tom Brady-led offense is typically potent, having averaged 35.8 points during the club's six-game winning streak. New England's defense, though, has allowed more yards than any other team's, and the season-ending quadriceps injury Carter suffered last week in Denver certainly won't help.

"That's tough. Andre puts so much in with his leadership alone," defensive tackle Vince Wilfork said. "He hasn't really won a lot in his career, but now he's winning, he's happy here, he's having fun, he's playing well. To see him go down, it's a blow."

Playing primarily at end in a newly installed 4-3 scheme, Carter provided the Patriots with a team-high 10 sacks. Without him, it's possible the club could return to more of the 3-4 arrangement it has used in past years.

"We used them both at different times for different reasons," Belichick said. "In the end, it comes back to the players -- beating blocks, making tackles, hitting the quarterback, covering the receivers."

New England didn't do much of any of that while allowing 167 yards on the ground in the first quarter Sunday, falling behind 16-7 early in the second. But the offense responded with 27 straight points and the defense tightened to cool down Tim Tebow and the Broncos in a 41-23 drubbing.

Not only did the win clinch the club's ninth AFC East title in 11 years, but the three other teams that had been tied at 10-3 atop the conference -- Baltimore, Pittsburgh and Houston -- lost.

"I don't think we've got enough time to smile," cornerback Devin McCourty said. "We see that happen, but I think it really (emphasizes) how important it is for us to keep playing well and to be ready to go on Saturday."

Saturday's game seems straightforward enough for the Patriots, who've outscored the Dolphins 117-45 in winning all three meetings over the last two seasons.

Miami has looked like a vastly improved team lately, however, winning five of seven since an 0-7 start. The revival wasn't good enough to save Tony Sparano's job, but the Dolphins won their first game under interim coach Todd Bowles, overcoming wintry weather for a 30-23 victory at Buffalo last week.

While Matt Moore has thrown 11 touchdowns and just two interceptions in the last seven games, Reggie Bush's renaissance has powered Miami lately, with the former USC star finally fulfilling the lofty expectations placed on him when he was drafted No. 2 overall by New Orleans in 2006.

With one 100-yard rushing game in five seasons with the Saints, Bush has four for the Dolphins this season -- including each of the last three contests. He posted career highs of 203 yards and 25 carries against the Bills, ripping off a 76-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter to all but seal the game.

"I understand the questions," Bush said. "I was hurt a few years and I wasn't getting a lot of touches and yards. Rightfully so, people should be questioning whether I can do it or not. But I know given the opportunity, I can show that I can be a good back."

The Patriots limited Bush to 38 yards on 11 carries in the season opener while Brady stole the show, passing for a team-record 517 yards and four touchdowns in a 38-24 victory Sept. 12.

"Embarrassing," Miami safety Yeremiah Bell said. "That can't happen."

Wes Welker had eight catches for 160 yards in that game, including a 99-yard touchdown. The NFL leader with 104 receptions for a career-high 1,380 yards, Welker has averaged 105.4 receiving yards in eight meetings with the Dolphins, who traded him to New England in 2007.

The Patriots' passing attack proved last week that opponents must pick their poison. With Welker and star tight end Rob Gronkowski combining for just eight catches and 94 yards, tight end Aaron Hernandez stepped up with nine catches for 129 yards and a touchdown.

"You never know who is going to be heavily involved," Gronkowski said.

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Passing Leaders

MiamiCMP%YDSTDINT
R. Tannehill66.12582208
M. Moore50.02100
New EnglandCMP%YDSTDINT
T. Brady65.02998266
J. Garoppolo90.09210

Rushing Leaders

MiamiCARYDSAVGTD
L. Miller1376734.95
R. Tannehill412766.71
New EnglandCARYDSAVGTD
S. Vereen783404.41
S. Ridley943403.62

Receiving Leaders

MiamiRECYDSAVGTD
M. Wallace4859212.37
J. Landry494509.25
New EnglandRECYDSAVGTD
R. Gronkowski5881214.09
J. Edelman706959.92

Team Averages & NFL Ranks

TEAM OFFENSETEAMPER GAME AVERAGE
Total YardsMIA
 
 317
NE
 
 428
Yards PassingMIA
 
 193
NE
 
 318
Yards RushingMIA
 
 124
NE
 
 110
TEAM DEFENSETEAMPER GAME AVERAGE
Yards AllowedMIA
 
 345
NE
 
 411
Pass Yds AllowedMIA
 
 250
NE
 
 294
Rush Yds AllowedMIA
 
 96
NE
 
 117

Head to Head Matchups (Since 2001)

New England leads 15-7
Sep 12, 2011MIA 24, NE 38
Jan 2, 2011MIA 7, @NE 38
Oct 4, 2010MIA 14, NE 41
Dec 6, 2009MIA 22, NE 21
Nov 8, 2009MIA 17, @NE 27
Nov 23, 2008MIA 28, NE 48
Sep 21, 2008MIA 38, @NE 13
Dec 23, 2007MIA 7, @NE 28
Oct 21, 2007MIA 28, NE 49
Dec 10, 2006MIA 21, NE 0
Oct 8, 2006MIA 10, @NE 20
Jan 1, 2006MIA 28, @NE 26
Nov 13, 2005MIA 16, NE 23
Dec 20, 2004MIA 29, NE 28
Oct 10, 2004MIA 10, @NE 24
Dec 7, 2003MIA 0, @NE 12
Oct 19, 2003MIA 13, NE 19
Dec 29, 2002MIA 24, @NE 27
Oct 6, 2002MIA 26, NE 13
Dec 22, 2001MIA 13, @NE 20
Oct 7, 2001MIA 30, NE 10