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The Dolphins were just 30 minutes away from pulling off a Christmas miracle in Foxborough. Tom Brady and the Patriots (12-3) came roaring back in the second half on Christmas Eve, erasing the Dolphins’ (5-10) 17-0 halftime lead as they would hold on to win the game 27-24.
The victory clinched the Patriots one of the top two seeds and a first round postseason bye following the Colts dramatic win over the Texans on Thursday night. “It’s good to clinch,” said receiver Deion Branch, “but not by the way we played. It’s not the way you want to do it.” Miami gave Pats fans quite a scare during the course of the first 30 minutes. The Dolphins defense, which had allowed only 14.7 points per game during their recent 5-2 stretch, sacked Brady three times while keeping New England’s high powered offense off the board.
Matt Moore and the Dolphins jumped at this rare opportunity and put together two impressive touchdown drives following a 47 yard field goal on the game’s opening possession. Just two plays after making a 47 yard catch downfield, Brandon Marshall caught a 19 yard touchdown to give Miami a 10-0 lead at the beginning of the second quarter. The drive went 82 yards on just 5 plays.
Interim head coach Todd Bowles remained aggressive. After forcing a quick 3 and out Miami added on another touchdown. A one yard touchdown pass to Charles Clay concluded an 11 play, 89 yard drive to put the Dolphins up 17-0 with 6:31 remaining in the half. Two long pass interference penalties aided the Dolphins along the way.
New England went into the locker room stunned after missing a 51 yard field goal attempt with only a few seconds left on the clock. A 17-0 score was the largest home halftime deficit for a Patriots team since trailing 18-0 to the Jets all the way back in 1999. The Dolphins were poised to give the Pats only their second home loss in 35 games – until Moore’s giveaways gave New England new life. “Our guys fought,” said Bowles, “but we didn’t finish.”
A fumbled snap by Moore early in the 3rd was recovered by the Patriots’ Vince Wilfork at the Miami 38 following a 45 yard New England field goal to cut the lead to 17-3. Brady took advantage. He went a perfect 5-5 on the drive and finished off with a two yard scrambling touchdown pass to Deion Branch, making it a one possession game at 17-10.
The Pats then had a short field to work with after forcing a punt deep in Miami territory. Brady led his troops 41 yards downfield and tied the game with a one yard quarterback sneak with 2:17 remaining in the third. Although things were falling apart for the Dolphins, they were still in great position to take the lead to start the 4th quarter.
Moore brought them down to the New England 44, but was intercepted by Devin McCourty down at the 2 on a ball that was held up in the air by the wind. Moore’s two turnovers proved costly despite going 17-33 for 294 yards and 3 touchdowns.
The Pats would eventually convert the pick into a 42 yard field goal to take their first lead at 20-17 with 8:55 left to go. A 59 yard drive and another quarterback sneak touchdown for Brady on their next possession pretty much sealed the deal with 2:56 remaining.
Miami could not stop Brady in the second half after shutting him down in the first. He finished 27-46 with 304 yards and 3 total touchdowns. “We had (Brady’s) number in the first half, but in the second half he came out and made a lot of plays,” said Dolphins linebacker Karlos Dansby. “He is a coach on the field.”
A late touchdown by Davone Bess made it a 27-24 game, but the Patriots converted a critical 3rd down, ran the clock out, and secured the victory. New England has now won 7 in a row with just one game remaining before beginning yet another postseason run.
And while the Dolphins let this one slip away, there were some nice milestones reached in the meantime. Reggie Bush’s fourth straight 100 yard rushing game gave him over 1,000 yards on the year. Marshall also reached the 1,000 yard receiving mark, making this the first time in team history that Miami has had both a 1,000 yard rusher and 1,000 yard receiver in one year.
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