AFC East Champs: Patriots Finish Strong, Beat Dolphins 23-16

US PRESSWIRE

The Patriots turned in a strong defensive performance, and finished things strong as they clinched their fourth straight division title.

It wasn't pretty, but it gone the job done. With a 23-16 victory over the division rival Miami Dolphins, the New England Patriots are AFC East Champions once again.

At many times, the Patriots' offense was hard to watch today. Patriots receivers struggled to get open throughout much of the game. Julian Edelman and Brandon Lloyd combined for just two catches all game. Lloyd, who would figure to be one of the offense's key targets with Rob Gronkowski out, was targeted just once.

Quarterback Tom Brady struggled at times. His deep ball was erratic - to say the least. And he made some questionable decisions, such as a forced first half throw intended for Aaron Hernandez intercepted by Dolphins' safety Reshad Jones. The Patriots also struggled to protect Brady, who was sacked four times and felt the pressure at many other.

Yet through all of this, the Patriots were able to hang on and get the victory and secure the AFC East crown. At times, it felt like one of those early season games that the Patriots would manage to blow down the stretch - but these aren't your same Patriots.

The Patriots' biggest issue in the first half was their awful run to pass ratio - 8 to 26. They really turned that around in the second half, showing a great ability to adjust. After four carries for four yards in the first half, Ridley carried 15 times for 67 yards in the second half.

Furthermore, the Patriots arguably had their drive of the season to seal the victory. Nursing a seven point lead, the Patriots' offense march 77 yards on 16 plays, taking more than seven minutes off the clock. They capped off the drive with a Stephen Gostkowski field goal which gave the Patriots a virtually insurmountable 10 point lead with just over a minute to go.

Of course, the main reason the Patriots won this game was because of the way the team played on the defensive side of the ball. The Patriots flat out brought it today on defense, playing what was arguably their best 60 minutes of football this year. As the second half began, and each Patriots' drive stalled, the defense held strong and allowed the team to maintain their narrow lead. In total, the unit racked up three sacks and held the Dolphins to 3.7 yards per carry, 277 total yards, and allowed Ryan Tannehill to complete just 13 of his 29 passes. Not to mention they also allowed the Dolphins to convert just three of 13 third down tries.

Overall, it was far from a pretty game for the Patriots, and they Dolphins really gave them a run for their money. But when all was said and done, the Patriots managed to win an ugly game - their second this year after escaping against the Jets at the start of this win streak. And with the win, the Patriots clinch their fourth straight AFC East title. Now it's all about playoff positioning. More on that later.

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