The New England Patriots rally from poor half to clinch seventh game on trot.
Good win but bad habit admit relieved Brady and Branch
The New England Patriots emphasise playing well for 60 minutes every NFL game. On Saturday, 30 minutes were enough, but barely.
Rallying from their worst half of the season, the Patriots scored on five straight possessions to beat the Miami Dolphins 27-24 and clinch a bye in the first round of the play-offs.
"You don't want to, certainly, make a habit of this," said quarterback Tom Brady, who scored on two one-yard sneaks and threw for a one-yard touchdown. "We showed some resiliency."
New England (12-3) won their seventh straight game.
"It's good to clinch, but not by the way we played," said Deion Branch, who caught the touchdown pass from Brady. "It's not the way you want to do it."
Miami fell to 5-10, including 1-1 under new coach Todd Bowles, who took over when Tony Sparano was dismissed.
"First half we came out and played our tempo and our ballgame," Bowles said. "The second half they made us play theirs."
The Patriots trailed 17-0 at halftime but made adjustments and went to their no-huddle offence more in the second half, keeping the Dolphins from making defensive substitutions.
And Brady was on target after a first half in which heavy defensive pressure against a makeshift offensive line affected his accuracy. He completed just seven of 19 passes for 87 yards and was sacked three times in the half. But in the second half, he completed 20 of 27 passes for 217 yards, finishing at 27 for 46 for 304 yards.
He led one scoring drive after another: a 45-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski; the scoring pass to Branch; his sneak that tied the game; Gostkowski's 42-yard go-ahead field goal; and the other sneak with 2:56 to go, making it 27-17. The Dolphins made it closer on Matt Moore's 15-yard scoring pass to Davone Bess with 1:48 to play. They had three time outs left, but their hopes faded when Brady hit Wes Welker for a six-yard gain and a first down that let the Patriots run out the clock.
"We had [Brady's] number in the first half, but in the second half he came out and made a lot of plays," Miami linebacker Karlos Dansby said. "He is a coach on the field."
The Dolphins got a break before the game started when Patriots left tackle Matt Light hurt his ankle in warm-ups and did not play. Left guard Logan Mankins took his spot, but he left with a knee injury suffered on New England's second series.
"There's always things that are going to go wrong in a football game and things aren't going to work out the way you want them to all the time," said Welker, who had 12 catches for 138 yards. "The main thing is just playing a full 60 minutes and never giving in and understanding that one drive and one score [can] get things going."