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Week 13 Notes and Observations: Patriots Clinch AFC East with 23-16 Win Over Dolphins

Trevor Scott stepped up in a big way in the place of Chandler Jones. He registered two sacks and forced a fumble on Sunday. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

Playing in Miami is never an easy game for the Patriots. Sunday was no different, especially with the chance to clinch the division.  The Dolphins played the Patriots very well on both sides of the ball, but especially defensively.

– Brady had only been sacked 15 times the entire season coming into the game. He was sacked four times Sunday. The offensive line has been a revolving door recently because of injuries. Logan Mankins, Dan Connolly, and Sebastian Vollmer have been hobbled with injuries for most of the season. Mankins sat out again, but Vollmer and Connolly gave it a go.

– For all the fuss made during the preseason about the offensive line, they have played well this season. The past few weeks with all the injuries they have been pushed to their limits. They fell victim to a strong Miami pass rush a few times today, but you have to give credit where it’s due. Miami had a stellar defensive game plan and it kept the Patriots’ offense uncomfortable for most of the game.

– Tom Brady’s streak of passes without an interception ended at 202. His streak of games with a touchdown pass increased to 44, though. You just have to take the good with the bad I suppose.

– Wes Welker had another outstanding performance. He caught 12 passes for 103 yards and a touchdown. There is a very real possibility this is his last season in a Patriots’ uniform, so enjoy watching him while you still can. There is always the hope they can work out a reasonable contract, but I won’t be surprised if he signs elsewhere.

– On the touchdown pass to Welker, the Patriots were at the Dolphins’ 7-yard line. Welker and Brady both recognized an all-out blitz in the middle coming from the defense. Welker motioned to Brady basically telling him to pass him the ball. He ran a quick slant and Brady hit him with the quick pass for the score.

– Trevor Scott stepped up in a major way, filling in for the injured Chandler Jones. Jones has definitely been the best pass rusher on the defense and not having him in the lineup can be a weakness. Scott had been saying all week he was ready to step up if called upon. His number was called and he didn’t disappoint. He recorded two sacks and a forced fumble which was recovered by Vince Wilfork.

– The play of Trevor Scott and the offensive line shows how great Bill Belichick is at building a TEAM. The Patriots may have the most depth in the entire NFL and the coaching staff is a main reason for that. Bill has done a fantastic job of finding players who fit into his system and play their role. Also, coaches like Matt Patricia on defense and Dante Scarnecchia on the offensive line have been able to get the absolute most out of the players they have.

– Speaking of Matt Patricia, in his first full year as defensive coordinator, he has not disappointed. The defense has been and still is a work in progress. The front seven has been able to pressure the quarterbacks when called upon. There were only a handful of blitzes called on Sunday, but they all did what they were supposed to do, force Tannehill to make a decision quickly. Arrington came off the edge on a blitz in the third quarter which forced Tannehill to throw it away. With the Dolphins driving in the fourth Mayo timed a blitz perfectly on third down to send Tannehill to the ground.

– There was only one turnover on Sunday, which may feel like a letdown to some people. This defense has shown a knack for causing the key turnovers, but once again you have to give credit to Miami. They stuck to their offensive game plan and Tannehill managed the game well. I had a strong feeling this game was not going to be easy and that was proven correct. Tannehill and the Dolphins are definitely the next best team in the AFC East, I know that’s not saying much, but they have great chemistry. They stick to their game plans weekly and allow their players to play their game. They may not make the playoffs, but this year has been a big step forward for the Dolphins.

– Talib seemed to struggle a bit with Brian Hartline. He was left open on more than one occasion and the only reason he didn’t have a couple of touchdowns was either because of drops or overthrows. On one play it looked like a mis-communication between Talib and safety Steve Gregory. Talib thought he was sending Hartline to be covered by Gregory, but Gregory moved to cover a receiver over the middle. There is definitely still some work to be done in the secondary, however they have the most depth they’ve had there all season.

– This may be the first time the whole secondary is healthy this season. Over the next couple weeks I can see the Patriots working with a few different combinations back there to really find out what they are working with as they head into the playoffs.

– Alfonzo Dennard showed once again that he knows what he’s doing at this level. He didn’t make any extraordinary plays Sunday, but he continued to make all the right little plays. His style is apparent. He plays slightly off his receiver, but he reads the quarterback as well as anyone on the Patriots. He is quick to move on the route as the ball gets to the receiver, and it usually results in a tackle right where the catch is made. Sometimes it results in passes defended or interceptions. He also made a great tackle on Reggie Bush in open space. The tackle prevented what could have been a huge gain in the fourth.

– Aaron Hernandez appears to be completely healed from his ankle injury, as he caught 8 for 97 on Sunday. He showed his trademark shiftiness after the catch as well. With Gronk out, Hernandez will clearly be a main option in the offense, so a performance like he had Sunday is a good sign.

– Brandon Lloyd caught only one pass on one target. Edelman, who left with a foot injury, seems to have moved ahead of him in the depth chart over the past few weeks. Lloyd has shown the ability to make some amazing catches, but you have to think that he and Brady just aren’t completely on the same page. It’s obvious he has adjusted to the playbook much better than the last receiver wearing #85, but there appears to be a gap between him and Brady. The bright side is he made the catch when he was thrown to.

– The running game struggled in the first half against a very good Miami run defense. They picked it up in a big way, especially on the last drive in the fourth that took up over 7 minutes. The Patriots ran the ball 11 times (10 with Ridley, 1 with Vereen), for 54 yards. It was a drive that needed to be made, and it’s one that this team has struggled with over this season. Sunday, they needed to put a team away and they did just that. The running game has been revitalized this year making the Patriots a more complete offense. Ridley also went over 1,000 yards for the season in the game.

– It was a tough win. However, when you break it down it was a win against a division rival, on the road, and it clinched the division. I’m sure everyone in the locker room is happy they won, but they will all tell you they need to play better. The good news is they’re back in the playoffs. The first goal of every season is win the division, and on Sunday, the Patriots accomplished that goal.

About Steve Bastek - @sbastek12

Graduate of Bridgewater State University with a BA in Communication studies. I've been a Boston sports fan all my life and enjoy having the opportunity to write about it.

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