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Final: Patriots 38, Dolphins 7

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  January 2, 2011 04:16 PM

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Tom Brady threw a pair of touchdown passes, extended a couple of records and milestones . . . and above all else, remained healthy as the Patriots' charge into the playoffs as the top seed in the AFC.

The Patriots won their eighth straight game -- they've scored at least 30 points in each -- in a 38-7 rout of the hapless Miami Dolphins today at Gillette Stadium.

With nothing at stake -- the Patriots clinched home-field advantage and a first-round bye last week -- Brady nonetheless played into the third quarter even as the Patriots built an insurmountable lead.

He finished 10 of 16 for 199 yards and two touchdowns. It was his ninth straight game with at least two touchdown passes without an interception, one of several records he set during a remarkable season in which he threw 36 touchdown passes to just four interceptions.

Brady also extended his record of passes without an interception to 335, and won his 28th straight regular-season start at home.

Brady's wasn't the only Patriot to set a record or achieve a milestone. BenJarvus Green-Ellis became the first Patriot since Corey Dillon in 2004 to run for 1,000 yards, finishing with 1,0088 after compiling 80 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries.

Julian Edelman set a team-record with a 94-yard punt return for a touchdown with 18 seconds remaining in the first half. The return, which gave the Patriots a 24-0 lead, broke the team record for longest punt return set by Mike Haynes in 1976.

As a team, the Patriots finished the regular season with just 10 turnovers, an NFL record.

Final score: Patriots 38, Dolphins 0: So there it is. The AFC East champion and top-seeded Patriots conclude the regular season with 38-7 rout of the Miami Dolphins, improving to 14-2 with their eighth straight victory. We'll be back with much more shortly, so stay right here at Extra Points.

2:11, Patriots 38, Dolphins 7: Thigpen hits Davone Bess in the left corner of the end zone for a 21-yard score.

2:22: Darius Butler is called for pass interference after a Thigpen heave sails over Marshall's head and Butler picks it off. Hard to see where the penalty occurred, but it's a 32-yard flag, and Miami has it at the Patriots 21.

4:08: Thomas Clayton runs for a gain of 4 yards. It's his first carry of the season with the Patriots, though he had one during a stint with the Browns.

6:55: Fred Taylor is getting a lot of work and keeps moving the pile. He has eight carries for 32 yards.

11:05: Hoyer hits Price for 17 yards. They've both been impressive. Price now has two catches for 35 yards.

12:40: Rob Ninkovich buries Henne on third down for his second sack of the day, and the Dolphins punt. Edelman's decision to field it doesn't pay off as he's tackled at the 7.

12:54: Miami takes its third and final timeout facing third and 10 at the Patriots 46.

14:27: . . . and there it is, with a 10-yard run on fourth down to the Miami 9. He is the Patriots' first 1,000-yard rusher since Corey Dillon in 2004. Green-Ellis immediately comes out of the game and hugs Belichick.

14:33, fourth quarter: Two yards for Green-Ellis, two to go . . .

:00, third quarter: The third quarter concludes with the Patriots facing third and 18 at the Miami 21. The only suspense remaining is whether -- or we should say, when -- Green-Ellis will get to 1,000 yards. He's four shy right now, with 68 yards on 18 carries.

1:54: Hoyer's no dummy -- he's targeting Gronkowski consistently, and the rookie tight end's sixth catch of the game, this one for 19 yards, puts him at 102 yards for the day. It's his first career 100-yard receiving game.

3:58: Green-Ellis plows ahead for 11 yards and a first down at the Miami 40. He's now 14 shy of 1,000 this season . . . and he picks up eight more on his next two carries, putting him at 994.

4:55: Thigpen hits McCourty in the hands on fourth and 3 from the Patriots 47. Could have easily been his eighth pick of the season, and McCourty jumps up and down in frustration after the drop.

8:27, Patriots 38, Dolphins 0: Beautiful throw by Hoyer under pressure, spectacular diving catch in the end zone by Brandon Tate, and the result as a 42-yard scoring pass, the first TD pass of Hoyer's career. He is now 260 behind Dave Kreig, and this is officially a rout.

6:58: Green-Ellis with back to back carries of 5 and 4 yards -- he now has 45, 27 shy of 1,000 for the season -- but Hoyer misfires on third and 1. Somewhat surprisingly, the Patriots go for from the Miami 47, and the Dolphins, who aren't exactly showing a knack for discipline today, oblige with an offsides penalty. The Dolphins' performance, or lack thereof, doesn't reflect well on what they think of Tony Sparano as their coach.


8:47: Hoyer hits Gronkowski for 10 yards and a first down. In the TV on in the background, Rich Gannon is comparing him to Tony Gonzalez in his ability to get open. It wasn't a bad draft this year, was it?

10:02: Hoyer, back in at quarterback, hits Taylor Price on first down for a 17-yard gain. It's Price's second catch of the day, and the second of his career.

10:26: Wilfork engulfs Henne again -- no penalty this time -- and the Dolphins are forced to punt.

11:02: Vince Wilfork gets a clean head-on shot at Henne (who is in instead of Thigpen) and smothers the Miami quarterback for a 9-yard loss . . . but it turns out to be a little too head-on, and WIlfork is called for a dubious personal foul penalty for supposedly hitting Henne in the helmet. Miami has it at their own 48.

11:30 third quarter, Patriots 31, Dolphins 0: Brady throws his second TD pass of the day, a 10-yard throw to Alge Crumpler, who graciously hands the football to a young fan in the front row. The TD pass is the 261st of Brady's career, tying him with Dave Kreig for 10th-place all-time. I know -- Dave Kreig is in 10th-place all-time? Who's ninth, Steve DeBerg?

12:42: Brandon Tate nearly finds his way to the end zone, catching a short pass from Brady, spinning away from three Miami tacklers and taking it down the right sideline, where he's tripped up form behind by Miami's Rashad Jones.

14:45: Not to continue to pummel the point . . . but we're going to pummel the point: Why is Brady still in? The starting line is out there, which is good, but is there anything to be gained by playing with backups at the skill positions? Or is this an indictment of how disorganized they looked during Hoyer's brief appearance in the first half? Is the risk really worth the reward (the reward here being a 26-yard completion to Gronkowski to their own 49).

15:00, third quarter: Patriots start the second half at their own 22 after a 23-yard kick return by Brandon Tate. Brady is still in. Fred Taylor is in at tailback and picks up five yards on his first carry.

Halftime, Patriots 24, Dolphins 0: Not a lot of drama in the first half for the Patriots, who appear well on their way to their 14th win. Brady completed 7 of 13 passes for 123 yards and a touchdown. BenJarvus Green-Ellis has 34 rushing yards on eight carries along with a touchdown. And Julian Edelman has had far and away his most encouraging game of the season, catching two passes for 62 yards while also returning a punt 94 yards for the score. For Miami, Chad Henne has thrown for 71 yards, Tyler Thigpen leads the running game with 21 yards, and neither has shown any indication that they are capable of leading the Miami offense next season.

0:18, Patriots 24, Dolphins 0: Guess the Dolphins haven't solved all of those special teams problems that plagued them in the teams' first meeting this season. Julian Edelman puts an appropriate bow on the first half, taking a punt 94 yards for a touchdown. The distance of the punt return is a franchise record, eclipsing an 89-yard return by Mike Haynes in '76. It is also the Patriots' ninth touchdown scored by either defense or special teams this season, tying the franchise mark set in 1961.

1:41, Patriots 17, Dolphins 0: Brady takes another hit from Wake -- who eluded Mark LeVoir, in for Sebastian Vollmer at right tackle -- while throwing an incomplete third-down pass toward Sammy Morris. Shayne Graham salvages the drive, which covered 49 yards in eight plays, with a 28-yard field goal.

2:21: After a 4-yard run by Green-Ellis, Brady hits Gronkowski again to pick up the first down at the Miami 14. With the completion, Brady passes former Cardinals quarterback Jim Hart for 19th place all-time in passing yardage. Hart threw for 34,655 yards in his career from 1966-84.

3:44: Brady -- yep, still in -- hits Gronkowski down the right side for a 28-yard gain to the Miami 24.

4:29: Ricky Williams coughs it up at the Patriots 41. Eric Moore, the UFL refugee who has been something of a revelation, forced the fumble, with Rob Ninkovich making the recovery.

6:10: Thigpen hits Moore down the middle for 29 yards. Dangerous throw, but a nice catch under siege by the rookie receiver from Fresno State.

8:18: Maybe we put that postmortem on Brady's regular season too soon. On third and 10, Brady returns to the field and immediately reminds us why his day should be over. With Cameron Wake bearing down on his right side, he steps up, throws incomplete in Sammy Morris's direction, and is hauled down hard by Randy Starks. Call. It. A. Day.

9:43 After picked up a first down, Tom Brady heads for the sideline, and Brian Hoyer enters. Odd timing -- the crowd here at Gillette didn't seem to notice. If Brady is done for the day, he finishes 5 of 8 for 89 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions. He now has 35 TD passes, four picks -- his last one coming in Week 6 -- and a streak of 327 passes without an interception. Nope, not a bad regular season at all.

10:43: Brady is still in there as the Patriots take over following the punt on their own 19. Interesting to see Taylor Price -- No. 17 in your program -- on the field. He's conversed with the coaches a couple of times before running onto the field.

12:10 Tyler Thigpen in at quarterback for Miami. On second and 8, he looks deep for Bess, but Patrick Chung breaks up the underthrown pass. His next pass, intended for Moore, is nearly picked off by Darius Butler at midfield. He's have been on the fast track to the end zone had he been able to haul it in, but it was just a bit behind him.

12:34: Green-Ellis has 23 rushing yards, meaning he needs 49 for 1,000.

12:50: Three-and-out for the Patriots. Is this it for Brady?

14:20 second quarter: On third and 7, Jerod Mayo sacks Henne at the New England 44 for a loss of seven yards. Henne is 5 of 12 for 51 yards with an interception. Might be a good time for the Dolphins to give a young quarterback a look. Unfortunately for them, that guy is Henne.

:00: Brandon Marshall picks up the first down with a 16-yard grab on third-and-13, Ricky Williams follows with a 3-yard run, and the quarter concludes with the Patriots right where they want to be. FYI, the carry was the 1.507th of Williams's Miami career, breaking Larry Csonka's team record for attempts. Pretty impressive given the peaks and valleys of Williams's fascinating career. Who ever thought he'd outlast fellow running back and 1998 first-round pick Edgerrin James?

1:22 The Patriots announce that Woodhead has a head injury and his return is questionable. Considering there's nothing at stake and he obviously got clobbered on the fumble, let's just say there's probably a better chance of seeing Randy Moss play for the Patriots today than a Woodhead return.

2:42: On third down, Henne hits Moore on a crossing pattern for 17 yards, and the Dolphins move to the Patriots 48.

4:12: Patriots 14, Dolphins 0: BenJarvus Green-Ellis plows in from a yard out for his 13th rushing touchdown of the season. With Woodhead still being looked at on the sideline, Green-Ellis and perhaps Fred Taylor should get plenty of carries going forward. Meanwhile, with two touchdowns in two drives, will Tom Brady be calling it a day soon?

4:43: Beautiful catch and run for 40 yards by Julian Edelman, his second big play of the drive. Edelman's struggled in his second season, with just four catches entering today, but today he looks like the promising Welker facsimile of a year ago.

6:03: Patriots trainers are talking to Woodhead as he sits on the bench with his head down, helmet on the ground. And now the trainer has taken away his helmet. Sure looks like the end of his day.

6:03: Adding insult to . . . well, insult, Dan Carpenter hooks a 39-yard field goal attempt left.

6:14: On third and 11 from the New England 22, Henne's pass in the far corner of the end zone intended for Marlon Moore is busted up effortlessly by McCourty. Probably not the best matchup for the Dolphins there.

8:20: A break for Miami. After a short run, Danny Woodhead fumbles for the first time since joining the Patriots in Week 2, and the Dolphins recover deep in Patriots territory.

10:17: Scenes from a frustrating season: After Henne misses badly on a throw to Marshall down the sideline, the Miami receiver stomps off the field and makes animated gestures on the sideline. Earlier this week, Marshall said he wasn't sure Henne should be the quarterback next season. Two plays after their latest miscommunication, the drive falters. After the punt, the Patriots take over at their own 34.

10:30: Dolphins start their second possession from their own 21 after a 20-yard return by Cobbs.

10:36, Patriots 7, Dolphins 0: Well, that was easy. On third and 2 from the Miami 13, Brady hits Rob Gronkowski for his 10th TD reception of the season, setting a franchise rookie record. The touchdown pass, which capped a 6-play, 47-yard drive and again reiterated this team's amazing knack for converting turnovers into points, was Brady's 35th of the season. He became the sixth quarterback in league history to throw a TD pass in every game of a season.

13:05: Ndamukong Suh will probably be named the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. And it's hard to have a beef with that given the impact he's had on the lowly Lions. But man, Devin McCourty continues to make his case that he deserves consideration. He just collected his seventh interception of his outstanding season, stepping in front of intended receiver Brandon Marshall and picking off a telegraphed Chad Henne pass. With one more pick today, McCourty will tie the Patriots rookie record for interceptions of eight set by Mike Haynes in 1976.

13:33 On first down from the Miami 28, Jerod Mayo stuffs Ronnie Brown for a four-yard loss. Thirteen tackles to go for 200 for No. 51.

15:00, first quarter: The Patriots win the toss and defer, their usual strategy. Patrick Cobbs, who began his pro career in training camp with the Patriots in 2006, returns the kick 23 yards to the Miami 28.

We're just moments from the opening kickoff of the final regular season game of the Patriots season, though of course today's matchup with the 7-8 Miami Dolphins won't be the last football played at Gillette Stadium this year. Win or lose today, the Patriots have already secured home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs.

While the Patriots have talked of their desire to earn a 14th victory of the regular season today -- Bill Belichick would become the first coach in NFL history to win as many or more games in a season four times -- early indications are that they will tilt more toward caution than going all-out for a win that means little other than as a milestone.

The Patriots' inactives include receivers Wes Welker and Deion Branch, as well as tight end Aaron Hernandez. They are the Patriots' top three receivers in that order, having combined for 179 catches. Considering the trio's absence, the logical question is to wonder how much Tom Brady will play today. All indications are that he will start, but with Julian Edelman and Brandon Tate starting at receiver and rookie Taylor Price set to make his NFL debut, it makes sense to believe that Brady's afternoon will be a short one, with backup Brian Hoyer taking the reins of the offense at some point.

One milestone to watch for: BenJarvus Green-Ellis needs 72 yards to reach 1,000 on the season. Given that he was an undrafted rookie free agent who has made the most of his opportunity his third season in the NFL, it would be nice to see him accomplish the feat. He's also tied with Minnesota's Adrian Peterson for second in the NFL with 12 rushing touchdowns, trailing only Houston's Arian Foster (14).

So here we go. The Dolphins are on the field, and the Patriots are coming out of the tunnel right now, with No. 12 leading the way. Be sure to stay right here for constant updates throughout the game.

News, analysis and commentary from Boston.com's staff writers and contributors, including Zuri Berry and Erik Frenz.

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