MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- The skies opened up shortly after Stephen Gostkowski kicked off to the Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium Sunday afternoon, sending a mixed crowd of Patriots and Dolphins fans scattering toward the nearest overhang. The rain shower was brief -- and you wouldn't have been wrong to think it was also metaphoric -- as the Patriots scored their first touchdown just over three minutes later.
But instead of a deluge, the New England offense operated at a slow trickle for the remainder of the game, doing just enough to beat the Dolphins, 23-16, and clinch the AFC East title.
Tom Brady struggled for much of the game and finished with 238 yards, one touchdown, and one pick. He came alive on New England's final drive, leading a surgical 16-play, 77-yard drive that ran 7:18 off the clock and put the game away. There wasn't a lot of pretty here. The teams combined for six punts on six possessions in the third quarter.
Wes Welker was the game's offensive standout, catching 12 passes for 103 yards and a touchdowns. He tied Jerry Rice's NFL record for 10-plus reception games in his career with 17. Stevan Ridley topped the 1,000-yard mark on the season with 71 yards on 19 carries. Brady extended his streak of consecutive games with a passing touchdown to 44, the longest active streak in the NFL.
The Patriots host the Houston Texans in a Monday night game at Gillette Stadium in Week 14.
Final: Patriots 23-16: Brandon Lloyd in on the hands team, safely secures the onsides kick to end the game.
0:31 4th quarter, Patriots 23-16: Dolphins kick the field goal and will now try to get the ball back.
1:10 4th quarter, Patriots 23-13: Gostkowski kicks a 20-yard field goal to make this a two-score game. Masterful drive by the Patriots there: 16 plays, 77 yards, 7:18 off the clock.
4:00 4th quarter, Patriots 20-13: The Patriots are running the clock down here on what they hope is a scoring drive to put this game away.
8:50 4th quarter, Patriots 20-13: Jerod Mayo comes in untouched and sacks Tannehill to force the field goal. It's a one-score game. Miami goes 65 yards on 12 plays in 4:48 to inch closer.
8:53 4th quarter, Patriots 20-10: Two injury updates:
Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman left the game in the fourth quarter with a foot injury and is questionable to return, according to the team.
Patriots lineman Dan Connolly left the game at the end of the first quarter with a back injury and will not return, according to the team.
13:38 4th quarter, Patriots 20-10: The Patriots waste a 31-yard-completion to Aaron Hernandez and settle for a field goal. Miami sacks Brady twice after New England had the ball down near the goal line. Stephen Gostkowski caps the scoring drive with a 32-yard field goal.
End 3d quarter, Patriots 17-10: No scoring in the third. The Patriots have a third-and-one coming up on Miami's 35.
3:00 3d quarter, Patriots 17-10: The air has gone out of the building here as six possessions have gone by, each ending in a punt.
4:21 3d quarter, Patriots 17-10: Nothing doing for the Patriots offense. They've run for just 34 yards. Brandon Lloyd does not have a single target.
10:30 3d quarter, Patriots 17-10: Cameron Wake abuses Sebastian Vollmer and gets to Tom Brady for a vicious sack on third down. Vollmer's been struggling. Brady has thrown for just 156 yards, one touchdown, and one interception.
11:57 3d quarter, Patriots 17-10: Shane Vereen streaks down the sideline and draws a pass interference call on Karlos Dansby on a ball that was questionably catch-able. Patriots catch a break there.
12:46 3d quarter, Patriots 17-10: The Dolphins don't do much better on their first try. Brandon Spikes made a play in pass coverage to knock down a pass intended for Anthony Fasano. He's been all over the field today.
13:44 3d quarter, Patriots 17-10: No score for the Patriots right after halftime. They go three-and-out and give the ball back to Miami.
Halftime, Patriots 17-10: No funny business before the half. Patriots play it safe and will start the second half with the ball.
25 seconds 2d quarter, Patriots 17-10: The Dolphins come close to running out the second quarter on a 12-play, 80-yard scoring drive. The home team isn't out of this game despite their poor play.
6:53 2d quarter, Patriots 17-3: Gostkowski makes this one, from 43 yards out, to pad New England's lead.
7:54 2d quarter, Patriots 14-3: Vince Wilfork recovers a Tannehill fumble forced by Trevor Scott. Patriots take over. Wilfork is having a monster game.
9:21 2d quarter, Patriots 14-3: You just knew the opportunistic Patriots were going to capitalize here. Brady finds Welker for a seven-yard touchdown to make the penalty hurt (given the hit he took and the area in which he took it, Mesko may be hurting right now as well). The Patriots go 75 yards on 14 plays. Welker has nine catches/.
13:04 2d quarter, Patriots 7-3: The Dolphins force the Patriots to punt, then commit a boneheaded penalty when Jimmy Wilson runs into punter Zoltan Mesko. Patriots get the ball back with another chance.
End 1st quarter, Patriots 7-3: The Dolphins go eight yards on six plays after the penalty and settle for a 44-yard field goal from Dan Carpenter. Patriots will start the second quarter with the ball on their own 25.
Also: Dan Connolly has a back injury. His return is questionable.
3:03 1st quarter, Patriots 7-0: Brady is intercepted by Reshad Jones, who returns the ball for a touchdown that gets called back by a penalty. No score for the Dolphins, but the turnover is big considering the Patriots don't give it away often. It's only Brady's fourth interception of the season.
One note: Miami's Jake Long was taken to the locker room with a triceps injury. His status is questionable.
4:30 1st quarter, Patriots 7-0: Tannehill has not looked sharp. He just air-mailed a pass on third down. New England will get the ball again, though this time the punt team does their job. Patriots will start on their own three.
5:31 1st quarter, Patriots 7-0: Brian Hartline had two Patriots defenders beaten on his way to the end zone but Ryan Tannehill's pass leads him a little too much.
6:50 1st quarter, Patriots 7-0: The penalty hurts, stopping what was a successful drive. Stephen Gostkowski misses a 49-yard-field goal. He's missed three of his last four attempts.
8:26 1st quarter, Patriots 7-0: Sebastian Vollmer called for holding, puts gives the Patriots their second first-and-20 of the day.
10:40 1st quarter, Patriots 7-0: That was quick. The Dolphins go three-and-out again. Miami completes the punt this time. The Pats will start with the ball on their own 26.
11:53 1st quarter, Patriots 7-0: Stevan Ridley runs in for a two-yard touchdown as the Patriots capitalize on the early turnover. New England overcomes an offensive holding penalty on their first offensive play and punches it in.
14:04 1st quarter, Patriots 0, Dolphins 0: The Dolphins go three-and-out on their first drive after starting at the 17-yard-line. Dolphins fumble the snap on the punt attempt, Matthew Slater makes the tackle. Pats get the ball on Miami's 12-yard-line.
Pregame: There's a mix of sun and clouds here as the official pregame festivities wind down here at Sun Life Stadium. Beautiful day for a football game. The Patriots can clinch the AFC East title with a win.
Patriots call tails and win the toss. They elect to defer. There are a lot of Patriots fans in the building. Should make for a fun atmosphere.