1:00 PM ET, December 15, 2013
Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, FL
With a chance to clinch the AFC East on Sunday against the host Miami Dolphins, they are doing their best to take it in stride.
Gronkowski suffered a serious knee injury in last week's 27-26 comeback win over Cleveland and will be out for the rest of the season, playing in just seven games after missing the first six due to back and forearm issues.
New England (10-3) went 5-1 in the star tight end's absence.
"I'd like to think there's going to be some carry-over there, not only (from) the first six weeks of the season, but the entire training camp as well," coach Bill Belichick said. "That's the way we practiced and played most of the year."
Tom Brady surely will miss one of his favorite targets, but he isn't going to sulk over Gronkowski's latest injury.
"I mean, it's disappointing to lose anybody, but we've faced that before this year and at different times, so I'd say at least we're adjusted to it a little bit," Brady said. "We still have confidence that we can go out and win games."
A win or tie Sunday would give the Patriots their fifth straight division title and 10th in 11 seasons, and they'd clinch a playoff berth regardless of the result if Baltimore doesn't win in Detroit on Monday night.
Victories haven't come easy lately, though.
New England's three-game winning streak hasn't been for the faint of heart. It overcame a 24-point deficit to beat Denver 34-31 in overtime Nov. 24, then rallied from 10 down at halftime before Stephen Gostkowski kicked a pair of 53-yard field goals in the final 7:16 for a 34-31 win over Houston on Dec. 1.
The Patriots scored 13 points and recovered an onside kick in the final 61 seconds last week.
"Sometimes the stars align in your favor," special teams captain Matthew Slater said. "We've been real blessed this year to have the ball bounce our way and we're just going to go with it. We're not going to question the why of it."
New England had to rally from a 17-3 halftime deficit against the Dolphins in the first meeting Oct. 27, scoring 24 unanswered points to earn its seventh straight victory in the series.
Brady finished 13 of 22 for 116 yards -- his fewest when playing a full game since throwing for 78 against the Dolphins on Dec. 10, 2006 -- and he's expecting Miami to present another tough challenge.
"They've got a really good scheme. There are really no easy plays out there, so we've got to go out there and earn it," Brady said. "Hopefully we can follow it up so we're most prepared, and then go down and try to win a really important game."
This contest may be more important for the Dolphins (7-6), who are tied with Baltimore for the AFC's final playoff spot. They've won back-to-back games after last week's wild 34-28 victory in snowy Pittsburgh.
After this game, Miami visits Buffalo next week before closing its schedule at home against the New York Jets on Dec. 29.
"All the games are going to be tough," cornerback Brent Grimes said. "We just need to win. I don't know how you're looking at it, but we need to win. We need to take care of our business."
The Dolphins have been to the playoffs once in the last 11 seasons, but coach Joe Philbin is refusing to look ahead as well.
"All that matters is that with an excellent team coming to town, that's a full plate," Philbin said. "We're going to have to play extremely well. That's what we have to keep focused on."
Miami set a season high for points scored despite the tough conditions last week, and it will go up against a Patriots defense that ranks 24th in total defense at 372.3 yards per game. New England has just four sacks in the last three games, but the Dolphins' Ryan Tannehill has been sacked a league-high 48 times.
Tannehill threw a career high-tying three touchdown passes last week -- two going to Charles Clay, who finished with seven catches for 97 yards.
Clay has emerged as one of Tannehill's top targets, and his 678 yards are 114 short of breaking Randy McMichael's single-season franchise record for a tight end set in 2004.
"He's a heck of an athlete that makes small plays and big plays," Tannehill said.
Clay had five catches for 37 yards in the last meeting for Miami, which hasn't beaten New England since a 22-21 home win Dec. 6, 2009.
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|Avg Points Allowed||22.2||21.1|
Team Averages & NFL Ranks
|TEAM OFFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|TEAM DEFENSE||TEAM||PER GAME AVERAGE|
|Pass Yds Allowed||NE|
|Rush Yds Allowed||NE|
Head to Head Matchups (Since 2001)
|New England leads 18-8|
|Oct 27, 2013||NE 27, MIA 17|
|Dec 30, 2012||NE 28, MIA 0|
|Dec 2, 2012||NE 23, @MIA 16|
|Dec 24, 2011||NE 27, MIA 24|
|Sep 12, 2011||NE 38, @MIA 24|
|Jan 2, 2011||NE 38, MIA 7|
|Oct 4, 2010||NE 41, @MIA 14|
|Dec 6, 2009||NE 21, @MIA 22|
|Nov 8, 2009||NE 27, MIA 17|
|Nov 23, 2008||NE 48, @MIA 28|
|Sep 21, 2008||NE 13, MIA 38|
|Dec 23, 2007||NE 28, MIA 7|
|Oct 21, 2007||NE 49, @MIA 28|
|Dec 10, 2006||NE 0, @MIA 21|
|Oct 8, 2006||NE 20, MIA 10|
|Jan 1, 2006||NE 26, MIA 28|
|Nov 13, 2005||NE 23, @MIA 16|
|Dec 20, 2004||NE 28, @MIA 29|
|Oct 10, 2004||NE 24, MIA 10|
|Dec 7, 2003||NE 12, MIA 0|
|Oct 19, 2003||NE 19, @MIA 13|
|Dec 29, 2002||NE 27, MIA 24|
|Oct 6, 2002||NE 13, @MIA 26|
|Dec 22, 2001||NE 20, MIA 13|
|Oct 7, 2001||NE 10, @MIA 30|
Ryan Tannehill was excellent throwing downfield on Sunday, completing 12-of-18 passes for 217 yards and a touchdown on throws deeper than 10 yards downfield. Entering Sunday, only Carson Palmer had more interceptions on those throws than Ryan Tannehill. Tannehill was 4-of-7 for 90 yards and a touchdown targeting Mike Wallace on those throws. Wallace's four catches on throws deeper than 10 yards downfield is a season high.[+]
Ryan Tannehill Passing Deeper Than 10 Yds Downfield, 2013
Ryan Tannehill's Total QBR was 82.2 against the Patriots, his first game above 70.0 this season. Tannehill was 0-3 in his first 3 career games against the Pats with a 22.2 Total QBR. Tannehill has 4 straight games with a Total QBR above 60.0, the longest streak of his career.
The Dolphins win over the Patriots today was their first since 2009.[+]
Patriots Head-to-Head vs Dolphins - Since 2010
The Patriots are just 3-4 on the road this season after Sunday's loss to the Dolphins, compared to 7-0 at home.[+]
No Place Like Foxboro - Patriots This Season
Three of the Patriots' final four plays were passes into the end zone. The three receivers targeted on those plays(Danny Amendola- defended, Julian Edelman- overthrown and Austin Collie- intercepted) have an average height of 5-foot-11, with bigger targets Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins inactive. There was a Gronk-sized hole in New England's offense in that area of the field Sunday.[+]
Tom Brady Throwing Into End Zone by Target, 2011-13
The Patriots have lost 2 divisional games this season in which they held a 10-point lead (lost at Jets in Week 7 after leading 21-10)... They were 39-1 against the AFC East in games they led by 10 with Tom Brady as their starter entering this season.
ESPN Stats & Information