Gap still exists between Dolphins, Patriots

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots lost top receiver Wes Welker to free agency, cut tight end Aaron Hernandez and lost defensive tackle Vince Wilfork to a season-ending injury.

Still, a sizable gap remains between the Patriots (6-2) and Miami Dolphins (3-4).

The Dolphins had their best chance in several years to prove that they can overcome “Mount New England” in the AFC East. Miami spent about $200 million in free agency -- which includes more than $100 million guaranteed -- and allocated plenty of resources in the draft with the goal of catching the Patriots within the division. The Patriots also do not have the starpower as previous years. Many of their top players were let go in the offseason or suffered significant injuries.

As vulnerable as New England appears, it still beat the Dolphins by double digits. The Patriots scored 24 unanswered points in the second half to win, 27-17, at Gillette Stadium. The game marked Miami’s fourth consecutive defeat and second in a row within the AFC East.

Miami jumped out to a 17-3 lead, but New England flexed its muscle in the second half to show the Patriots are still the dominant team in this series. Once New England got rolling, this game looked like many other Patriot wins over Miami in recent years. The Dolphins made untimely miscues and turnovers in the second half that they couldn't overcome.

“There’s a lot of momentum in football, especially when you have a good team like the Patriots at home,” Dolphins defensive back Jimmy Wilson said. “They have a ridiculous record at home and you just can’t give those guys momentum.”

Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin was blunt after the game and didn’t offer any excuses.

“They played a very good football game and clearly deserved to win the game,” Philbin said. “[New England] played better than we did and we have to do better.”

The Patriots are still the stronger team, even on a down year. New England didn’t come close to playing its best game. Patriots quarterback Tom Brady threw for just 116 yards yet New England still won by 10 points.

New England is now three games up on Miami in the win column. After losing to the Patriots and Buffalo Bills in back-to-back weeks, Miami’s chances of winning the AFC East are looking dim -- and it’s only Week 8.

Miami got off to a fast, 3-0 start this year. But it's easy to view the Dolphins as a sinking ship after losing four in a row and haven’t won a game since Sept. 22. Is Miami’s season slipping away?

“If we don’t get wins in these next games, I feel like it could slip away,” Dannell Ellerbe said. “But right now we got to focus on the next game. If we get a win Thursday, we’re just going to build a streak. The same way we lost four, we can win four.

“We’re just looking forward to getting this next win. This losing, I’m not used to it and I don’t like it. I know we don’t like it here.”