Running game rises up to close deal

The Miami Dolphins entered Sunday's game with the NFL's seventh-best run defense, and for the first half of the contest, the New England Patriots didn't try to test the strength of their AFC East opponent.

Through two quarters, the Patriots ran the ball just seven times, passing it 26 times. Those stats were flipped in the second half, when the Patriots rushed 25 times, with quarterback Tom Brady attempting just 14 passes after halftime.

"We didn't really make any big adjustments, I think we just executed a little bit better," coach Bill Belichick said. "We didn't really get a whole lot of running plays called. So we ended up calling more of them."

The highlight of the Patriots' rushing attack was a 16-play, 77-yard drive that spanned more than seven minutes in the fourth quarter, thwarting a Dolphins comeback attempt and sealing New England's 23-16 victory.

"Our offense got it together," defensive tackle Vince Wilfork said. "They started running the ball more. As a defense, I love to see my offense run the football because I know we have great running backs, we have great blockers. We face those guys all the time in practice. When we started running the ball, that was pretty exciting to see from my defensive end. I was pretty pumped up on the sideline with that."

Running back Stevan Ridley rushed 10 times on the Patriots' game-deciding drive and surpassed the 1,000-yard mark on the season during the game.

After the game, Brady noted that the Patriots had lost their previous three December games in Miami. Being able to parlay a passing-based attack in the early going -- the Patriots took a 14-3 lead early in the second quarter -- into a hard-charging running approach in the late stages allowed the Patriots to buck that trend.

"We knew it was going to be pretty tough coming down here, so I think everybody kept their composure, stayed poised through the ups and downs," Wilfork said. "We never got too high, we never got too low. We knew they were going to make a run at some point. We knew they were going to make a couple plays at some point."