Pats' D a shutdown unit in second half

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The New England Patriots offense found its rhythm in the second half of Sunday's 27-17 victory against the Miami Dolphins, scoring 24 points, the most of any half this season.

But it wasn't without a helping hand from the defense, which sacked Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill six times in the second half while providing a pair of critical plays to keep the Dolphins off the scoreboard over the final two quarters.

Trailing 17-10 early in the third quarter, the Patriots were just one play away from tying a game that looked like might get out of reach during a forgettable first half. And, as it has in each of the past 34 games before today, the defense provided a spark, forcing a turnover for the 35th straight game, the best active streak in the NFL.

On Sunday, it was rookie Logan Ryan in on the action again, taking down Tannehill for one of his two sacks, while also managing to force a fumble on the play.

"I just wanted to get the ball out, that's something we practice every single day, sack fumbles," Ryan said after the game. "So, you know, getting the sack is one thing, but I wanted to force the fumble and I'm glad it came out."

As always seems to be the case, defensive end Rob Ninkovich was in the right place at the right time, falling on the football and giving the Patriots the ball deep in Miami territory, 13 yards away from knotting the game up.

Ryan was an unlikely hero after not playing a single defensive snap in the first half. Beyond that, the Patriots sent Ryan on an uncommon defensive wrinkle, at least prior to today's game. The Patriots sent pressure with a defensive back on 14 dropback passing plays on Sunday, up from just five total times in the first seven games of the season, according to ESPN's Stats & Info group. Waiting patiently for his chance to impact the game, Ryan was grateful to come through.

"Any time that your number is called, your name is called on a certain play, you want to make sure you make it because you don't get it all the time," he said. "And the more you make plays, the more opportunities you'll get."

Three plays later, the game was tied and the Patriots had new life, digging themselves out of the quicksand that trapped them in the first half.

But the defense wasn't done, saving its highlight of the day for the fourth quarter.

Now leading by a field goal, defensive backs Marquice Cole and Devin McCourty tag-teamed on an interception reserved for SportsCenter's Top 10 plays.

Tannehill attempted to drive a throw down the right sideline to speedy deep threat Mike Wallace, who Cole had in coverage. McCourty, the rangy safety who was playing center field, sprinted to the sideline, tipping the football back into the field of play.

Cole, who was nearly stride for stride with Wallace, tip-toed the sideline and corralled the catch, his first interception of the season.

"It was all Quice," McCourty said of the play. "He just screamed, 'try to tip it back.' He was able, really, to keep his feet in bounds and make a great play."

Cole, who joked afterwards that he and McCourty play volleyball together during their time away from football, said he had always hoped to have the opportunity to make the kind of play that he did, intercepting a pass off a ricochet from out of bounds back into play.

"I remember years ago, Oregon, I think I was in high school, maybe I was a freshman in college, and I seen a play like that, a guy from Oregon college did it and I always wanted to happen and it happened," he said.

The play was an unlikely scenario given the degree of difficulty, and that it was Cole involved was unforeseen as well.

A veteran who has been released and subsequently re-signed multiple times this season, Cole was thrust into a top-two cornerback role when Kyle Arrington left the game with a groin injury (with the team choosing to play Cole over Ryan in base defensive sets).

McCourty shared praised for Cole's readiness, highlighting the communication among the secondary, among the team's tightest-knit groups.

"When we're able to play together and get that communication down, you can make plays like that," he said. "And I think that's what's been great this year, even though Quice isn't a guy that's been out there every [play] -- he's practicing with us, we're all together hanging out off the field, so it makes it a lot easier when we're on the field."

And the turnovers make life easier on the offense, which would turn the interception into a touchdown 13 plays later, giving the team a 10-point lead that they would not relinquish.

Despite being without arguably their three best players, the defense flexed its resolve, turning the game in the best way it has known how to: turnovers.