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Why the conservative game plan for the Patriots?

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- The New England Patriots carried out a conservative game plan in Sunday's 20-10 loss to the Miami Dolphins in the season finale, which naturally sparks the question: Why?

In the first half, they had 21 rushes and just five passes.

"I expected that later in the game," Dolphins interim head coach Dan Campbell said afterward. "I thought they'd come out and throw it, do more empty passes and things of that nature [to] try to open the game up early, and then come out in the second half and do more [running]. They flipped it -- to try to establish the run, protect Tom [Brady], and our defense did a helluva job. Shut them down."

The approach sparked one reporter to ask Brady if the Patriots put forth 100 percent effort to win, to which Brady responded, "Absolutely. Yeah."

Here's one viewpoint as to why the Patriots took their conservative approach:

The matchup dictated it. Wide receiver Brandon LaFell said after the game that the run-first plan was a result of how the Dolphins matched the Patriots' personnel. "What the defense shows us we’re going to try to take advantage of; that's every week," he said. "We just couldn’t get it going offensively." To further explain, the Patriots were in their two-tight end package on 19 first-half snaps and the Dolphins were mostly countering that with a nickel package. When the defense shows a lighter personnel grouping against the Patriots' primary two-tight end package of Rob Gronkowski and Michael Williams, more often than not Brady is going to check into a run because they feel they should be able to win that matchup. Credit the Dolphins for making it tough on them in that area, but the Patriots have previously shown that they are better than what they produced in that matchup Sunday.

Offensive line was shaky in pass protection. When Brady did drop back to pass, he was often pummeled. Down to their No. 5 left tackle in Cameron Fleming, the Patriots clearly didn't want to subject Brady to too much punishment with a pass-first approach against a Dolphins defensive line with some solid pass-rushers. It was hold-your-breath-type stuff at times when Brady dropped back to pass.

Receivers aren't consistently getting open. With Brandon LaFell and Keshawn Martin as the No. 1 and 2 receivers, respectively, Brady wasn't finding open windows to throw into regularly. So it wasn't all on the offensive line. Also, the Patriots clearly didn't want to tax recovering receiver Danny Amendola, who is managing a left knee injury, and limited him to 25 snaps (including penalties) as a pure No. 3 option. If the Patriots had receivers who could uncover quickly on a consistent basis, perhaps the approach would have been altered a bit. That's one reason Julian Edelman's return to health is a key.

Getting Jackson up to speed. Building veteran running back Steven Jackson's football stamina was obviously a priority. Jackson played nine snaps last Sunday in his debut, and was charted on the field for 25 against the Dolphins, which led all running backs (24 for James White, 18 for Brandon Bolden). He finished with 14 carries for 35 yards (2.5-yard average) and one touchdown, positioning himself as the team's lead power back for the playoffs. "We need to get better at it," Jackson said after the game. "We need to come out with energy and carry it through four quarters."