The New England Patriots played the first half like they were heading for their third loss in four games.
Then came their best third quarter of the season. Now, they're tied for the third-best record in the AFC.
"We obviously have a long way to go," Tom Brady said, "but it feels good to be 6-2."
The Patriots got there with a 27-17 win over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, rallying from their worst half of the year. They trailed 17-3 then outscored the Dolphins 17-0 in the third quarter.
Quite a change from their other seven games when they were outscored 44-9 in that period.
"The prior games we didn't have as much third-quarter energy as we needed, kind of like we do at the start of the game," Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich said. "The second half we played how we wanted to play for the whole game."
The Dolphins (3-4) saw no need to make many halftime adjustments, not with the way they outgained the Patriots 175 yards to 59 in the first 30 minutes.
"We found a groove in the first half," quarterback Ryan Tannehill said after the Dolphins' fourth straight loss, then made "some minor adjustments, but we were comfortable with the success we were having in the first half."
One week after throwing a career-high three touchdown passes, Tannehill threw two in the first half — a 4-yarder to Brandon Gibson and a 5-yarder to Daniel Thomas — as the Dolphins took a 14-0 lead.
The Patriots tied it midway through the third quarter with two touchdowns in 1 minute, 46 seconds — Brady's 14-yard pass to Aaron Dobson and Brandon Bolden's 2-yard run. They capped their strong quarter with Stephen Gostkowski's 48-yard, go-ahead field goal with 8 seconds left, then scored on Stevan Ridley's 3-yard run midway through the fourth quarter.
Five things we learned from the Patriots' seventh straight win over the Dolphins:
BRADY'S BAD NUMBERS: The individual statistics are subpar. Brady's 116 yards passing were his second-fewest in seven seasons. And his 74.9 passer rating for the year is the lowest of his career, not counting 2000 when he threw just three passes as a rookie. And he threw an interception on his first pass Sunday. But the Patriots won even though his throwing hand appeared to be swollen.
"It's perfect," Brady said. "I don't know (how) anyone knows what the back of my right hand looks like, but it looks fine to me and it feels good."
IGNORING INJURIES: Another day, another injury to a key Patriots player. Right tackle Sebastian Vollmer was driven off the field on the back of a cart after hurting his leg in the second quarter and didn't return. The Patriots already were without four key injured defenders — defensive tackles Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly, linebacker Jerod Mayo and cornerback Aqib Talib. Yet, they lead the AFC East by two games.
"It's tough losing guys on the offensive line," Brady said, "but the guys that were in there stepped in and did a great job."
Gibson didn't play after hurting his left knee in the first quarter and was on crutches in the Miami locker room. There were no updates on him or Vollmer.
PENALTIES HURT: Two costly penalties hurt the Dolphins. Safety Jimmy Wilson was flagged for a questionable 21-yard pass interference call against tight end Rob Gronkowski that moved the ball to the Miami 33. That led to Gostkowski's 34-yard field goal that cut the Dolphins lead to 14-3 late in the first half. Then Olivier Vernon was called for illegally batting forward a ball that Brady fumbled. Tackle Nate Solder recovered for the Patriots at the Miami 45. But the 10-yard penalty was marked from the line of scrimmage, giving the Patriots the ball at the Miami 13. Ridley scored four plays later.
TACKLING TANNEHILL: The Dolphins obtained Bryant McKinnie from the Baltimore Ravens last Monday to help their weak pass protection. He started at left tackle and Tannehill was sacked six times. That makes it a league-high 32 this season.
McKinnie "looked like he did some good things," Miami coach Joe Philbin said. "I thought our protection was better."
CARRYING THE LOAD: Both teams had strong ground games with the Dolphins rushing for 156 yards and the Patriots picking up 152. Miami's Lamar Miller led all runners with 89 yards and Ridley had 79. "The holes were a little bit tight at first" Ridley said. "As the game progressed, the offensive line, we really started leaning on them and some creases were in there."
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