Published November 20, 2014
Tom Brady and the Patriots are rolling into the playoffs. Tony Sparano could be on his way out as coach of the Dolphins.
Brady threw two touchdown passes to cap a record-setting season and, more importantly, stayed healthy as New England won its eighth straight game, 38-7 over Miami on Sunday.
The game meant nothing in the standings. Still, Brady played into the third quarter and finished with 36 touchdowns passing and just four interceptions. He extended his NFL records to 335 straight passes without an interception and 28 consecutive regular-season wins as a starter at home.
The Patriots (14-2) already had homefield advantage for as long as they remain in the AFC playoffs and have a first-round bye.
The Dolphins (7-9) lost for the fourth time in five games, jeopardizing the job of Sparano, who has one year left on his contract.
But Miami is hardly alone in losing to New England by a lopsided score. In three of their previous four games, the Patriots won 45-3, 36-7 and 34-3.
The Patriots' dominance continued Sunday even though their top three receivers — Wes Welker, Deion Branch and Aaron Hernandez — were inactive.
Playing in last season's finale proved quite costly to Welker and the Patriots — he hurt his left knee early in the game, and New England lost to the Baltimore Ravens 33-14 in the first round without him. No reason was given for Welker's absence Sunday. Branch has a knee injury and Hernandez has a hip problem.
Despite the game's lack of importance, Gillette Stadium was nearly full on a mild day after many of the snow piles in the area from a major storm a week ago had melted.
The fans watched an impressive display of New England's depth when three backups made big scoring plays.
Julian Edelman, returning punts instead of Welker, ran one back 94 yards for a touchdown with 18 seconds left in the first half, and the Patriots led 24-0 at halftime.
Then, after Brady left following his 10-yard scoring pass to Alge Crumpler on the first series of the third quarter, Brian Hoyer threw his first NFL touchdown, a 42-yarder to backup Brandon Tate.
The Dolphins ended a disappointing season with a miserable performance.
Here's how their first-half possessions ended: interception, punt, missed field goal attempt, punt, punt, fumble, punt, end of half.
The second half was more of the same: punt, fourth-down incompletion, punt — until they finally scored with 2:11 left in the game on a 21-yard pass from Tyler Thigpen to Davone Bess.
Brady was sharp from the start and finished with 10 completions in 16 attempts and no interceptions. That made another record of his even tougher to break — nine straight games with at least two touchdown passes and no interceptions.
After rookie Devin McCourty's seventh interception on the game's opening possession, Brady connected with Rob Gronkowski for a 13-yard touchdown, the rookie tight end's ninth of the season.
Danny Woodhead fumbled on the Patriots' next series, their first turnover in eight games, then left the game for good with a head injury. But the Patriots still set an NFL record with just 10 turnovers in a season.
On their next drive, Brady and Edelman connected on pass plays of 22 and 40 yards, with Edelman gaining most of it after the catch, and BenJarvus Green-Ellis ran for a 1-yard touchdown.
Green-Ellis finished with 80 yards, giving him 1,008 for his first 1,000-yard rushing season. Coach Bill Belichick came out on the field to hug him as he headed toward the bench after his final run, a 10-yarder early in the fourth quarter.