Foxboro, MA (SportsNetwork.com) - Whatever adjustments the New England Patriots made at halftime sure worked.
Tom Brady threw a pair of touchdown passes during a 24-point third quarter, as New England clinched its sixth straight AFC East title with a 41-13 victory over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
LeGarrette Blount also ran for a score during the dominant stanza, as the Patriots turned a tenuous one-point lead into a laugher.
"It just didn't go quite how we wanted it to in the first half but we did a good job responding," Brady said. "So it was a great win."
Brady finished the game 21-of-35 passing for 287 yards with the two scores and an interception. Rob Gronkowski, held without a reception in the first half, caught three passes for 96 yards with a score for New England (11-3), which gained a split of the season series with Miami.
The Dolphins (7-7) saw their already slim playoff hopes dashed further with a second straight loss.
Ryan Tannehill completed 29-of-47 passes for 346 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions for Miami, which had beaten New England in the season opener 33-20. The Dolphins outscored the Patriots 23-0 in the second half of that game and had the tables turned to a tune of 27-0 in the final 30 minutes of this one.
After an acrobatic touchdown catch by Mike Wallace in the closing seconds of the first half pulled Miami within 14-13, the Patriots blew it open in the third quarter.
New England marched 79 yards for a touchdown after the opening kickoff of the second half. Gronkowski hauled in a 34-yard pass to ignite the eight-play series, which Brady keyed with a 17-yard scramble on 3rd-and-11. Blount scored from the three on the next play.
After the Dolphins went three-and-out, the Patriots tacked on a 35-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal to extend the margin to 24-13 with 4:43 left in the third.
Patrick Chung then picked off a deflected Tannehill pass on the first play after the kickoff and the Patriots cashed in immediately when Brady found Gronkowski with a perfect seam throw for a 27-yard touchdown.
Another Miami three-and-out was followed by a three-play, 47-yard New England touchdown drive. Gronkowski caught a 35-yard pass on the second play and Brady followed with a 6-yard TD pass to Julian Edelman on the next play to increase the cushion to 38-13.
Miami managed just seven plays and 15 yards on its first three offensive possessions in the third quarter.
The Patriots sandwiched a 36-yard Gostkowski field goal with 6:20 remaining around two Miami possessions that ended in downs deep in New England territory.
New England captured its 12th division title in the last 14 years. The only other winners were the New York Jets in 2002 and the Dolphins in 2008. The Patriots also control their destiny for home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs, needing only to win their final two games against the Jets and Buffalo Bills.
The Dolphins, trying to at least delay the inevitable, opened the game with a deep pass on the first play as Wallace hauled in the slightly underthrown ball for a 50-yard gain to the New England 30. But the Patriots stiffened and forced a field goal attempt that was blocked by Jamie Collins. Kyle Arrington scooped up the ball and raced 62 yards for a touchdown and a quick 7-0 lead.
"Obviously the game started on a good positive play for us and we weren't able to capitalize," said Dolphins coach Joe Philbin. "They made a play and we didn't do a good job of protecting. ... You have to capitalize on those opportunities. We have to play 60 minutes of football. You can't make the mistakes that we made."
After a Miami punt, New England drove into Dolphins territory with its first offensive series, but Brady had a pass deflected and intercepted by Miami's Jason Trusnik. The turnover led to a 24-yard field goal by Caleb Sturgis to make it 7-3 late in the first quarter.
Duron Harmon picked off a poorly thrown ball by a rushed Tannehill at the New England 32 and returned the interception 60 yards to the Miami 8-yard line midway through the second quarter. Shane Vereen scored from the three just three plays later to increase the advantage to 14-3.
The Dolphins answered with a 53-yard Sturgis field goal thanks to a defensive pass interference penalty that kept the drive alive.
Miami used all three timeouts on defense in the final minute of the half and a 32-yard punt return by Jarvis Landry gave the Dolphins possession at the New England 32 with 11 seconds to play. The Dolphins went to the end zone on the first play and a brilliant catch by Wallace was initially ruled incomplete before being overturned by replay for a touchdown to make it 14-13 at the break.
The Patriots tied a franchise record with their third blocked field goal of the season ... Miami had a field goal blocked and returned for a touchdown by an opponent for the first time since September 1991 against the New York Jets ... The Patriots have won 35 straight home games against conference opponents, last falling to an AFC rival in November 2006 against the Jets ... New England has won 74 straight games when leading at halftime, last losing to Miami in 2000 ... The Dolphins were trying to become the first division rival to sweep the two-game season series from the Patriots since 2000 when Miami and the Jets both accomplished the feat ... Gostkowski surpassed Adam Vinatieri as New England's all-time leading scorer with his third-quarter field goal ... Arrington left the contest with a hamstring injury in the first half and did not return.