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FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The Miami Dolphins lost their last three games. The New England Patriots are just one last-minute touchdown away from being in the same slump.
Their quarterbacks haven't been real sharp, either.
Ryan Tannehill threw two interceptions and lost a fumble that led to the decisive field goal in Miami's 23-21 loss to the Buffalo Bills last Sunday. Tom Brady completed fewer than half his passes for the third time, a single-season high, in New England's 30-27 loss to the New York Jets on an overtime field goal.
So Sunday's game between the Patriots (5-2) and Dolphins (3-3) looms as a key matchup in the AFC East, a division New England has dominated for a decade. The Jets (4-3) play at Cincinnati.
"Who knows how anything is going to turn out?" Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. The Dolphins "had three good wins to start the season and they've had a couple tough weeks. We can certainly relate to that."
Tannehill has been troubled by poor protection and questionable decision making. And his right shoulder is sore.
"We are a group that is facing adversity and we have to respond," he said. "Myself, I just have to keep my head down and keep pushing."
Tannehill did throw a career-high three touchdown passes against the Bills. But he also had an interception returned for a touchdown, just like Brady did against the Jets.
That was far from Brady's only errant throw in that game.
"There are definitely times where I need to put more arc on the ball. That definitely helps. Sometimes it is decision making and sometimes it is execution and throws," he said. "When we don't hit them, you always evaluate them and you think, 'Man I've got to do a better job. I wish I put a little more on this one.'"
He came through two weeks ago in a 30-27 win over the New Orleans Saints with a 17-yard touchdown pass to Kenbrell Thompkins with 5 seconds left.
Miami coach Joe Philbin isn't swayed by Brady's subpar statistics.
"I'm not buying any of that," he said. "This guy is one of the best ever."
Five things to look for when the Dolphins visit the Patriots:
HOT AT HOME: The Patriots' 3-0 home record continues a long tradition. Since Gillette Stadium opened in 2002, they are 76-15 there and 29-5 in the AFC East in the regular season, winning the last 13. They also lead the NFL in points scored and point differential at home in that span.
"There are definitely tough venues, and usually a tough venue is made by a tough team," Tannehill said. "Of course, the fans, the elements are a part of a venue."
TANNEHILL NEEDS PROTECTION: The second-year quarterback has been sacked an NFL-high 26 times. So the Dolphins obtained tackle Bryant McKinnie from the Baltimore Ravens last Monday, although he may not play Sunday. He lost his starting job two weeks ago, but Miami needs help at right tackle, where Tyson Clabo has allowed seven sacks, including two in the fourth quarter in the loss to Buffalo.
"We're certainly not opposed to looking at any combination" of offensive linemen, Philbin said. "The goal would be to get the five best guys who give us the best chance to win against the New England Patriots ready to play Sunday at 1 p.m."
HOBBLING PATRIOTS: Tight end Rob Gronkowski had eight catches against the Jets in his return from offseason forearm and back surgeries, but the Patriots are dealing with injuries to other key players. Defensive tackle Vince Wilfork and linebacker Jerod Mayo are on season-ending injured reserve, defensive tackle Tommy Kelly has a knee injury, and cornerback Aqib Talib has a hip injury.
"You face teams all of the time that are coming off injuries," Tannehill said. "That's part of being in the NFL."
DOLPHINS' RUNNING GAME: Miami might rely more on its ground game. The Patriots have been vulnerable to the run up the middle with Wilfork and Kelly sidelined. The Dolphins tend to abandon the running game with Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas even when it's going well, but Belichick is impressed with "how many yards those guys make after contact, how many yards those guys make on their own."
The Dolphins averaged 4.8 yards per rush against Buffalo's weak run defense, but ran the ball only 25 times and called 39 pass plays.
ONE-SIDED RIVALRY: The Patriots have won their last six games against the Dolphins by a combined score of 195-85. Only eight current Dolphins have been on a Miami team that beat New England. Brady is 16-6 against the Dolphins and 9-1 in the last 10 games, including a 28-0 win last Dec. 30 in which he completed 61 percent of his passes with two touchdowns and no interceptions.
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