Three things we learned during the Patriots’ 23-16 win over the Dolphins Sunday:
Healed (Fully) Hernandez
Or so it would seem. The dynamic tight end, who had a minor impact in his return from injury on Thanksgiving against the Jets, was a force against the Dolphins. Tom Brady targeted him 13 times, making a connection with Hernandez eight times for 97 yards. The third-year player, who missed three weeks early in the season and three more in the middle of the season due to an ankle injury, came within a few yards of scoring on a long touchdown and had multiple third down catches to keep drives alive. While Rob Gronkowski heals, Hernandez finally hits his stride.
The Patriots' offense had some issues finishing off opponents early in the season, most notably at Baltimore and at Seattle. Not the case on the Sunday. After Miami pulled within 20-13 with 8:28 to go, New England put together a 16-play, 77-yard drive that lasted over seven minutes, ate up all three of Miami’s timeouts and resulted in a field goal that essentially put things out of reach. The run game was not all that impressive for the Pats, until it needed to be - Stevan Ridley had 46 of his 71 yards on that drive alone. Also, Brandon Lloyd made his only catch on his only target to convert a first down. Brady and company just sucked the life out of the Dolphins in a vintage end-game effort.
Death, taxes and AFC East titles
That’s 10 division crowns in 12 years for New England, including four straight. And as has been the case in many of those division races, the race to catch the Patriots is not even close. There’s a circus act in New York, an erratic bunch in Buffalo and an extremely average group in Miami. And then there’s a force in New England just hitting its stride once again - the Pats have won their last six by an average of 19.8 points and are now an unbelievable 20-0 in the second half of the season over the last three years. The next step is trying to clinch home-field advantage.