NFL Football

12
Final 1 2 3 4 Tot
New England 0 6 3 3 12
Miami 0 0 7 15 22
22
10:00 AM PT11:00 AM MT12:00 PM CT1:00 PM ET18:00 GMT2:00 11:00 AM MST1:00 PM EST12:00 PM CT22:00 UAE13:00 ET16:00 , December 20, 2020
Hard Rock Stadium, Miami Gardens, Florida  Weather: 79°, Cloudy  Attendance: 13,354

Patriots-Dolphins Preview

According to STATS
According to STATS

New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins

  1. This is the first time the Dolphins and Patriots are playing in the second half of the season with the Dolphins entering with a better record since 2002, when the 8-7 Patriots beat the 9-6 Dolphins. Since 2003, New England is 1-6 in December games at Hard Rock Stadium, compared to 28-4 in all other December road games.
  2. The Patriots lost to the Rams last Thursday, 24-3, the team's fewest points since a 16-0 home loss to Buffalo on October 2, 2016. Last week officially ended New England's streaks of 17 straight seasons with 10+ wins and 11 straight division titles, both of which were the longest such streaks in NFL history.
  3. Miami lost at home to Kansas City last week, 33-27, despite forcing four turnovers. It was the Dolphins' first loss with 4+ takeaways since October 25, 2009 vs. New Orleans, and it was just the second home loss in team history in which Miami had a +3 or better turnover margin (December 20, 1980 vs. Jets).
  4. Cam Newton is the first Patriots QB to start three straight games and throw for fewer than 120 yards in all three since Doug Flutie in 1988. Newton is on pace to become the first player in NFL history to attempt at least 300 passes and have at least as many rushing touchdowns as passing touchdowns.
  5. Tua Tagovailoa has nine touchdown passes and one interception, the best TD/INT ratio in the Super Bowl era by a QB through his first six starts. Tagovailoa threw his first career interception last week, and he also set new season highs in attempts (48), completions (28) and passing yards (316).
  6. Xavien Howard has intercepted a pass in five straight games, tying the longest such streak in Dolphins history (Dick Westmoreland in 1967). Howard's nine interceptions this season lead the NFL and rank second in team history behind Westmoreland's 10 in 1967.
Team Comparison

New England
 
Miami
21.3 Points 25.4
198.2 Pass Yds 240.2
147.5 Rush Yds 95.2
19 Takeaways 25
(AP Photo/Adrian Kraus, File)

Even five time zones away in Hawaii, where Tua Tagovailoa grew up following football and dreaming of an NFL career, the New England Patriots left an impression he can describe with just one word.

"Dominant," Tagovailoa said.

No more. Mediocre is more like it in 2020, the first year of New England's post-Tom Brady era.

The Patriots (6-7) head into Sunday's game against the Dolphins and Tagovailoa with their NFL-record run of 11 consecutive playoff appearances in dire jeopardy, and their reign atop the AFC East at an end.

For a change, the Patriots are looking up in the December standings at the Dolphins (8-5), who need a win to bolster their chances to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2016.

"At this point in time, this is our most important game," Tagovailoa said.

The rookie quarterback, 4-2 as a starter, will face the Patriots for the first time.

PLAYOFF RACE

Miami and New England head into their 111th meeting with both teams trailing AFC East leader Buffalo (10-3). The Patriots will finish with fewer victories than a division rival for the first time since Bill Belichick's first season in New England in 2000, and a loss Sunday would eliminate them from playoff contention.

"All I know is if we go out there and we win the rest of our games, we give ourselves a chance," Patriots running back James White said. "And then whatever else happens, it's not really in our control."

One more loss ensures that for the first time since 2000 - the year the Patriots drafted Brady - they won't finish above .500.

TAKEAWAY STREAKS

Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2019, and Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard is making a strong bid to succeed him.

Howard leads the NFL with nine interceptions, the most in a season since 2012, and is tied for first in the league with 17 passes defended. Teams continue to throw his way: Howard has an interception in each of the past five games.

"You would think people would learn," teammate Christian Wilkins said.

Miami's defense is much improved since Week 1, when it allowed 217 yards rushing in a loss at New England. The Dolphins rank second in the NFL in points allowed, and are tied for the league lead with 25 takeaways. Their streak of at least one takeaway in 19 consecutive games is the longest in the NFL.

"They've been very opportunistic," Belichick said. "They've forced offenses into some bad plays and capitalized on them."

DEFENDING McDANIELS

Whatever struggles the Patriots have had on offense this season, Cam Newton maintains they aren't the fault of offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.

Asked during his weekly radio appearance if play-calling in the red zone had any effect on the offense going 0 for 4 in last week's loss to the Rams, the quarterback rose to his coach's defense.

"He's a very passionate person that I would never second-guess his theory no matter what it is," Newton said. "There have been times where, as a player, you kind of bail your coach out because of the plays that you may make. But more times than not, Josh has bailed the whole team out because of his theory and his in-game adjustments. So, it's give-and-take."

Through 13 games, New England is ranked 27th in the NFL in the red zone, scoring a touchdown on 52% of its opportunities.

RETURN THREAT

New England's Gunner Olszewski leads the NFL with a 20.6-yard punt return average.

If he continues that pace, it would be the highest return average in team history. Julian Edelman has the highest average in a season at 15.5 in 2012. Only seven NFL players have a return average of at least 20.0 yards in a single season.

Olszewski had a 70-yard punt return for a touchdown in Week 13 against the Chargers.

TUA THE TARGET

Should the Patriots take Tagovailoa seriously as a receiving threat? He ran into the flat as the intended receiver on a trick play last week after handing off to wideout Lynn Bowden Jr., who decided to run instead.

"Tua has good hands," Dolphins receivers coach Josh Grizzard said. "He's a card dealer back there when he gets it from center, so I'm sure he can catch the passes well."

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AP Sports Writer Kyle Hightower in Boston contributed to this report.

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Follow Steven Wine on Twitter: http://twitter.com/Steve-Wine

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More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP-NFL

Updated December 17, 2020

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