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National Football League

               === Patriots edge Dolphins to clinch AFC East ===
 Miami, FL (Sports Network) - The New England Patriots clinched the AFC East on
 Sunday. It was far from easy, however.
 Tom Brady's rhythm was disrupted by a spirited Miami defense, but the Patriots
 capitalized  on  several miscues on  their way to a  23-16 victory at Sun Life
 Brady  was 24-of-40 for  238 yards with one touchdown pass to Wes Welker and a
 rare interception.
 Stevan  Ridley scored on a short touchdown run and picked up critical yards on
 a  fourth-quarter drive  to help  New England  (9-3) prevail  and capture  the
 division crown for the 10th time in 12 years.
 "We  accomplished one  of our goals this  year, to be in the postseason," said
 New  England  coach Bill Belichick, who  picked up his 201st career win, tying
 him  with Dan  Reeves  for  seventh place  all-time.  "That's  good, but  more
 importantly we just got to keep working to get better."
 Welker had 103 yards on 12 grabs, tying Jerry Rice's NFL record for most games
 with 10-plus receptions at 17.
 Rookie  Ryan  Tannehill completed 13-of-29  passes and finished with 186 yards
 for the Dolphins (5-7).
 The  Patriots' offense  hardly mirrored a unit that had averaged 44 points per
 game  in its past  four wins at Miami and totaled 108 points over the previous
 two weeks.
 New  England registered  only  two first  downs in  the  third quarter  before
 finding traction late in the frame.
 Brady opened the fourth by hooking up with Aaron Hernandez for a 31-yard pass.
 A face mask penalty moved the ball two yards closer to the Miami 2.
 The  Dolphins recorded  two  sacks around  a Brady  incompletion  to bring  on
 Stephen Gostkowski for a 32-yard field goal.
 Miami answered on its next possession. Tannehill converted a 3rd-and-11 with a
 22-yard  pass to  Brian Hartline  and the  completion was  followed by  a pass
 interference penalty that placed the ball at the New England 31.
 Facing a 4th-and-1, Daniel Thomas moved the chains with a 9-yard run. However,
 linebacker  Jerod Mayo  sacked Tannehill on a delayed blitz on third down, and
 Dan  Carpenter  nailed a 33-yard  field goal to  trim New England's deficit to
 20-13 with 8:28 remaining.
 The  Patriots then  directed an  impressive 16-play  drive, during  which they
 forced Miami to use all three of its timeouts and chewed up seven-plus minutes
 of the clock.
 Ridley  did  much of  the heavy lifting  for New England,  which didn't face a
 third down until the red zone.
 Gostkowski kicked a short field goal to put the visitors up 10.
 "That  was our best drive of the day," Belichick said. "We needed it. We did a
 good job of blocking."
 A  pair of  28-yard completions set up  a 42-yard Carpenter field goal with 31
 seconds  left.  Brandon Lloyd recovered the  onside kick to seal New England's
 sixth straight win.
 "(The  Patriots) made  plays at the end  of the game to secure the victory and
 they deserve to win," said Miami coach Joe Philbin.
 Errors doomed Miami in the first half.
 After  going  three-and-out to begin  the game, Dolphins punter Brandon Fields
 was tackled at his own 12 after fumbling a low snap.
 New  England  cashed in  the turnover as  Ridley bounced to  the left side and
 scored a 2-yard touchdown.
 Late  in the first quarter, a low block penalty wiped out a pick-six for Miami
 safety  Reshad Jones. It was Brady's first interception since a Week 6 loss at
 Seattle, and the turnover led to a 44-yard Carpenter field goal.
 The Patriots' next drive was extended by a roughing the kicker penalty. If not
 for the infraction, it would have been a three-and-out for New England.
 Given  new life, Brady  led the team down the field and Welker scored a 7-yard
 touchdown on slip screen.
 Tannehill then lost the ball on a strip sack by defensive end Trevor Scott and
 Vince Wilfork recovered for the Patriots at the Miami 25.
 Gostkowski,  who missed  from 49 yards in the first quarter, connected from 43
 yards to put New England up 17-3.
 Tannehill  atoned for  his mistake and his leaping touchdown closed the gap to
 seven at halftime.
                                   Game Notes
 Brady has thrown a TD pass in 44 consecutive games, the longest active streak.
 New  Orleans' Drew  Brees had  his NFL-record  streak of  54 games  snapped in
 Thursday's  loss  to Atlanta ...  New England has  won 12 consecutive games in
 December and secured its 12th straight winning season ... Welker reached 1,000
 yards  for the  fifth time in his  career. He also broke Rice's NFL record for
 most games with 10-plus catches and 100-yards receiving, doing it for the 16th
 time  ... Ridley had  71 yards on 19 carries and surpassed 1,000 yards for the
 season  ... Hernandez caught eight passes for 97 yards ... Miami's Reggie Bush
 rushed 15 times for 64 yards.
 12/02 18:37:32 ET

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