Patriots clinch AFC East title with 23-16 win over Dolphins
And when the Patriots took over at their 20 leading by a touchdown in the fourth period, they produced their best drive of the day.
“We pounded away on a great defense, and they finally gave in a little,” Ridley said.
Trevor Scott led New England’s stout defensive effort with two sacks, including one to force a fumble that set up a field goal. Jerod Mayo sacked Ryan Tannehill on third down midway through the fourth quarter, forcing the Dolphins to settle for a field goal.
Welker tied Jerry Rice’s NFL record by making at least 10 receptions for the 17th time. He had 12 catches for 103 yards and a score.
Tannehill went only 13 for 29 for 186 yards, and twice he failed to connect with an open Brian Hartline deep.
“We just didn’t hit the shots that were there,” Tannehill said. “I’m still kicking myself.”
Tannehill was most effective running the ball. He finished two keepers with brazen acrobatic leaps, vaulting over the goal line to elude linebacker Rob Ninkovich on a 2-yard touchdown run.
The botched punt on the Dolphins’ opening series led to a New England touchdown. With the ball wet following a brief shower, punter Brandon Fields dropped a low snap and was tackled at his 12. The Patriots scored five players later on Ridley’s 2-yard run.
Miami’s Reshad Jones made a one-handed interception and returned the ball 30 yards for a touchdown, but the score was negated by a penalty on Reggie Bush for an illegal block. New England then held, and Dan Carpenter kicked a 44-yard field goal.
Notes: Dolphins T Jake Long left the game in the first half with a left triceps injury. … Patriots G Dan Connolly left in the first quarter with a back injury. … Ridley rushed for 71 yards and has 1,010 this season. … Dolphins reserve S Jonathon Amaya was inactive after being charged with battery Monday in a confrontation with a taxi driver.