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Patriots plow their way to division title

PATRIOTS 12, DOLPHINS 0: New England wraps up the AFC East in nasty weather conditions.

By Associated Press
Published December 8, 2003

FOXBORO, Mass. - The New England Patriots shrugged off the snow, then watched their hardy fans fling it in celebration of the team's AFC East title.

"You couldn't miss that. That was pretty cool," quarterback Tom Brady said. "Hopefully, there's more excitement down the road."

The Patriots beat Miami 12-0 Sunday, but didn't take control until Tedy Bruschi returned an interception 5 yards for a touchdown that made it 10-0 with 8:55 left. It was the fourth TD of his career.

"It seems like every time he catches it he ends up in the end zone," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. "I should put him on offense."

Bruschi ran into the end zone and dropped to his knees as teammates swarmed around him. Then, many of the 45,738 fans who braved the cold flung fistfuls of powdery snow into the wind, giving the stadium a festive and frosty air.

The Patriots won their ninth consecutive game and tied Kansas City for the NFL's best record. Two of those wins were against division rival Miami, which would give them an edge in a tiebreaker.

A Nor'easter had dumped at least 28 inches of snow on the Foxboro area from late Friday night until it ended midway through the second quarter. The field had been protected, and there was only a light coating of snow for most of the game. But it was soft and muddy.

"It didn't matter," Miami defensive end Adewale Ogunleye said. "Snow, mud, blood, who cares? It doesn't affect blocking and tackling. They just did it better."

With Ricky Williams leading their running game, the Dolphins were expected to benefit more from the sloppy field. Instead, they struggled to move the ball all game, getting outgained 228 yards to 134. Williams finished with 68 yards on 25 carries.

"The wind was pretty heavy early in the game, but it died down," Miami quarterback Jay Fiedler said. "They have a good defense, one of the best in the league."

The last Patriots home game played in snow was their controversial 16-13 second-round playoff win over Oakland on Jan. 19, 2002. Vinatieri's 45-yard field goal through heavy snow forced overtime and he won it with a 23-yard field goal.

Sunday's game began in a temperature of 28 degrees with the wind from 20 to 25 mph. It was a sellout, but there were 23,058 no-shows.

The Patriots took a 3-0 lead on Vinatieri's 29-yard field goal late in the first quarter. Then Bruschi intercepted Fiedler's pass.

"I just put my hands up and, fortunately, I got a good bounce," Bruschi said after his second interception return for a touchdown this season.

New England finished the scoring with a safety when Jarvis Green sacked Fiedler in the end zone with 1:13 to go.

"It's obvious the division title is over," Miami coach Dave Wannstedt said. "but our ultimate goal (the playoffs) is still attainable."

Matt Turk punted on 10 of the Dolphins' first 11 possessions and they lost a fumble on the other. And the Patriots won without an offensive touchdown.

The closest the Dolphins came to scoring was late in the third quarter when they moved from their 37-yard line to a third and 3 at the Patriots 10. Then a blitzing Rodney Harrison jarred the ball loose from Fiedler and Mike Vrabel recovered for New England at the 30.

[Last modified December 8, 2003, 01:46:15]

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