FOXBOROUGH (CBSMiami/AP) — Much has changed since the opening week of the NFL season back in early September.
When the Miami Dolphins played the New England Patriots in the season opener, Knowshon Moreno ran for 134 yards and Tom Brady was sacked four times.
Since then, Moreno gained just 14 yards on the ground before a knee injury ended his season after three games, and Brady has been sacked only 12 times.
Plenty has changed between Miami’s 33-20 win and the rematch Sunday against a New England team that has lost only two more games.
“It was so long ago, there are a number of players that will be involved in this game that weren’t even on the roster the last time that the two teams met on both sides,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said.
But a lot remains the same, such as the Patriots’ offensive approach.
“For the most part, it is the same style, same up-paced, fast-tempo consistent offense,” said Miami defensive end Cameron Wake, who sacked Brady twice in the opener. “These are big games when we come to face each other.”
This one’s big for both teams.
The Patriots (10-3) would clinch the AFC East for the sixth straight season with a win or a tie. The Dolphins (7-6) need a win to have a realistic shot at the playoffs.
That will be tough against a team that has won 34 straight home games against AFC opponents, is 6-0 at home this season and is an NFL best 52-9 in December since 2000.
But the Dolphins have won their past two meetings with the Patriots, both at home.
“It probably helps the confidence, for sure,” Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill said, but “there has been a lot of football between then and now. Each game is a new game. We know these guys. They know us.”
In the opener, the Patriots led 20-10 at halftime then were outscored 23-0 and outgained 222-67 as their streak of 10 straight opening wins ended. In the fourth quarter, Brady completed only six of 20 passes for 31 yards.
“You end up watching all the games just because all of them can provide some insight. Certainly, that game can provide a lot of insight,” Brady said, “but our team is a little bit different now. There are going to be some new things that we do. I’m sure they’re going to have some new things.”
Two key players missed that game with suspensions, Patriots cornerback Brandon Browner and Dolphins defensive end Dion Jordan.
New England tight end Rob Gronkowski was rusty then after offseason knee surgery, but has 10 touchdown catches this season. Miami rookie wide receiver Jarvis Landry had no catches in the opener, but leads NFL rookies with 63 now.
So on Sunday it will be the same teams, but different circumstances.
“We’ve obviously taken a look at the first game,” Miami coach Joe Philbin said, “but, certainly, you pay a little bit more attention, when it’s the 14th game of the season, to the last four or five weeks.”
Some things to watch for as the Patriots seek their 16th consecutive regular-season home win:
ON THE RUN: The Patriots’ running game got a boost when they signed LeGarrette Blount. In his three games with them, the powerful back rushed for 202 yards and two touchdowns. The Dolphins are trying to get their ground game going after rushing for just 63 yards in last Sunday’s 28-13 loss to Baltimore and fewer than 100 in four of their past five games.
“We kind of got out of rhythm a little bit and didn’t have real good balance,” Philbin said.
SHORT PASSES: Tannehill is sixth in the NFL with a 66.7 completion rate, but only 31st with 6.66 average yards per pass attempt. But the Patriots still have to be wary of the deep pass.
“Our secondary has to stay alert at all times,” New England cornerback Darrelle Revis said. “Our first job is to defend the pass at all times. We can’t go to sleep back there. We can’t have our eyes in the backfield. We’ve got to keep our eyes on the man on play-action and definitely on double moves.”
BACK ON TRACK: The Patriots came back from a 26-21 loss in Green Bay that ended a seven-game winning streak with a 23-14 win in San Diego. Now the Dolphins will try to recover from their loss to Baltimore in which they led 10-0 after one quarter. Miami has alternated wins and losses since starting at 4-3.
PLAYOFF THOUGHTS: The Patriots know they have to keep improving even if they clinch the division title.
“We’ve still got three games left,” Brady said. “You’re playing for a division championship, so it’s a very important game. They’ve got some goals that they have, too.”
GUARDING GRONK: Gronkowski’s TD catch at San Diego made him the first tight end in NFL history with at least 10 in four different seasons. His 73 catches are second most by a tight end this season.
“I got a little taste” of covering him last season, Jordan said. “If I have to this week, I’ll be prepared.”
Watch Miami take on the New England Patriots this Sunday at 1 p.m. on CBS4, your official Dolphins station!
(TM and © Copyright 2014 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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