Originally created 12/23/01

Patriots savor triumph

FOXBORO, Mass. - The game was over and the victorious New England Patriots wouldn't leave the field.

The Patriots had just beaten the Miami Dolphins 20-13 Saturday, overtaking them for the AFC East lead and adding another wonderful memory to the collection at Foxboro Stadium, which will be demolished after the season.

Players took a 10-minute victory lap, slapping hands with smiling fans who could be in those same seats for a playoff game in three weeks.

"It'll be 10 minutes I won't ever forget for the rest of my life," linebacker Tedy Bruschi said.

Antowain Smith, who rushed for a career-high 156 yards and a touchdown, absorbed more hard hits as he circled the edge of the field, "trying not to get pulled into the stands," he said.

"But it felt great to be out there," Smith said, "for the fans who stayed with us all year long."

Next year, fans will flock to adjacent CMGi Field, still under construction. Foxboro Stadium will get the wrecking ball two days after its last game.

The Patriots (10-5) have won nine of 11 games after going 5-11 last year. They have a bye next weekend, and can extend their winning streak to six games in their season finale against Carolina (1-12). A win, combined with one more loss by the New York Jets, would give the Patriots the AFC East title and a home playoff game.

"It was a very emotional day," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said.

The Dolphins (9-5), who have home games against Atlanta and Buffalo left, scored a total of just one touchdown in losing their last two games.

"We may make the playoffs but if we're playing like this, we'll get knocked out in the first round," linebacker Zach Thomas said. "We lacked zip and energy. We're going through the motions."

The Patriots' defense stretched to 14 quarters its streak of not allowing a touchdown before Jay Fiedler threw a 10-yarder to Jeff Ogden with 1:28 left to finish the scoring.

Miami held Tom Brady to 117 yards passing. But he threw a 23-yard touchdown to Patrick Pass and caught a 23-yard pass from running back Kevin Faulk that set up Smith's 2-yard run and a 14-0 lead.

"I think Tom was more excited than me," Faulk said. "Coming out of my hands it felt like a jump shot. I knew it was there."

The Patriots scored all their points in the second quarter as Adam Vinatieri added field goals of 32 and 23 yards. Miami's Olindo Mare followed with two from 36 yards to cut the lead to 20-6 with 13:41 left in the game.

New England can clinch its first playoff berth in three years if the Jets, Baltimore or Seattle loses Sunday or if Seattle ties. If the Patriots, Dolphins and Jets finish with identical records, the Jets win the division.

The Dolphins, who beat the Patriots 30-10 in the fourth game of the season, can't clinch a playoff spot this weekend.

"They ran the ball on us. They controlled the clock," Miami coach Dave Wannstedt said. "They controlled the tempo of the game."

The Dolphins' offense missed leading receiver Oronde Gadsden, out with a hamstring injury.

Their comeback chances were hurt by a wind-chill factor of 16 degrees, which made it harder for Fiedler to grip the ball, and a pinkie injury to starting cornerback Patrick Surtain in the first half. Starting linebacker Derrick Rodgers dislocated his left shoulder in the third quarter and didn't return.

The Patriots stopped a potential scoring drive when Lamar Smith caught a pass at the 3. He fumbled, and Roman Phifer recovered with 8:51 remaining.

"It hurts really bad," Fiedler said. "We felt like we were doing some good things still with plenty of time left."

Offensively, the Patriots mixed surprises with the pounding runs of Smith, many of them up the middle, where Miami is missing Daryl Gardener, on injured reserve following back surgery.


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