FOXBOROUGH — Tom Brady actually threw an interception.
Don’t worry Patriots fans, your team finally has a decent defense and big-play special teams to step up when the NFL’s best offense falters.
On a day when Brady was picked off for the first time in six games and New England gained a season-low 321 yards, the once-suspect defense delivered. It had its second stingiest game of the year, allowing just 277 yards, in a 23-16 win over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.
That clinched the ninth AFC East title in 10 years for the Patriots (9-3) and extended their winning streak to six games.
“When (the) offense struggles, it’s a chance for us to showcase how special we are on the defensive end,” tackle Vince Wilfork said. “Offense is OK to have a bad game here and there. They’ve done so much for us and one thing we want to do around here is we always want to play as a team.”
They’ve been doing that quite well lately.
In their last three games, the Patriots have scored 11 touchdowns on offense, three on defense and two on special teams.
They’ve cut down on the long completions by opposing quarterbacks. They’ve improved over the last two games from allowing the fifth most yards in the NFL to seventh.
Their turnover differential has gotten much better with 17 takeaways and just three giveaways during their six-game surge.
“We’ve had some better results recently, statistically,” coach Bill Belichick said Monday. “We’ve continued to win.”
If the defensive players improve the communication among themselves and their execution the longer they’re together, he said, “then we’ll play better next week than we played this week.”
Even when the defense doesn’t score, it’s helped the offense by stopping opponents deep in their own territory and forcing them to punt. The Dolphins managed just two first downs on their first five possessions and gained less than 10 yards on six of their first nine series.