FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — The New England Patriots get their second chance this season to clinch the AFC East title. The Miami Dolphins can ruin that for the second straight Sunday.
With the way the Dolphins have been surging, the Patriots very well may have to wait even longer.
Miami's 34-28 win over Pittsburgh last Sunday was its fourth in six games and denied New England the division crown even though it beat Cleveland 27-26.
Next up for the Patriots is a trip to Miami where they can wrap up their 10th AFC East championship in 11 years with a win or a tie.
"That's our goal," quarterback Tom Brady said. "Not every week do you get to play for a championship, so we do this week, and it's a big week for us."
To succeed, the Patriots (10-3) must avoid losing to the Dolphins (7-6) in a division matchup. So they haven't talked about clinching, defensive end Andre Carter said Thursday.
"It's a very important game and whatever happens after that is great." he said. "But our main objective is just to be successful and put together a great football game for four quarters."
They haven't been doing that for a while.
The Patriots have trailed at halftime in five of their last six games, starting with a 17-3 deficit against the Dolphins. But they've won five of those games, none more impressively than last Sunday with Brady's two touchdown passes in the last 61 seconds, helped by the team's first successful onside kick in 18 years.
"There's a lot less margin of error," Brady said. "You make one mistake and you're down 12 points with not a lot of time left. You make one mistake, that's the game. So you just put a lot of pressure on yourself to do it. You'd like to have some cushion there because it's not always going to turn out where you can be perfect that last three or four minutes of the game."
Turnovers are a major reason the Patriots have fallen behind. In the last six games, they have seven in the first half and just three in the second. And in the fourth quarter, they gave the ball away just once in that span.