Patriots clinch first-round bye with 28-0 shutout of Dolphins

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Patriots clinch first-round bye with 28-0 shutout of Dolphins

FOXBORO -- Bill Belichick had laid it our clearly on Friday.

"There's nothing that we can do to help ourselves unless we beat Miami," the Patriots coach said when addressing the myriad of postseason possibilities they faced heading into Sunday. "There's nothing we can do to help our situation unless we win. So we have to win for anything positive to happen . . . "

How right he was. They won . . . and, on a frigid late afternoonearly evening at Gillette Stadium, positive things happened.

They got the break they needed at 1 o'clock, when the Colts knocked off the Texans. They proceeded to help themselves with a stifling 28-0 shutout of the Dolphins -- their first shutout since a 59-0 win over the Titans in late October 2009 -- that enabled them to leapfrog Houston into the second overall seed, which carries with it a first-round bye, in the AFC playoffs.

The Patriots and Texans both finished with 12-4 records, but New England won the tie-breaker thanks to its head-to-head victory over Houston three weeks ago.

"It's great," said safety Steve Gregory, whose first-half interception jump-started the Pats' beatdown of the Dolphins. "Any time you can get a bye in the first round of the playoffs, it's a good thing."

The Pats didn't get any 4 o'clock help from the Chiefs, as Denver blasted Kansas City and clinched the overall No. 1 seed. So -- unlike their last two trips to the AFC Championship Game -- they'll have to go on the road if form holds and the Pats and Broncos win their semifinal-round matchups.

"Whatever it is, it is," said Belichick. "Wherever we have to play in the postseason, we'll play."

But the case can be made that the bye -- which gives them a week to rest their ailing troops (no fewer than 21 players were on last week's injury list) -- is just as important as the seeding.

"It's good to get that rest, get some guys healthy," said Gregory. "I know some guys are banged up, so it's good for us."

The Pats took care of it early.

Gregory's interception on Miami's second possession gave the Patriots the ball on the Dolphin 28, and Tom Brady got them home in two plays: A 19-yard pass to Rob Gronkowski, playing his first game since suffering a broken arm against Indianapolis on Nov. 18, and a 9-yard scoring toss to Wes Welker.

That made it 7-0, and may as well have been 70-0 the way the Pats' defense was handling the Dolphin offense. The Pats held Miami to 45 total yards in the first quarter (New England had 172), and only 106 yards in the first half. (New England had 279. The final Patriot advantage was 443-256.). They limited the Dolphins to 24:22 possession time, and had a season-high seven quarterback sacks.

Miami's only threat came in the third quarter, but then the defense made another big play: Dont'e Hightower recovered a botched handoff by quarterback Ryan Tannehill on the Patriots' 1-yard line.

"That's always awesome, when you walk away with a goose egg on the scoreboard," said defensive captain Vince Wilfork. "That's very, very satisfying."

By that time the score was 21-0 thanks to a pair of second-quarter touchdowns by Stevan Ridley. The first, from one yard out, capped a 13-play, 92-yard drive; the second, from two yards away, finished off a 14-play, 69-yard march.

The Patriots added their final touchdown in the fourth quarter when, after the defense had stopped Miami on fourth down and gave the offense the ball at the Dolphin 47, Brady hit Gronkowski with a 23-yard touchdown pass.

So now -- after the week off -- the second season begins. And the Pats' aim is to rise to the challenge as well as they did Sunday evening.

"We've got to start playing our best football from here on in, and tonight was a good night to start it," said Wilfork.

"I think everyone knows once you go into the playoffs, teams step it up a notch, so were going to have to do our part and try to step it up and match them," said Devin McCourty.

"If we keep improving and getting better, well be able to get there."

Quotes, notes and stars: Ramirez knows error 'can't happen'

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Quotes, notes and stars: Ramirez knows error 'can't happen'

Quotes, notes and stars from the Red Sox' 2-1 loss to the Los Angeles Angels ofAnaheim

Quotes:

"I tried to get two (outs) before I got one. That can't happen." - Hanley Ramirez on his throwing error which cost the Red Sox the game.

"Executing pitches - that's the name of the game." - David Price on improvement he showed from his last start.

"Fourth time through the order, middle of the lineup. . . Price had done his job. In a one-run game, we felt it was best to start a clean inning with a reliever." - John Farrell after lifting David Price after eight innings and 108 pitches.

Notes:

* Reliever Brad Ziegler was charged with the loss for the second straight game.

* Each of the last seven Red Sox losses has been by one or two runs.

* Dustin Pedroia has reached base in 31 consecutive games.

* The Red Sox four-game losing streak is their longest of the season.

* The Sox are now 9-23 in their last 32 meetings with the Angels.

* David Price did not allow a run for the second time this season.

Stars:

1) David Price

After a stretch of shaky outings, Price did his job with eight scoreless innings, getting 14 outs on groundouts while walking just one.

2) Jered Weaver

At times, the radar gun made Weaver's pitches look like softball offerings. But mixing junk, he held the Sox to a single run over 5 1/3 innings

3) Mookie Betts

He had just one hit - single in the eighth - but his sacrifice fly in the third produced the only run of the night.

First impressions: Ziegler can't finish Price's strong start

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First impressions: Ziegler can't finish Price's strong start

First impressions from the Red Sox' 2-1 loss to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

1) David Price pitched in the truest sense

Price wasn't necessarily overpowering with only six strikeouts in eight innings, but he succeeded in keeping the ball down in the zone, resulting in a ton of groundouts.

In eight innings, the Angels produced just two flouts to the outfield, both of them routine.

Otherwise, Price deftly mixed his changeup, slider and two-seamer to produce ground balls. His location was more precise and he induced weak contact in at-bat after at-bat.

 

2) The danger of a closer like Brad Ziegler was on display

The throwing error by Hanley Ramirez resulted in two runs scoring but Ziegler allowed three base hits to set the stage.

Ziegler doesn't get a lot of swing-and-miss with his sinker; what he gets is a lot of balls put in play. When things are going well, that results in groundouts; when they're not, it means baserunners and strange things happening.

As inconsistent as Craig Kimbrel has been in some non-save situations, he at least has the ability to record strikeouts and keep balls out of play.  That's not the case with Zieger, as the Red Sox learned the hard way in Anaheim Thursday night.

3) The Red Sox wisely took advantage of Jered Weaver on the bases

Weaver's high leg kick and reliance on off-speed pitches make for a slow delivery time to the plate. Dustin Pedroia would have easily stole second in the first but made the mistake of going into his slide too far ahead of the bag, and though initially ruled safe, was deemed out after a replay challenge.

In the sixth, Xander Bogaerts, was more successful in his stolen base. Neither steal led to a run, but the Sox did put some additional pressure on Weaver