FOXBORO -- Sunday marked the Patriots' first shutout since 2009.
It came at a crucial time of the season, in a Week 17 divisional game that would decide their first-round playoff fate.
New England already had clinched the AFC East, but because the Texans lost earlier in the day, the Patriots had an opportunity to move from the No. 3 seed in the AFC into one of the top-two seeds, securing a first-round bye. But they needed to beat the Dolphins at Gillette Stadium.
Not only did they do that, but they did it by recording a season-high seven sacks, forcing an interception and recovering a fumble. In the process, they allowed zero points, their first shut out since 2009.
"Anytime you can look up at the end of the game and see that zero up there on the scoreboard, that's a good thing," said Patriots safety Steve Gregory, whose first quarter interception led to a Wes Welker touchdown reception two plays later, giving the Patriots an early 7-0 lead.
The Dolphins came close to scoring twice on Sunday. Kicker Nate Kaeding missed a 41-yard field goal midway through the second quarter, and then Dont'a Hightower recovered a Miami fumbled hand-off at the Patriots' 1-yard line late in the third quarter.
Other than that, New England's defense didn't allow the Dolphins to do much. And when they did, they made up for it with three sacks from rookie defensive lineman Justin Francis and one sack each from defensive linemen Vince Wilfork, Brandon Deaderick, and Trevor Scott, and safety Derrick Martin.
All of that made up for losing Rob Ninkovich to an injury mid-game.
"We rallied, man," said starting cornerback Kyle Arrington. "We did our best to rally for Rob Ninkovich. He's been big for us all year, making huge plays. So to see him go down like that, we just tried to do our best to pick up where we left off."
The Patriots were also missing cornerback Aqib Talib and inactive defensive backs Alfonzo Dennard, Nate Ebner, and Marquice Cole on Sunday, making the shutout -- and the defensive statistics to go with it -- that much more impressive.
"It feels good when you can shut out a team, especially a division rival," said Wilfork. "Going in and doing what we did tonight was some pretty good stuff. We played well together as a team. We made some plays. We executed very, very well. I'm very proud of that . . . I think we did a lot of things well tonight that can win some ballgames for us.
"That's always awesome when you walk away with a goose egg on the scoreboard," added Wilfork. "That's very, very satisfying."
But is it a statement to the rest of the league, and anybody who ever doubted this Patriots defense, entering the playoffs?
"It's definitely a good momentum builder," said Arrington. "There's still some things to work on that we can improve. Always reaching for the sky."
So Arrington was asked again, is it a statement?
"The goal is always to keep the opposing team from scoring," he said.
That is true. But Arrington was reminded that this was the first New England shutout in three seasons.
"It's definitely a confidence-builder, I'll tell you that, at least," he said.
Yes, but once again, is it a statement?
"Like I said, it's always our goal to stop a team from scoring points," said Arrington. "That's our job. So we didn't really do anything but go out there and try to do our job the best we could."
Bill Belichick agreed.
"Today they did a good job," said the Patriots' coach. "Anytime you can hold a team to no points in this league, you have to be doing something right."