FOXBORO Trailing 17-0 to the Dolphins after one half of atrocious play, it looked like the Patriots would need a Christmas miracle to turn things around.
They got it, coming back to beat the Dolphins 27-24, and clinching a first-round bye in the process.
Of course, its a lot more complicated than miracles. The first half saw Tom Brady (27-46, 304 yards, touchdown, two rushing touchdowns) on his butt, Logan Mankins (knee) on the sidelines, and Dolphins swimming around in the end zone.
With Matt Light a game-time scratch suffering from a leg injury, and Mankins following suit later, Brady was under constant pressure from the Miami pass rush.
"Matts ankle was he just wasnt able to push off on it, so we were scrambling around there," Bill Belichick said. "And then Logan Mankins played a few plays and then he went out, so we had to take what was left."
How could you sum up each and every New England (12-3) drive in the first half? Six punts and a missed field goal. Meanwhile, Miami was attacking through the air with Brandon Marshall (seven receptions, 156 yards, touchdown) and on the ground with Reggie Bush (22 carries, 113 yards). As the Pats headed into the locker room boos raining down it wasnt a question of if they were going to lose to Miami (5-10), it was by how much.
But then something changed.
------ STATS: Patriots 27, Dolphins 24 ------
The Patriots, quite frankly, were ticked off. They didnt necessarily come out with guns blazing in the second half, but an 11-play drive led to the first three points of the game.
There was life. The Pats were given an inch they took it. Then they took the ball back from the Dolphins.
Fins quarterback Matt Moore (17-33, 294 yards, three touchdowns, interception) fumbled on the ensuing possession and after Vince Wilfork fell on the ball, New England took over at Miamis 38-yard line.
"They made a mistake," Belichick said, "the ball bounced right to us, and we recovered it, so that was great."
We have been surviving on turnovers all year," Jerod Mayo said. "We just have to continue to grow. Those things always help our offense anytime they are struggling, which is seldom. But at the same time, turnovers always jump-start us.
Seven no-huddle plays later, Brady found Deion Branch (three catches, 37 yards, touchdown) in the back of the end zone, and it was 17-10.
The no-huddle offense just makes the defense hurry up and make a decision," Aaron Hernandez said. "We play so fast and we can do so many things that cause a lot of problems to a defense.
As panic set in for the Fins, so did confidence for the Patriots -- and comfort between Brady and his targets. On the day, Brady connected with Wes Welker 12 times for 138 yards. Tack on another seven receptions and 78 yards for Rob Gronkowski.
Both receivers were essential once again in the second-half surge put on by the Patriots.
Wes Welker and Tom Brady started clicking and when theyre clicking everyone starts clicking, so they got it going and we just followed their lead, Hernandez said.
After the Branch touchdown, a three-and-out for Miami would give the Pats favorable field position to start, at Miamis 41-yard line. With the no-huddle offense in full effect, the Patriots tied things at 17 just seven plays later as Brady rushed in for the touchdown.
The first half troubles were clearly over.
"We just didnt do a good job in any phase of the game in any area," Belichick said of the first half. "I know were capable of more than that and the players showed that. They responded. It wasnt perfect in the second half and we got a couple breaks, but we made a few plays on our own, so thats good. We were able to come out on top, but we dug ourselves a big hole there."
But Miami helped the Pats climb out of that hole. A deep pass from Moore intended for wide receiver Brian Hartline was picked off by Devin McCourty just shy of the end zone. In what seemed like a matter of seconds, Brady again in the no-huddle took the team from the two-yard line to midfield.
A few plays later, kicker Stephen Gostkowski put the Patriots up for the first time, hitting a 42-yard field goal with 9:00 to play to cap off the Patriots' 74-yard drive.
On their next possession, Brady and the Pats drove 59 yards in 11-plays before Brady rushed in for his second touchdown of the day and third on the season. That put the Pats up 27-17, and gave them a little wiggle room.
Brady wasn't the only successful rusher on the day. Stevan Ridley set the tone with 13 carries for 67 yards, coming up big on a number of important carries.
But that Brady touchdown turned out to be huge. On the ensuing drive, Moore drove the Dolphins 80 yards in just over a minute, finding Davone Bess for the touchdown to make it a three-point game, 27-24, with under two minutes to go and three timeouts.
That would be it though.
Brady found who else Welker for the first down that would enable the Patriots to run out the clock and seal the win.