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Dolphins-Patriots Preview

AP - Sports

The New England Patriots last lost two straight AFC East games in 2006 - to the New York Jets followed by the Miami Dolphins four weeks later.

They'll try to stay atop the division and avoid a second straight loss within it Sunday at home against the Dolphins - a week after their 30-27 loss to the Jets.

Despite the return of tight end Rob Gronkowski, the offense continued to struggle moving the ball. The injury-hampered defense allowed a season-high 30 points to a Jets offense that had scored 30 once in its last 16 games.

The Patriots (5-2) were held under 300 yards for the second time in three games and the third time this year. They were 1 for 12 on third down.

Quarterback Tom Brady went 22 of 46 for 228 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. He has one touchdown pass in his last three games and has already set a career high with three games in one season with a completion percentage under 50 percent. He had zero such games the last three seasons.

Gronkowski, who caught eight passes for 114 yards in his season debut, is already fifth on the team in receiving yards and first among tight ends. He was targeted 17 times, which was second in the league for the week behind Vincent Jackson's 22.

"You always get the jitters the first game back and everything. It's just football now, Gronkowski said. "This is my fourth year. I've got to just go out there and do what I've got to do, listen to the coaches, listen to the players and just practice to the best of my ability so I can be ready for Sunday, and keep a rhythm going every single week."

Brady said having other options is still a priority.

"You've got to be able to spread it around, there's no question about that," Brady said. ''It just happens to be if a guy is a particular read on a play and he is open, you let it rip, whoever it is.

"Gronk, when he is on the field, he is obviously a part of the reads. Whether he is the first read, the second read or the third read."

The defense allowed 30 points for the first time this year while the Jets nearly doubled up the Patriots in time of possession - 46:13 to 23:40 - in the overtime game. Despite allowing 57 points in their last two games, the Patriots still rank fifth in scoring defense, allowing 18.1 points per game.

New York's Chris Ivory ran for 104 yards on 34 carries to become the first player to run for 100 yards against the Patriots in 22 games.

With Vince Wilfork on season-ending IR with a torn right Achilles tendon and fellow defensive tackle Tommy Kelly having missed the last two games with a knee injury, the Patriots re-signed Andre Carter, who made the Pro Bowl with the team in 2011. He was released by Oakland on Aug. 31.

"He's a hard-working guy that's given us great leadership in the past and is a good teammate," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said.

New England is also without linebacker Jerod Mayo - the team's leading tackler - for the rest of the season while top cornerback Aqib Talib sat out Sunday with a hip injury.

After a 3-0 start, the Dolphins (3-3) have lost three straight, including Sunday's 23-21 defeat to Buffalo.

"We're in a tough spot right now," said quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who is listed as probable despite being hampered by a sore right shoulder. "We have to face the adversity and grow from it. There are two ways we can go. We can tank it, or we can turn it around."

Tannehill was sacked a season-low two times Sunday against Buffalo, but he's been dropped a league-high 26 times this year. He's fourth in the league with 11 turnovers after throwing two interceptions and losing a fumble against the Bills.

"The decision-making has to improve," coach Joe Philbin said. "And our protection at times has to improve."

The Dolphins made a deal with Baltimore Monday for veteran left tackle Bryant McKinnie to help with pass protection, though it's uncertain when McKinnie will be available. He lost his starting job in Baltimore two weeks ago.

The Dolphins have lost six in a row against the Patriots and four straight at New England. They last won at New England on Sept. 21, 2008, when the Patriots were without an injured Brady. They've never won in New England with Brady as the Patriots' primary quarterback.

The teams last met in a 28-0 Patriots' home win on Dec. 30, 2012.

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