MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. - New England is efficient enough without help, but Miami mistakes led to 17 first-half points for the Patriots, who defeated the Dolphins 23-16 Sunday to clinch their ninth AFC East title in 10 years.
The Patriots won their sixth straight game as they improved to 9-3 and guaranteed a 12th straight winning season.
A fumbled snap on a punt, a roughing-the-kicker penalty, and New England's 19th fumble recovery and 25th takeaway, best in the NFL, were converted to 17 points. It gave the Patriots control of the game, and they never relinquished it.
The Patriots' offense that rolled up 108 points in the previous two games and score 219 points in the in the previous five wins wasn't as productive against the Dolphins.
Tom Brady, who has been close to perfect for much of the season, threw for 238 yards, completing 24 of 40 passes with a touchdown and an interception. His game rating was 74.8.
Miami's Ryan Tannehill struggled against the Patriots defense, throwing for 186 yards on 13 of 29 for a 66.2 rating as the Dolphins dropped to 5-7.
Dolphin punter Brandon Fields mishandled the snap on the first possession, and it gave the Patriots the ball at Miami's 12-yard line. Despite a holding penalty, the Patriots scored in five plays with Steven Ridley going two yards for a 7-0 lead.
Tannehill just missed a wide-open Brian Hartline deep that would have tied the score, and then Stephen Gostkowski missed a 49-yard field goal that would have widened New England's lead.
After Reshad Jones intercepted a Brady pass intended for Aaron Hernandez, the Dolphins converted it to a 44-yard Dan Carpenter field goal, closing the deficit to 7-3 with a second left in the first quarter.
The Dolphins stopped the Patriots following the ensuing kickoff, but Jimmy Wilson roughed punter Zoltan Mesko to give the Patriots new life.
Brady didn't waste it as he completed five passes for 50 yards, including a seven-yard throw to Wes Welker for a 14-3 lead with 9:21 left in the half.
On Miami's next possession, Tannehill fumbled when hit by Trevor Scott, and Vince Wilfork recovered at the Dolphins' 25. Gostkowski's 43-yard field goal increased New England's lead to 17-3 with 6:53 to play.
The Dolphins finally mounted a drive in the final minutes of the half, going 80 yards in 12 plays with Tannehill running it in form two yards out, closing to 17-10 at halftime.
The drive was good mixture of running and passing. There were seven runs for 49 yards, including 13 yards by Tannehill and 30 yards by Bush. Tannehill hit four passes for 40 yards, including a 17-yard throw to Brian Hartline on third-and-three at the Patriots' 30.
The Patriots were not able to increase their lead until Gostkowski's 32-yard field goal made it 20-10 with 13:16 left in the game.
It ended a 66-yard drive where the big play was a 31-yard pass from Brady to Hernandez on third-and-one from the Dolphin 38.
The Dolphins answered with a 34-yard field goal by Carpenter, closing to 20-13 with 8:28 to go. It concluded a 65-yard drive in 12 plays.
Tannehill's 22-yard pass to Hartline on third-and-11 from the Miami 33 was one big play, but Daniel Thomas' nine-yard run on fourth and less than a yard from the Patriots 22 was a bigger conversion.
The Patriots responded with a 16-play, 77-yard drive that took 7:18 off the clock and sealed the game. Gostkowski's 20-yard field goal concluded it with 1:10 left.
Stevan Ridley gained 44 yards in nine carries as Brady threw only three passes in the drive.
The Dolphins used an unusual strategy by choosing to have Carpenter kick a 42-yard field goal with 31 seconds left pulling to within 23-16.
It allowed them to have an onside kick. However, Brandon Lloyd recovered for the Patriots.
NOTES: Brady's 74.8 rating was his lowest of the season and his lowest since he had a 69.5 rating against Baltimore on Oct. 17, 2010 . . .Welker had the 28th 100-yard receiving game of his career . . . Brady threw only his fourth interception the season . . . Dolphins left tackle Jake Long left the game in the first quarter with a triceps injury. Right tackle Jonathan Martin moved to left tackle, and Nate Garner played right tackle . . . Patriots left guard Dan Connolly left the game in the first quarter with a back injury. He was replaced by Nick McDonald.