Miami Dolphins (5-9) at New England Patriots (11-3)
KICKOFF: Saturday, 1 p.m. ET
VENUE: Gillette Stadium
SURFACE: Field Turf
LOCATION: Foxboro, Mass
TV: CBS, Ian Eagle, Dan Fouts
PREDICTION: Patriots 35-26
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Patriots will insert pass-rushing
specialist DE Mark Anderson at right end with Andre Carter (leg) out
for the season and Dolphins LT Jake Long (back) ailing. Without
pressure on QB Matt Moore, the Patriots' secondary will be under heavy
fire. The Patriots used more 3-4 looks at Denver and might combat
Dolphins RB Reggie Bush with the same to fill inside running lanes.
Even without a running game, the Patriots' no-huddle offense has
exhausted defenses, including the Dolphins in a 38-24 win in September.
New England's pass-catching tight ends give Miami fits. Rob Gronkowski
has 188 yards in his last two games vs. Miami and Aaron Hernandez had
103 yards in the opener.
FAST FACTS: The Patriots have won 10 straight December games
and QB Tom Brady has 10 straight regular-season home wins vs. AFC East
opponents. ... Bush is averaging 5.8 yards per carry on the road.
INSIDE THE CAMPS
Anthony Fasano went from the invisible man earlier
this season to the Dolphins' primary red-zone target.
The Dolphins have leaned heavily on the tight end
position the past two months, when Fasano's caught four of his five
touchdown passes, transforming his worst NFL season into what could
potentially be his most productive one.
Fasano is averaging a career-high 15.7 yards per
reception on his 28 catches. He needs 89 receiving yards to establish a
new career high. He has 440 receiving yards. Last year, he logged a
career-high of 528.
But Fasano, who is rated the fourth most
productive tight end by ProFootballFocus.com, suffered a mild
concussion during practice this week and his status for Saturday's road
game against the New England Patriots is in jeopardy.
"He does have a mild concussion that he didn't
have yesterday," interim coach Todd Bowles said on Thursday, a day
after Fasano was held out of practice with what the team declared as a
head injury. "He had a low-grade concussion. They're monitoring him
right now. They're taking more tests."
If Fasano can't pass his baseline test on Friday,
which is mandated by the NFL for returning to practice and games after
suffering a concussion, it's unlikely that he'll travel to New England.
That means the Dolphins would have to either lean
on his backups - Jeron Mastrud or rookies Charles Clay and Will Yeatman
- to fill the void his absence creates, or play a lot of three- or
four-receiver sets against the Patriots.
Mastrud is primarily a blocker. He caught his only
NFL pass (for eight yards) in his two seasons against the Chargers in
Yeatman, who the Dolphins claimed off waivers from
the Patriots in September, was active for the first time last week
against the Bills, but he played sparingly on offense.
Clay, the team's sixth-round pick, has started
nine games this season, catching 14 passes for 231 yards and a
touchdown. He leads the Dolphins in yards per reception (16.5) this
season. But this former Tulsa standout is more a fullback than tight
end, and needs work on his in-line blocking.
"He's made big plays all year. Injuries seem to be
bugging everyone in the league," Bowles said of Fasano, who is
finishing his fourth season as the Dolphins' starter. "(Jeron) Mastrud
or (Will) Yeatman are just going to have to step it up if he doesn't
Usually, when an injured player faces the music
and talks to the media in the Patriots' locker room, it's a good sign
he'll be available to play during that upcoming weekend.
"You can think what you want of that," said
defensive back Patrick Chung, who spoke Thursday despite missing the
past six games with a foot injury. "I'm feeling good and working hard."
Chung was expected to return last week, but he
still wound up sitting out despite returning to practice toward the end
of the week. In fact, he's practiced sporadically throughout the
healing process, yet hasn't been cleared to play by the New England
For what it's worth, the Patriots have found a
solid contributor in his absence, safety James Ihedigbo, who has become
the quarterback of the defense by default, but the team still has too
many issues in the secondary. Chung's presence is a necessity if this
team has any chance of pulling it together by the end of the year.
Things have gotten so bad the Patriots have used
offensive players such as wide receiver Julian Edelman as defensive
fill-ins. That's worked in the past (see Troy Brown), but it's hardly a
Through it all, Chung has adhered to the
team-first attitude that has permeated the locker room.
"I've been watching us win," Chung said when asked
how he's spent the past six weeks. "I wasn't a part of it, but we're
winning. We're not individuals here; we're about winning."
As for his status in Saturday's game, that remains
up in the air. Chung won't give specifics, but he's practicing -- and
talking, which is a step in the right direction.
"It's a day-to-day process," Chung said. "Just
keep working, keep doing whatever I have to do to get better --
sometimes it feels good, sometimes it doesn't."
--WR Davone Bess is tied for sixth in the NFL in
third-down receptions, bringing down 22 catches for 207 yards and two
touchdowns on that critical down.
--OG John Jerry continues to man the starting left
tackle spot when Long is held out of repetitions. If Long doesn't play,
Jerry will get his second start at left tackle.
--TE Anthony Fasano was held out of practice for
the second straight day because of a concussion he suffered this week.
--TE Will Yeatman, who was with the Patriots
during training camp, played his first NFL game last week and is
presently working with the second team.
--WR Brandon Marshall was limited in practice
because of a left knee injury he's nursed for a couple of weeks.
Marshall is tied for 16th in the NFL when it comes to producing first
downs. He's contributed 43 this season.
--OT Jake Long was limited for the second straight
practice because of the back injury that prevented him from playing
last Sunday. If Long travels with the team to New England he'll likely
--CB Will Allen practiced fully for the second
straight day despite a wrist injury he's nursing.
--RB Reggie Bush's eight touchdowns have him tied
for seventh in the AFC for most points scored by non-kickers.
--K Dan Carpenter has the 12th most touchback
kickoffs in the NFL.
--WR Clyde Gates averages 25.1 yards per kickoff
return. That has him ranked ninth best in the NFL.
--QB Matt Moore has completed 51.8 percent of his
passes on third down, and has a 69.6 passer rating on that critical
down. Moore has completed 29-of-50 passes for 323 yards, throwing for
one touchdown in the fourth quarter. He has a 59.0 rating in that
--S Vincent Fuller has been added to the injury
report due to a forearm injury. He participated in a limited portion of
--OT Sebastian Vollmer did not practice Thursday
due to back and ankle injuries and will likely miss Saturday's game.
--LB Brandon Spikes did not practice Thursday due
to a knee injury. Unless he returns to form late this week, he will
probably miss Saturday's game.
--DB Patrick Chung has only participated in
limited portions of practice this week due to a foot injury, but should
be able to return to the lineup Saturday.
- Dolphins Game Thread.
More Dolphins News: Dolphin Digest
More Patriots News: Patriots
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