Dolphins hold off late rally to sweep Patriots, finish 2021 season with winning record

By Daniel Oyefusi

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — It was the performance against a playoff team that many expected one week ago, but it was a performance that brought delight to the tens of thousands who gathered at Hard Rock Stadium on Sunday to watch the Dolphins’ season finale.

Led by a 195-yard rushing effort and a defense that forced three takeaways, the Dolphins held off a fourth-quarter rally to beat the New England Patriots, 33-24. The victory gives the Dolphins (9-8) back-to-back winning seasons for the first time since the 2002-2003 season and a regular-season sweep of the Patriots for the first time since the 2000 season.

On paper, the Dolphins, eliminated from playoff contention after their Week 17 loss to the Tennessee Titans, didn’t have much to play for, while the Patriots (10-7), who entered the game with a playoff berth, were still in play for the AFC East title with a win and Buffalo Bills loss to the New York Jets.

However, it was the home team that played more efficiently, more crisp and finished a season full of ups and downs with a win ahead of a critical offseason for the franchise.

The Dolphins led 27-10 early in the fourth quarter, but two touchdown drives by the Patriots made it a one-score game with 2:53 left. Facing third-and-8, quarterback Tua Tagovailoa dropped back to pass. But as the play developed and no open receivers emerged, he tucked the ball and took off running, beating New England defenders to the first-down marker.

A fumble recovery touchdown by reserve linebacker Sam Eguavoen, who intercepted a last-ditch lateral attempt as time expired, sent the crowd at Hard Rock Stadium into a frenzy and the Dolphins sideline racing to the end zone to celebrate.

Tagovailoa finished 15-of-22 for 109 yards, one touchdown and added 38 rushing yards on five attempts. Running back Duke Johnson led the rushing effort, totaling 117 yards on 25 carries with a score.

Wide receiver Jaylen Waddle broke Anquan Boldin’s rookie reception record on the offense’s opening possession and caught a 7-yard touchdown pass to give the Dolphins a 7-0 lead in the first quarter.

Cornerback Xavien Howard, the team’s lone Pro Bowl representative, intercepted rookie quarterback Mac Jones on the next drive and returned it 37 yards to the end zone to give the Dolphins a 14-point lead.

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