FOXBORO — Tom Brady more than made up for not bringing Rob Gronkowski any Thanksgiving biscuits on Friday.
Brady found Gronkowski for a pair of touchdown passes, Rex Burkhead had a touchdown run and a touchdown catch and Stephon Gilmore had a huge first half interception in the end zone as the Patriots rolled the Miami Dolphins, 35-17, Sunday at Gillette Stadium for their seventh straight win. Gronkowski’s 16th multiple touchdown game broke Randy Moss’ franchise mark of 15. Brady and Gronkowski have now connected on 74 career touchdown passes.
After his second touchdown, Brandin Cooks hopped on the back of Gronkowski and the two did a piggyback celebration in the end zone.
“Yeah, that was not planned or anything,” Gronkowski said. “We got yelled at. We’re not allowed to talk about celebrations. That’s what we got told. But, I kind of want to talk about it, but I kind of don’t because I’ll get in trouble, so I don’t know what to do. So, it just happened on the spot. It wasn’t planned. We’ll just keep it there.”
On Friday, Gronkowski was asked if he tried any of Brady’s famous Thanksgiving biscuits.
“(Brady) was bragging about them and I told him to bring some in and he’s like ‘they were so good they were all eaten.’ So I told him to make some more. I’m not lying. That’s dead serious what happened. If he doesn’t bring some in there’s going to be some problems.”
Brady was obviously trying to make good from the beginning of the game, targeting Gronk on the first two plays from scrimmage. Gronkowski finished with five catches on eight targets for 82 yards.
“I guess those were the biscuits,” Gronkowski said of the touchdowns. “I guess he wasn’t making any more, so he made up for it. But I still want those biscuits.”
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Brady now has 482 career touchdown passes, moving him ahead of Drew Brees for third all time. It was also Brady’s 28th career game of at least four TD passes, third-most all time. His 26 touchdown passes this season gives him the most all-time for a 40-year-old QB.
The Patriots improved to 9-2 and clinched their 17th straight winning season, breaking the NFL post-merger record of 16 seasons held by San Francisco (1983-1998) and Dallas (1970-1985).
“Obviously, I wasn’t here for all 17 of those years, but it’s just the atmosphere of being around this facility,” Gronkowski said. “I mean, coming in, working hard, training hard, practicing hard, going to meetings, learning – it’s just all about dedication. When you come in, you inherit that type of work. You see the people around you doing it.
“It was already installed when I got here, and I just came in and just looked at the older guys, saw what they were doing, saw what Tom [Brady], Coach [Bill] Belichick, the other guys like [Matthew] Slater that were here at the time when I got here, and you just see their work ethic, everyone’s work ethic around here. It just makes you pick it up. That’s why I feel like it’s just awesome. I mean, it gets the best out of you to play your best football every single week.”
There was some concerning injury news Sunday. The Patriots lost of two key special team players as Nate Ebner suffered a knee injury on a first-quarter fake punt run and Trevor Reilly suffered a head injury covering the opening kick of the second half. The unit was already playing without Matthew Slater, sitting out his second straight game with a hamstring injury.
Then, late in the third quarter, on a sack of Matt Moore, both Trey Flowers and Marquis Flowers were injured getting to the quarterback. Both came off the field under their own power but Trey Flowers later made his way to the locker room with a rib injury. Adding to the woes, LaAdrian Waddle – filling in for Marcus Cannon – had his right ankle rolled midway through the fourth quarter. He was replaced by Cam Fleming. On the next defensive series, Kyle Van Noy went down holding his right calf.
The Patriots took advantage of a remarkably undisciplined Miami team, which came into the game the second-most penalized team in the NFL. On their first drive of the second half, the Dolphins committed a pair of personal fouls, including Bobby McCain throwing a punch at Danny Amendola that got the Dolphins corner ejected. Two plays later, it was Brady to Gronk for 15 yards and a 28-10 lead.
“We saw quite a bit of that in these games last year,” Bill Belichick said. “There were some personal fouls in that game at the end of the game in the first game here. What was it – Week 2? Same thing – we had some after-the-play type things that occurred in this game. Look, it’s two competitive teams.
“All our guys are playing hard. You’ve got to be able to control your emotions, to play with poise and play with aggressiveness but do it legally and within the rules and before the whistle blows and all of those kinds of things. I thought a number of our players did a good job of trying to keep their poise, stay focused on football and not get caught up in some of the after-the-play stuff. Sometimes that’s hard to do, but we’ve got to try and do the best that we can at it. I thought that they tried to do that.”
As the Patriots appeared to be going 3-and-out on their first drive of the game, Nate Ebner called a fake on the punt and ran to his right for 14 yards to the Patriots 41. Ebner immediately went to the blue medical tent behind the Patriots sideline. Minutes later, Ebner was ruled out for the rest of the game with a knee injury.
Following the Ebner fourth down conversion, Brady found a wide-open Phillip Dorsett on a 39-yard completion to the Dolphins 7. After Dion Lewis ran it to the Miami 2, Rex Burkhead ran it in from two yards for the touchdown.
On the next offensive series, Brady and company didn’t need any trickeration. After missing Gronkowski on his first two targets on the opening drive, Brady hit Gronkowski three times for 46 yards, including a 5-yard out at the goal line for the touchdown to make it 14-0. It was Gronkowski’s 73rd career touchdown reception from Brady, breaking a tie with Drew Brees and Marques Colston for fifth all time. On the drive, Gronkowski moved past Kellen Winslow (6,741 yards) for 10th place on the all-time list for tight end receiving yards.
Everything was rolling the Patriots way on the field until the third possession of the game. Facing a 2nd-and-4 at his own 38, Brady couldn’t handle a shotgun snap from backup center Ted Karras. The ball got past Brady and was scooped up by safety Reshad Jones, who jogged in from 14 yard for the touchdown.
The Patriots struck right back, marching 78 yards in nine plays. The key play came on a third-and-14 at the Patriots 40. Brady dropped back and again found a wide-open receiver, this time Brandin Cooks, for 37 yards to the Miami 23. Rex Burkhead took the next snap and ran 22 yards around the left side to the Miami 1, dragging several Dolphins along the way for the final couple of yards. After Burkhead was stopped for no gain, Brady split Gronkowski out wide right and had him 1-on-1 on a linebacker. But the quarterback went back to Burkhead on a 1-yard TD toss to make it 21-7.
The Dolphins did show some fight with 28-yard field goal from Cody Parker and a pounding of Tom Brady on New England’s final possession of the first half. Kiko Alonso drilled Rob Gronkowski on tackle following a 21-yard gain. On the next play, Alonso came off the edge and drilled Brady on an incomplete pass. Then, two plays later, Brady faced pressure up the middle and underthrew Danny Amendola. Bobby McCain undercut the throw and picked it off.
The Dolphins were driving right down the field and Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore was executing a perfect two-minute drive, taking time off the clock and marching the Dolphins to the Patriots 10. But after a sack, Moore badly underthrew DeVante Parker in the end zone and it was picked by Stephon Gilmore. The incredibly bad decision by the veteran quarterback preserved the Patriots’ 21-10 lead at the half.
The Patriots return to the road next week when they travel to Buffalo to take on the Bills for the start of a three-game road trip, which ends with a big game in Pittsburgh against the Steelers.
After playing his first two games after returning to the Patriots, Martellus Bennett missed Sunday’s game with hamstring and shoulder issues.
Second-year nose tackle Malcom Brown returned Sunday after a three-game absence due to an ankle injury.
Matthew Slater – who was on the cover of Sunday’s GAMEDAY program – missed his second consecutive game with a hamstring injury while starting center David Andrews missed his second straight game with an undisclosed illness. Marcus Cannon was out for a third straight week with a bad ankle.
Mike Gillislee was a healthy scratch for a second straight week while Rex Burkhead and Dion Lewis got the bulk of running back work.