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New England Patriots prove they're ready for playoffs

On a day when quarterback Tom Brady mostly was held in check, the New England Patriots showed why they might be one of the NFL's most dangerous teams heading into the playoffs.

The Patriots beat the Miami Dolphins 23-16 on Sunday to clinch the AFC East title because their defense is better and their running game can put away games.

Brady was held under six yards per throw for the first time all season, but the Patriots' offense dominated where it mattered: on the ground. The Patriots got the ball back with just over eight minutes remaining, holding on to a one-touchdown lead. They promptly ran the ball down the Dolphins' throats.

The game was over 16 plays and 77 yards later. The Patriots had to throw the ball just three times on the game-clinching drive. Stevan Ridley pounded the ball -- just 24 yards on that penultimate possession came through the air.

The Patriots' defense also continues to make strides. It had three sacks and seven tackles for loss.

At 9-3, the Patriots have won six consecutive games in a variety of ways. They still have a shot at a playoff bye because they've learned to win even when they can't put 40 points on the board.

Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.

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