Dugger INT return helps lift Pats over fading Dolphins 23-21

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Kyle Dugger intercepted Teddy Bridgewater and returned it 39 yards for a go-ahead touchdown late in the third quarter, and the New England Patriots kept their playoff hopes alive by rallying to beat the Miami Dolphins 23-21 on Sunday.

Mac Jones had touchdown passes to Tyquan Thornton and Jakobi Meyers to help the Patriots (8-8) snap a four-game losing streak to their AFC East rivals. Jones finished 20 of 33 for 203 yards.

The Dolphins (8-8) entered with a chance to clinch a postseason berth with a victory and loss by the New York Jets at Seattle. Instead, Miami lost its fifth straight game and will need to win next week against the Jets and need Buffalo to beat New England to qualify for the postseason for the first time since 2016.

Miami played without quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who’s in the concussion protocol for the second time this season. Bridgewater started in his place and was solid, completing 12 of 19 passes for 161 yards and a touchdown before leaving late in the third quarter with an injured right ring finger after being picked off by Dugger.

Bridgewater, who didn’t return, was replaced by Skylar Thompson. The third-stringer had an interception and a late TD pass to Mike Gesicki to trim the deficit to 23-21. He finished 12 of 21 for 104 yards.

The Dolphins were already shorthanded, missing left tackle Terron Armstead (toe/pectoral muscle/knee/hip), cornerback Xavien Howard (knee), and linebacker Bradley Chubb (ankle/hand).

New England was without defensive backs Jalen Mills (groin), Jack Jones (knee) and Marcus Jones (concussion), along with wide receiver DeVante Parker and tight end Jonnu Smith, who both have concussions.

It left Jonathan Jones and Myles Bryant as the starters at cornerback, with practice squad elevation Tae Hayes providing support in certain sets as New England stuck mostly to zone.

The Dolphins mostly played it safe offensively, running the ball often, with Bridgewater sticking mostly to short and intermediate passing routes.

After exchanging touchdowns in the first half, the teams combined for six punts and a missed field goal by Miami. The Dolphins broke the stalemate in the the third quarter when Bridgewater capped a five-play, 41-yard drive with a 2-yard shovel pass to Raheem Mostert that made it 14-7.

Nick Folk cut into the lead on New England’s next series with a 49-yard field goal.

Miami was facing third down on the next drive when Bridgewater threw into traffic looking for Trent Sherfield. Dugger picked it off and returned it 39 yards for his TD. But Folk’s extra point banged off the upright, leaving the score at 16-14.

It was Dugger’s third score of the season. It marked the fourth straight week the Patriots have had a defensive score and their seventh of the season.

Bridgewater entered the medical tent for evaluation after the INT and was replaced by Thompson, who was picked off by Jonathan Jones.

Two series later, the Patriots went up 23-14 on Mac Jones’ 1-yard TD pass to Meyers.

GETTING DEFENSIVE

The Patriots’ seven defensive touchdowns this season are the most in franchise history and most by any team since the 2017 Jaguars. New England beat Jacksonville that season in the AFC championship game.

INJURIES

Dolphins: S Jevon Holland visited the medical tent after leaving with an arm injury early in the second quarter. ... OT Kendall Lamm left in first half with an ankle issue.

Patriots: LB Ja’Whaun Bentley jogged off on his own power after a collision in the third quarter. ... Meyers left with a shoulder injury following this touchdown. ... CB Jonathan Jones walked off on his own power after being shaken up late in the fourth.

UP NEXT

Dolphins: Host the Jets next Sunday.

Patriots: Visit the Bills next Sunday.

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