Pats clinch division title with Dolphins loss to Giants

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FOXBOROUGH, MASS. >> Another year, another division title for the New England Patriots.

The Patriots (11-2) claimed their sixth straight AFC East championship and the 13th under Bill Belichick era on Monday by virtue of the Miami Dolphins losing 31-24 to the New York Giants.

"It's nice to have it, but at the end of the day it's not our end goal," Patriots defensive lineman Alan Branch said. "We'll put it in our pocket, but it's on to the (Tennessee) Titans."

New England has captured 12 of the last 13 division crowns, with the exception of 2008 when quarterback Tom Brady sustained ACL and MCL tears in the season opener.

After winning 11 games to start the season, New England lost back-to-back against the Denver Broncos and the Philadelphia Eagles, falling to the No. 3 seed in the AFC.

The Patriots bounced back Sunday with a 27-6 win over the Houston Texans to reclaimed the top spot in the conference following losses by the Broncos and Cincinnati Bengals.

The Patriots received a boost from the return of tight end Rob Gronkowski, who bruised a bone and sprained his right knee against Denver. He was inactive against Philadelphia.

Gronkowski had four catches for 87 yards and a touchdown in the win against the Texans.

"He's a great football player," White said. "His presence is going to be felt anytime he steps on the field. It's good to have him out there."

Already without their top wide receiver in Julian Edelman, New England may be down another key contributor after running back LeGarrette Blount injured his left hip Sunday in Houston.

Blount is the team's leading rusher with 703 yards and six touchdowns on 165 carries.

Brandon Bolden filled in after Blount was hurt, finishing with 51 yards on 16 carries. He figures to be the back Belichick will rely on most.

"He has been a valuable guy for us on all four downs," the Patriots' coach said. "So whether it's carrying the ball, making tough yards, playing as a sub back and playing in the kicking game, he's shown a lot of versatility and given us a lot of quality plays in all those situations."

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NOTES: New England signed free agent RB Montee Ball to the practice squad. Ball, who spent two seasons with the Broncos before he was released in September, played with running back James White at the University of Wisconsin. "We keep in touch," White said. "I keep in touch with a lot of the players I played with in college, so it's good to have him here." ... Branch and White were both unaware the Patriots had clinched the division until Belichick told them Tuesday. Patriots players had AFC East championship hats in their lockers.


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