FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Tom Brady usually finds his targets. Now he can finally set his sights on playoff success.
The record-shattering star of the New England Patriots extended his streak to 11 games without an interception in the team’s eighth straight win and fourth rout in five games, 38-7 over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.
“Interceptions pretty much ruin my night,” Brady said. “I’m glad tonight’s not ruined.”
He’s ruined plenty of nights for opponents. For coach Tony Sparano and the Dolphins, their season was ruined even before their latest debacle.
Sparano, going into the final year of his contract, is in jeopardy of losing his job after four losses in the last five games. After leading the Dolphins to the AFC East title in 2008, his first season, he coached them to two 7-9 records.
“This is a business,” Miami cornerback Benny Sapp said. “He is such a good coach. You just hate to see it go down like that.”
The game meant nothing in the standings, but Brady played into the third quarter and, most importantly, stayed healthy as the Patriots (14-2) look ahead to the AFC divisional playoffs after a bye week.
“Time to move on now,” said nose tackle Vince Wilfork, who had his first two sacks of the season. “One loss and you’re out. … Any little slip-up (and) the season will be done.”
Brady finished with 36 touchdowns passing and just four interceptions. He extended his NFL records to 335 straight passes without an interception and 28 consecutive regular-season wins as a starter at home.
The Patriots have the NFL’s best record and already had home-field advantage for as long as they remain in the AFC playoffs.
“The greatest advantage we have is we don’t have to play next week and we play at home the following week,” Brady said, “so that’s really what we’ve earned to this point. I don’t think we’ve earned anything more than that.”
The Patriots’ dominance continued Sunday even though their top three receivers —Wes Welker, Deion Branch and Aaron Hernandez — were inactive.
Playing in last season’s finale proved quite costly to Welker and the Patriots — he hurt his left knee early in the game, and New England lost to the Baltimore Ravens 33-14 in the first round without him. No reason was given for Welker’s absence Sunday. Branch has a knee injury and Hernandez has a hip problem.
“It was good for some of the players who haven’t had as many opportunities in recent games,” said coach Bill Belichick, who became the first coach with four seasons of at least 14 wins. “That’ll serve us well.”
Julian Edelman, returning punts instead of Welker, ran one back 94 yards for a touchdown with 18 seconds left in the first half, and the Patriots led 24-0 at halftime.
After Brady left, Brian Hoyer threw his first NFL touchdown, a 42-yarder to backup Brandon Tate.
“As dominant as they were, we were terrible,” Dolphins linebacker Cameron Wake said.
Here’s how their first-half possessions ended: interception, punt, missed field goal attempt, punt, punt, fumble, punt, end of half.
“I told (players) we never want to be in this position again,” Sparano said. “We shouldn’t forget what just happened to us out there. It’s not a good place to be and we did it to ourselves.”
The second half was more of the same — until they finally scored with 2:11 left in the game on a 21-yard pass from Tyler Thigpen to Davone Bess.
“It was 14-zip for a bit and we lolly-gagged and did not put points on the board,” Bess said.
Brady was sharp from the start and finished with 10 completions in 16 attempts for 199 yards and no interceptions. That made another record of his even tougher to break — nine straight games with at least two touchdown passes and no interceptions.
After rookie Devin McCourty’s seventh interception on the game’s opening possession, Brady connected with Rob Gronkowski for a 13-yard touchdown, the rookie tight end’s ninth of the season.
Danny Woodhead fumbled on the Patriots’ next series, their first turnover in eight games, then left the game for good with a head injury. But the Patriots still set an NFL record with just 10 turnovers in a season.
BenJarvus Green-Ellis finished with 80 yards, giving him 1,008 for his first 1,000-yard rushing season. Belichick came out on the field to hug him as he headed toward the bench after his final run, a 10-yarder early in the fourth quarter.
That was one goal the Patriots achieved in a game that had little meaning.
“It’s my job to bring energy and enthusiasm, whether it’s Wednesday practice or whether it’s offseason conditioning program run (or) if it’s dominoes in (the locker room) playing those fat offensive linemen,” Brady said. “I want to beat those guys.”
He paused, then said, “Don’t tell them I said they were fat.”
Notes: Brady’s .81 percentage of four interceptions on 492 passes is third best in NFL history behind Damon Huard of Kansas City at .41 (one in 244 in 2006) and Joe Ferguson of Buffalo at .66 (one in 151 in 1976). … Miami’s Brandon Marshall gained 97 yards on five receptions, putting him over the 5,000-yard mark of his career at 5,033.