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The Boston Globe

Sports

Bob Ryan

Vince Wilfork, Patriots made quite a recovery

Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff

Vince Wilfork’s third-quarter fumble recovery was a keeper - the big defensive lineman took the ball off the field with him.

FOXBOROUGH - So, Vince Wilfork, what did that football look like, lying there on the turf?

The idea, of course, is that a very bright man will make someone’s story sing with a colorful reference. Hey. It was worth a shot.

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“A football,’’ he said.

That’s it? A football? Not a piece of gold, not a winning lottery ticket, not the deed to his quarterback’s new $20 million California mansion, not the key to byes and home playoff games? A plain, ordinary, brown Wilson NFL game football?

Geez, Vince, I was looking for something more imaginative than that.

It being established that Vince Wilfork wasn’t going to do my work for me, I guess I’ll have to do it myself.

Seems to me that was more than merely a football. That was this entire game.

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Only the grid gods know for sure what would have transpired if Vince Wilfork hadn’t flopped on that ordinary, brown Wilson NFL game football on the Miami 38-yard line a little more than four minutes into the third period. What we do know is that neither team was the same from that moment on.

We know that the Dolphins had dominated the game and were leading, 17-3. We know that the Patriots ripped off 27 points before the visitors scored again. And we know that with yesterday’s 27-24 victory, the Patriots have the bye and are a step closer to the coveted AFC top seed.

A lot of times a so-called “turning point’’ in a professional athletic event is nothing more than a journalistic contrivance. This was not one of those times.

After landing on that prized pigskin, the big man ran off the field with it. You can pretty much bet that one’s going back to Chez Wilfork. He knew how important it was.

“That play seemed to spark us,’’ he acknowledged.

“Huge, huge,’’ agreed Tom Brady.

“One play turned into a bunch of plays,’’ added Wilfork. “Once we got it, it opened up everything else on offense, special teams, and defense.’’

Full disclosure: The play wasn’t the result of any Patriot brilliance. Miami quarterback Matt Moore, who to that point in the game had thoroughly out-Bradyed Brady, fumbled that third-and-8 snap from center Mike Pouncey. The ball was lying there. In theory, anyone in the vicinity could have had it. Wilfork happened to be the closest guy.

“Miscommunication,’’ Moore explained. “Can’t have it. Just have to communicate better. Loud stadium, and just have to be on top of it, which we were not.’’

Nope, No. 75 was on top of it, and nobody gets it away from him.

Yeah, well, whatever. It was a turnover, and that’s what the Patriots defense specializes in. All they ever hear about is yards, yards, yards, and how the only reason they’re 32d in total defense is because you can’t be 33d, 34th, or 178th. Cornerback Kyle Arrington offers a succinct rebuttal: “The only stat that matters is wins and losses.’’

And the Patriots are now 12-3. They will be home watching the action on Wild Card Weekend, and when they do take the field in January, it will be right here, with the lighthouse beacon shining on them. Stat that, OK? That would seem to be their position on the matter.

For all this to become a reality, they needed something big to happen in the second half. The first half was ultra-bad. Brady started off, shall we say, a bit off-target. With 2:45 remaining in the half, he was 3 of 14 for 37 yards and the scoreboard read: Miami 17, Patriots 0.

Some of it clearly had to do with starting left tackle Matt Light being a late scratch and the switched-over Logan Mankins going out early in the game. I mean, how often is Brady sacked on successive plays? Bill Belichick was heard asking if anyone happened to have telephone numbers for Bruce Armstrong and Tom Neville.

And, yes, that loud sound you heard from the stands was what you think it was. I guess seven straight wins, a division championship, and, you know, those three Super Bowls don’t count for much among the paying customers anymore.

But they were wretched, and they knew it.

“We just had a hard time getting going,’’ said Brady. “We obviously didn’t play well in the first half.’’

Coach Bill didn’t channel his inner Rockne at the half. Not his M.O. To him, it’s about attention to detail and individual job accountability - first, last, and always.

“We didn’t do anything very well,’’ said Belichick. “We didn’t throw, we didn’t catch, we couldn’t get open, we couldn’t block, we couldn’t tackle, we couldn’t rush, couldn’t return kicks, couldn’t cover them. Pick a winner.’’

The Patriots did squeeze out a 45-yard Stephen Gostkowski field goal on their first second-half possession, but there was almost instant disaster on the ensuing kickoff, on which Gostkowski himself saved a potential TD runback by Clyde Gates.

It wasn’t as if the place was buzzing. 17-3 is 17-3. Then came the oops snap, the Big Flop by Big Vince, and that was all the Patriots needed. Brady had the game tied by the end of the third quarter.

The go-ahead score was a 42-yarder by Gostkowski, and the clincher was a 59-yard, 11-play drive culminating in Brady’s second successful TD sneak of the game.

Miami made life interesting with a scoring drive, but when Brady positively, absolutely had to make a play, he put the dagger in with a 6-yard completion to Wes Welker for a first down with 1:35 left, after which it was kneel-down time.

It had been 17-zip at the half, but this is a group that has been in a battle or two.

“There was no hoo-rah,’’ said Wilfork. “Nobody yelling. We knew if we could make a play, we have an explosive offense.’’

Oh, well, Vince says it was just a football, nothing more. I say it was the game. And I have the last word.

Bob Ryan is a Globe columnist and host of Globe 10.0 on Boston.com. He can be reached at ryan@globe.com.

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