FOXBOROUGH — All it took was one week for the rulebook to flip back in favor of the Patriots.
New England faced a second and 7 at the Miami 23-yard line leading by 3 with 9:09 left in the fourth quarter Sunday afternoon when Tom Brady rolled to his left and surveyed the field.
But Brady waited too long and Jimmy Wilson drilled him from behind, jarring the ball loose as it rolled free on the turf.
Olivier Vernon and Marcus Cannon dived for the ball at the 32, but Vernon knocked the ball with his left hand all the way back to the 46, where Nate Solder recovered for a 23-yard loss.
But Vernon was flagged for illegally batting the ball, giving the Patriots an automatic first down at the 13 after the 10-yard infraction as New England ran away with a 27-17 comeback win at Gillette Stadium.
“They said [Vernon] illegally batted the ball,” Dolphins coach Joe Philbin said. “Our stance was we thought he was trying to recover it. They said he illegally batted it.”
When asked if he was trying to recover the ball instead of bat it, Vernon said, “It don’t matter, man.
“I was just trying to make a play, but the refs called it so that’s what it is.”
Had the penalty not been called, New England (6-2) would have faced a third and 33 near midfield, leaving hope for Miami (3-4) to tie the game or take the lead on its next drive had the Dolphins come up with a stop.
Instead, Stevan Ridley punched it in three plays later from 3 yards out to push the lead to 10.
Referee Walt Anderson said the official ruled Vernon had batted the ball forward, “which is an intentional act.”
It is also not a reviewable play.
“Players cannot bat the ball forward,” Anderson said. “With it being the defensive team, they couldn’t bat it in that direction. The offensive team likewise could not have batted it forward from their side of the field.”
The batted ball came after the Dolphins blew a 17-3 halftime lead, allowing 17 unanswered points in the third quarter.
Miami held a 14-point lead early in third when it drove inside the red zone, looking to make it a three-score game.
Caleb Sturgis lined up for a 46-yard field goal attempt, but his bid rang off the right upright and ricocheted away from the goal post, giving the Patriots their first break of the game.
“All my balls in warm-ups were moving pretty good from right to left a few yards, so I thought I would start up on the right upright,” Sturgis said of his focus point on the kick. “It just never moved.”
After the miss, Brady and Co. finally kicked into gear.
Ridley darted for 23 yards on the first play of the drive, then Brady later hit Rob Gronkowski over the middle for a 23-yard completion to set up inside the red zone.
Aaron Dobson’s 14-yard touchdown catch capped the drive to make it a 17-10 game with 8:28 left in the third. Then, Logan Ryan’s strip-sack of Ryan Tannehill was recovered by Rob Ninkovich, giving New England the ball back two plays later at the Miami 13. Brandon Bolden tied it at 17 with a 2-yard touchdown run.
Had Sturgis made the kick, the Dolphins would have led, 20-3, and presumably still would have had control of the game.
“It would have put us up three scores, so it would have been huge,” Sturgis said. “I need to make those.”
Sturgis’s field goal attempt came after Tannehill and Mike Wallace failed to connect on a seam route inside the 5-yard line, which would have set Miami up with first and goal looking for a 21-point edge.
Wallace found a window in the coverage and Tannehill put it on Wallace’s hands over his right shoulder, but he couldn’t bring it in as the ball sailed through his hands.
Tannehill felt the Dolphins missed an opportunity to take a commanding lead.
“We had a chance and we just didn’t make the play,” he said.