FOXBOROUGH — Duron Harmon hardly had time to catch his breath on the sideline before the Patriots defense was heading back onto the field, but the quick turnaround was just what the defensive back wanted.
It meant the offense had capitalized on Harmon’s first takeaway of the season, scoring a touchdown just three plays after he intercepted Ryan Tannehill’s pass in the second quarter of Patriots’ 41-13 win against the Dolphins Sunday.
The Patriots later ran away with the game by scoring a franchise-record 24 third-quarter points, but it was plays such as Harmon’s that allowed the team to escape the first half with a 14-13 lead.
The Dolphins faced third and 14 on the key second-quarter play when Tannehill badly overthrew receiver Brandon Gibson. Harmon was waiting at the 32-yard line for the easy interception, and returned it 60 yards to the Miami 8.
Three plays later, the Patriots took a 14-3 lead on Shane Vereen’s 3-yard run.
“Being able to get turnovers in general are big factors into winning and losing,” Harmon said. “Just getting the ball back to our offense is the main objective. That’s what a lot of offenses do; they get that turnover and just try to attack and score right away.”
The offense almost wasn’t needed as Harmon nearly returned his interception for the score. As soon as he caught it, Tavon Wilson ran the length of the field with him and waved his hand to direct Harmon through traffic.
It looked as if Harmon was going to get in the end zone when Wilson flattened Tannehill, but center Samson Satele was there to push Harmon out of bounds.
“Just made sure I caught it, and everyone did a great job blocking for me leading me up the sideline. I thought I was going to get in when [Wilson] blocked [Tannehill],” Harmon said. “Even though I fell short, our offense did a great job squeezing it in.”
The Patriots offense seemed out of synch in the first half, logging just 102 yards. Brady was intercepted on the team’s first drive, but the Patriots already had a 7-0 lead because Jamie Collins had blocked a field goal try by Miami’s Caleb Sturgis and Kyle Arrington had returned it 62 yards for a score.
On the Patriots’ second possession, the Dolphins forced a punt. But then Harmon intercepted Tannehill.
“It was what really kept us in the game because we weren’t doing much offensively,” Brady said. “We’ve got a really good defense, so it’s good to see. There’s pressure to score every time we get the ball, and that’s what we’re trying to do. But it’s also a good feeling knowing that if you have to punt, you’ve got a defense that’s not going to give up points too easily.”
Tannehill opened the game with a 50-yard completion to Mike Wallace, and the Dolphins gained 271 yards in the first two quarters, but they stalled in the second half.
Miami gained only 113 yards after halftime, and the Patriots shut out their opponent in the second half for the second consecutive week. In the last four games, they’ve conceded only 6 points in the second half — fourth-quarter field goals by the Lions and Packers.
On the Dolphins’ first drive of the third quarter, they went three and out when Vince Wilfork stuffed Lamar Miller a yard short of a first down.
On the next drive, Patrick Chung, who led the team with 10 tackles, intercepted Tannehill on first down. The following play, Brady hit Gronkowski for a 27-yard touchdown.
“The biggest stat was 13 points,” said Wilfork. “I don’t care how many yards you give up. Thirteen points. Shutout in the second half defensively, that’s something we’re proud of. We work very hard in situational football, and that’s one of the areas we want to be good at.”
The defense benefited greatly from the return of Chandler Jones, who hadn’t played since Oct. 16, as well as Dont’a Hightower, who was inactive last Sunday against the Chargers with a shoulder injury.
It was fitting that on the Dolphins’ last possession of the game, Hightower and Jones sacked Tannehill for an 11-yard loss on fourth and 23.
Jones finished with 1.5 sacks and seven tackles and Hightower had eight tackles.
“It was fun to see,” Wilfork said. “I knew [Jones] was feeling good all week, and today he came out and showed me. Getting him back, getting Sealver [Siliga] back last week, getting Hightower back, we got all our dogs back, and that’s where we want to be.”
■ Patriots 41, Dolphins 13: Patriots capture AFC East title again
■ Shaughnessy: Winning AFC East only the beginning
■ On football: Brady’s scramble picked up Patriots
■ Harmon, Patriots defense kept Dolphins at bay
■ Notebook: Chandler Jones plays like he never left
■ Special teams play big role in win over Dolphins
■ Opposing view: Same old losing script for Dolphins
■ Belichick, Patriots adjusted at halftime, and the rout was on
■ Tailgating: Fans add wood-fired pizza oven to party
■ Patriots fan wins $1 million at halftime by picking No. 12
Anthony Gulizia can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyGulizia.