|Cutler, Dolphins face tough task against Pats|
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Veteran quarterback Jay Cutler has never beaten the New England Patriots, and that trend is expected to continue Monday night.
Cutler, while playing for the Denver Broncos (once) and Chicago Bears (twice), has lost by 34, 29 and 28 points in his three tries against the Patriots.
On Monday, he will lead the Miami Dolphins (5-7) as they attempt to upset the Patriots (10-2) at Hard Rock Stadium.
The Patriots are 11-point favorites in their game against the Dolphins, who have no hope of winning the AFC East and are long shots to return to the playoffs for a second straight year as a wild card.
Miami, though, got a boost of confidence from last Sunday's 35-9 win over the Denver Broncos.
"We're coming together as a team," Dolphins defensive tackle Jordan Phillips told the Miami Herald after Miami broke a five-game losing streak with a dominating performance. "We can only go up from here."
The Dolphins should be fairly healthy for Monday's game. Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey, who left the Denver game after tweaking a hamstring injury is "all right," according to Dolphins coach Adam Gase. Cornerback Cordrea Tankersley is "OK" after suffering ankle and shoulder injuries.
New England, which entered this week tied with the Pittsburgh Steelers for the best record in the AFC, will be without star tight end Rob Gronkowski, who was suspended for one game by the league for his intentional late hit last week against Tre'Davious White of the Buffalo Bills.
Patriots coach Bill Belichick told the media that, in effect, Gronkowski was in the wrong on that play.
"Some of the things that happened in that game, nobody wants to see," Belichick said. "Hopefully, it won't happen again."
Gronkowski has apologized for his actions, saying they came out of frustration at the referees, who he felt were not calling what should have been defensive holding calls on the Bills.
Dwayne Allen, 27, will replace Gronkowski at tight end. Allen, a first-team All-ACC tight end at Clemson and a third-round pick in 2012, is a capable player, especially when paired with superstar Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
Still, Gronkowski, who has 55 catches for 849 yards, a 15.4 average and five touchdowns, is a big loss.
Allen has five catches for 40 yards and one touchdown this year. He has been targeted 13 times.
The Patriots have been winning despite numerous injuries and issues.
At wide receiver and tight end alone, the Patriots will be without five key targets on Monday: Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett (shoulder) at tight end; and Julian Edelman (knee), Chris Hogan (shoulder) and Malcolm Mitchell (knee) at wide receiver.
Hogan, who has 33 catches this season, returned to practice this week, but he is not expected to be ready in time to play Monday.
Even so, the Patriots should be fine with a receiver group that includes Brandin Cooks (53 catches, 886 yards, 16.7 average, five touchdowns) and Danny Amendola (46 catches, 489 yards, 10.6 average, two touchdowns). Former Miami Hurricanes speed-burner Phil Dorsett has lately become the third receiver, and Brady will also throw to his running backs, including James White (51 grabs), Rex Burkhead (24) and Dion Lewis (15).
Brady, still at the top of his game at age 40, has thrown for 26 touchdowns and 3,632 yards with just four interceptions. The Patriots are averaging 29 points per game, which ranks first in the AFC and fourth in the NFL.
Miami, on the other hand, is 26th in the league, averaging 17.4 points, which is an improvement from its last-place standing just a couple of weeks ago.
The Dolphins have not played well in prime-time games recently. For example, they are 1-7 in their past eight games on Monday Night Football.
But the Dolphins have been a tough out for Brady at Hard Rock Stadium, where Miami has won three of the past four in the series between division rivals.
New England, accustomed to the bright lights, is 16-3 in its past 19 night games.
"There's a lot of excitement on Monday nights," Belichick said. "It's the only game in town that night. Everyone's watching."