It wasn’t pretty, but the New England Patriots were able to pull out a 23-16 victory over the Miami Dolphins to run their record to 9-3 and clinch in the AFC East.
1. When Tom Brady is off…
The New England Patriots can still win against a decent opponent. The pass defense came up huge in this game, with Kyle Arrington continuing to play at a high level. He’s been great over the past three games, and this may have been his best game yet. Arrington held Davone Bess to one reception, which is no easy feat considering the slot receiver has 55 catches this season and usually does much better against the playoffs. Aqib Talib got beat quite a bit by Brian Hartline, but he wasn’t terrible. The telling statistic is that the Patriots held Ryan Tannehill to Mark Sanchez-like totals (6.4 yards per attempt, 66.2 QB Rating) and made him look terrible. Well, he was quite awful. And a lot of credit for that has to go to the secondary and the pass rush.
2. Trevor Scott deserves a major role
This guy was awesome, and he came away with two critical sacks in a beating of Tannehill. Scott was an extremely disruptive force, and he looked like he did during the beginning of training camp and back in his days with the Oakland Raiders. Heck, he even covered Dolphins tight end Anthony Fasano a couple of times. Scott provided one of the most important performances in this game, and I hope he receives a bigger permanent role for this defense. The Patriots pass rush hasn’t been good even with Chandler Jones starting, and I think Scott has done enough over the past three games to warrant more snaps. The Pats viewed him as a potential starter in the offseason, and he deserves plenty of looks in sub-packages.
3. Brandon Lloyd’s true role
I’m not surprised to see that Brandon Lloyd’s numbers in this game were poor, because I suspected that things would play out this way. CB Sean Smith would cover Lloyd on an island, keep him quite, but the Dolphins would also end up getting destroyed by Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez in the middle of the field (at least, statistically) with Lloyd taking pressure off that part of the field. Lloyd’s role isn’t to produce big stats, but to take pressure off of the receivers in the middle of the field and to come up with a clutch play here and there on offense. I do think it is fair to say that Lloyd has been a disappointment to a certain extent, but he’s had a better year than some people are giving him credit for.
4. Dolphins safeties
Reshad Jones had an amazing pick when Tom Brady delivered a pass to Aaron Hernandez, and the credit is all Jones’s- that was a good pass from Brady that was picked as a result of great defensive play. The Dolphins other safety, Chris Clemons, was terrible and proved it by pulling Hernandez’s facemask for a touchdown-saving penalty that was classless. Guard Richie Incognito has made a name for himself as a dirty player on the offensive line, and it looks like the Dolphins have a budding name in the dirty-player section in Clemons. All I can say is, Clemons has it coming to him in Week 17.
5. Hernandez heating up
The first clue pointing to a big game for Aaron Hernandez was the fact that tight end Visanthe Shiancoe was named a healthy scratch for this game. At that point, the onus was on Hernandez to see if he was healthy and ready to take advantage of the Dolphins pass defense. After a slow start to the game in which he dropped some passes, Hernandez grew into the game and ended up being arguably the Patriots most valuable player on offense. He had nearly 100 yards of receiving on eight receptions and was an absolute monster in this game. The Dolphins just couldn’t cover him, even though Reshad Jones managed to pull that one-handed pick early on in the game.
You can follow Joe Soriano on Twitter @SorianoJoe.