It was a tale of two halves for the Patriots, as they were thoroughly outplayed in the first two quarters, but then turned it around after that, gutting out a 10 point victory over the rival Miami Dolphins.
This game provided a mixed bag of things to take away, from Brady’s balloon sized hand, to the incredible second half performance by the banged up Patriot defense.
Here are three quick reaction takeaways from this win.
1. Pats D May Lack Talent, But They Have Heart
All teams have to deal with injuries throughout an NFL season. It is just part of the territory, in trying to become a successful franchise. But this years’ New England Patriots have had to go above and beyond the typical injury norm. They have lost Jerod Mayo and Vince Wilfork, their top two defenders, for the season. Aqib Talib has been sidelined for the past two contests, and defensive tackle Tommy Kelly has been absent from the Patriots lineup for three straight weeks. This defensive unit should be giving up 400 yards and 30 points a game, yet they battle week in and week out to keep their team in the game. Today, they surrendered 175 yards in the first half, getting absolutely dominated in every facet of the game. The Dolphins were running it up the gut with ease, and quarterback Ryan Tannehill, who has struggled as of late, notched two touchdown tosses in the first 30 minutes. Miami took a 17-3 lead into the break, and it looked like the Pats would be run out of their own building. However this decimated Patriots defense stood strong, and aided by a missed field goal by Caleb Sturgis, shut down the Dolphins offense for the remainder of the game. Miami gained only 126 yards in the second half, and the Pats D racked up six sacks to help propel New England to the victory. Guys like Chris Jones, Rob Ninkovich and Marquise Cole aren’t ultra-talented football players, but they embody the mindset of the Pats defense, which is a “never give up” attitude, and it paid off once again in this win.
2. Passing Attack Inconsistent
Tom Brady trotted off to the Patriots locker room at halftime with a mere 25 passing yards to his name, which is the third lowest total of his career. The Patriots offensive line were getting beat nearly every time off of the ball, and the receiving corps did absolutely nothing to help the struggling Brady. Three and out became the expected result for this group, and the Gillette crowd let them know how they felt with a series of boo’s as they left the field. However in the third and fourth quarters, they flipped a switch and began to march down the field. The offensive line re-grouped from a nasty leg injury to right tackle Sebastian Vollmer, and for the most part, they kept Brady upright for the entire second half. Brady’s play improved significantly, as he was more accurate with his throws, and seemed much more comfortable in the pocket, which allowed him to be that precise machine that we have grown to love. Brady threw for 91 yards, and a big 14 yard touchdown to Aaron Dobson in this half, displaying that this offense does in fact have some explosive abilities.
But it is this difference between the first and second half that troubles me. In the first, they looked like a team that could be shut down by the Jacksonville Jaguars, then in the second, they developed that old New England rhythm that ripped defenses apart in previous years. If this continues into the playoffs, I fear that the “bad” Patriots will show up versus the best teams in the league, and if that offense makes an appearance in January, Brady and Belichick will be sitting at home just like the rest of us come Super Bowl time.
3. Ridley, Ryan Make Impact After Sitting Out
Running back Stevan Ridley was held out of the first quarter of this game, while cornerback Logan Ryan was held out of the entire first half. This puzzled most of…well everybody, because both of these players have a lot of talent, and they made sure to display their abilities when they were finally allowed to enter the game.
Ridley gave the Patriots running game a much needed jolt of energy, hitting the holes hard, and showing his terrific explosive running nature, on his way to a 79 yard outing. The offense is much more dangerous when Ridley is in the game, which is a big reason why his absence in the first quarter seemed weird to Patriots fans everywhere. I think that the emergence of the New England running game was a big reason why the passing attack finally got on track in the second half. The Dolphins began to respect the ground game a little bit, which opened things up in the back end.
Like Ridley, Bill Belichick held Logan Ryan out of the first part of this contest, possibly due to an obscene touchdown celebration after his pick six last week in New York. Never the less, when Ryan finally entered, he made his presence felt. We knew that Ryan was a very good cover corner, as he displayed last week versus the Jets. He is physical at the line of scrimmage, and he is able to stay with most receivers in this league. However in this game he impacted the outcome via his blitzing, coming up with a huge strip sack early in the third quarter. This sack led to the Patriots tying the football game, and later taking the lead, which they never relinquished. Ryan finished the game with two sacks, possibly giving Belichick and company an option to blitz him in key moments in the future.