The New England Patriots faced off against the Miami Dolphins on a beautiful autumn afternoon in Foxboro, MA. Unfortunately, the game got ugly fast as the Patriots offense managed less than sixty total yards in the first half falling behind the Dolphins 17-3 at the half. In the first half, the Patriots impotent offense and weakened defense seemed like a repeat of their previous losses to Cincinnati and the New York Jets. The first half theme for New England was an offense which could not extend drives with third down conversions and a defense which could not get a stop with a third down stop.
On offense in the first half, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady appeared to take a step back on offense as he ignored outside wide receivers Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson in the first half in favor of squeezing passes inside to his slot receivers and tight end Rob Gronkowski. On defense in the first half, the Patriots defense was unable to get near Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Coming into the game with one of the worst offensive lines in football, the Dolphins front five pushed around the Patriots defense and let the Dolphins control the game with superior time of possession for the entire first two quarters of the game.
The Patriots, who had struggled to make adjustments at halftime and struggled in the third quarter for most of the season, needed to change momentum and spread the ball around on offense and then get creative on defense to dial up some pressure on the quarterback and make a few bigs plays to help the stagnant offense. That is exactly what the Patriots did in the second half. As bad as the Patriots were in the first half against the Dolphins, they reversed course in the second half turning a full one-eighty on both sides of the ball.
The defense shut out Miami in the second half, forced multiple turnovers, and picked up six sacks. On offense, the running game woke up with Stevan Ridley picking up the slack and LeGarrette Blount coming on to punish a tired Dolphins defense. Quarterback Tom Brady started to find his outside receivers after ignoring them in the first half. That opened up the underneath for Rob Gronkowski and Danny Amendola. After an impotent first half, the Patriots woke up on both sides of the ball and put up twenty-four unanswered points in the second half to defeat the Dolphins and got to six and two for the first half of the season.
In the second half, the Patriots offense came out with an all too familiar sequence: dropped pass on first down (wide receiver Aaron Dobson), a poorly executed simple play (Brady’s drop-back had him tangle feet with running back Stevan Ridley) and then allowing a third-and-long sack. Miami had great field position to open the second half and the Dolphins offensive line continued their dominance of the Patriots front seven and continued to run and pass the ball without any resistance.
Finally, the Patriots dialed up a blitz on third-and-two and sacked Tannehill. The ensuing forty-six yard field goal attempt hit the upright and the Patriots offense took over with good field position and a chance to turn around momentum. A touchdown on the drive after the missed field goal would make it a one score game rather than being down three scores. On first down, running back Stevan Ridley busted out for twenty-three yards on first down. A play-action fake opened up the middle for Rob Gronkowski for twenty-three yards. Finally, the Patriots found the end zone as Brady finally looked outside and found rookie Aaron Dobson for a fourteen yard touchdown and cut the Dolphins lead to 17-10.
On the ensuing Dolphins drive, the Patriots brought a corner blitz and rookie Logan Ryan sacked Tannehill and forced a fumble which was recovered by the Patriots defensive end Rob Ninkovich. Suddenly it was three plays and in from three yards out for Brandon Bolden and the Patriots had tied the game at seventeen. The Patriots offense had not scored in the third quarter all season, and suddenly they scored twice in less than a minute.
The third quarter ended with New England taking their first lead of the game as kicker Stephen Gostkowski nailed a forty-eight yard field goal to make it 20-17. It could have been different, as a long touchdown completion to Rob Gronkowski was called back for a questionable holding penalty on left tackle Nate Solder.
The Dolphins opened the fourth quarter with the Dolphins putting together another extended drive like they did in the first two quarters. However, this time the defense stepped up with another big play as safety Devin McCourty tapped away a pass in the air that backup cornerback Marquice Cole caught and made a great play keeping his body under control and getting both feet down for a huge interception.
Of course, the turnovers do not help much if the offense gives the ball right back. This time, the Patriots moved the ball with a great throw and catch across the middle to Aaron Dobson. Some big runs by LeGarrette Blount moved into Miami territory and stalling with a fourth and four at the thirty-five yard line. Instead of a long field goal into the wind, the Patriots went for it and Tom Brady scrambled for eight yards and a first down.
Two plays later, the Dolphins safety blitz by Jimmy Wilson got a hit and strip-sack on Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and in the ensuing scrum to recover the ball, the Miami defender, Oliver Vernon illegally slapped the ball forward where it was finally recovered at the forty-five yard line by Patriots offensive left tackle Nate Solder. With the illegal batting of the ball the Patriots were given ten yards from the original line of scrimmage and took over with a first down at the thirteen yard line rather than third-down and-thirty-something. Four rushes later and Patriots running back Stevan Ridley was in the end zone and it was 27-17 New England over Miami.
Miami had a final chance to cut it to one score with time to attempt an onside kick. Again the Patriots defense came up big. First, after Miami drove down to the New England fifteen yard line, the Patriots’ defensive end Rob Ninkovich had a big sack of Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill the Patriots defense’s fourth of the second half after not getting near Tannehill for the first two quarters. After the clock ticked down from seven to under three minutes on the drive, the Dolphins field goal attempt by Miami to cut it to seven was blocked by defensive end Chandler Jones. Yes, the kick was blocked without any illegal pushing by New England.
Miami took over with under two minutes to play on the final drive and New England got sack number five of the half to start the drive. The pressure stayed on Miami on the last drive as the Patriots nearly got a sack on second down and then defensive tackle Chris Jones took down Tannehill on third down for sack number six. On fourth and twenty-four and forty seconds to go and down by ten, the Patriots had cemented a huge comeback win.
The Patriots defense initially stopped Miami on the first drive of the game, but it was downhill from there for the Patriots. Quarterback Tom Brady, with an obvious hand injury that failed to make the injury report (“right shoulder” was the designation), started the game by throwing an interception which Miami methodically turned into seven points. Miami had an eleven play forty yard drive mixing short passes and a power running game to push their way right down to the end zone where Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill converted into a touchdown to wide receiver Brandon Gibson.
Miami’s offense, after their defense forced a three-and-out and a short drive by the Patriots, began another long, balanced drive that resulted in a 14-0 second half lead. A ten play fifty-eight yard drive again balanced the power running game and short passing game resulting in a five yard touchdown pass to running back Daniel Thomas. Down 14-0 at home, the pressure was now squarely on the Patriots to respond.
The Patriots offense appeared to get a spark in the second quarter when running back Stevan Ridley–who was inexplicably benched for the entire first quarter–sparked the running game. Unfortunately, that momentum withered as right tackle Sebastian Vollmer had his knee rolled over and was carted off the field.
A questionable pass interference call on Miami was the only way New England got in scoring range and that drive stalled as the Patriots were forced to kick a field goal. Miami, however, came right back running the ball straight down the throat of the Patriots defense. Without defensive tackles Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly and linebacker Jerod Mayo, the underachieving Miami running backs had to be fighting on the sidelines to get in the game and attack the weak belly of the Patriots defense. The Dolphins milked the clock down to thirty seconds in the half before a fifty-two yard field goal restored the two touchdown lead before halftime to 17-3.