Dec 15, 2013; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins wide receiver Rishard Matthews (18) makes the catch as New England Patriots defensive back Logan Ryan (26) defends late iin the first half of the game at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Barr-USA TODAY Sports

New England Patriots Fail to Convert Against Miami Dolphins

The New England Patriots faced-off in Miami on a muggy Sunday afternoon far from the snow and cold of New England.  After falling behind against Miami in their first matchup of the season at home 17-3 at halftime, the Patriots needed to shake off their first quarter blues and play with a lead for once.  They were able to do that with a strong first drive and take a 3-0 lead after one quarter of play. New England stretched the lead to 10-0 but Miami was able to drive and score before the half to make it 10-7 after 30 minutes of play.


That set the tone of the game as the New England offense sputtered in second half.  Even after taking a lead, Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill made a couple of huge plays to take the lead back.  Tom Brady drove downfield and had multiple chances to get in the end zone, but for the third time in the game the Patriots offense was able to score a touchdown in the red zone and fell short. Without their largest target, Rob Gronkowski, or big outside receivers Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson, the Patriots were not able to punch the ball in the end zone when they needed to score a touchdown.


Despite playing well at times on both sides of the ball on the road against a tough division rival, the Miami Dolphins defeated the New England Patriots 24-20. Both quarterbacks went over 300 yards in the air, neither team was especially dominant rushing the ball, and Mike Wallace of the Dolphins and Danny Amendola and Julian Edelman of the Patriots all went over 100 yards receiving in the game. The game came down to a handful of big plays at the end of the game and this time it was home team, the Dolphins, who converted on fourth-and-five inside of three minutes and then stopped the Patriots from completing a pass in the end zone.


For the Patriots, a big initial boost on offense was getting tackles Nate Solder (concussion) and Marcus Cannon (ankle) back in the starting lineup. While Will Svitek did a good job backing up Cannon the past few weeks, with Miami’s explosive trio of defensive ends of Cameron Wake, Dion Jordan, and Olivier Vernon the Patriots were happy to be at full strength at the important position. Unfortunately, the great offensive line protection ended when Solder left in the second half due to a head injury and forced a reshuffling of the line.  From that point forward, the Dolphins were able to hit and hurry quarterback Tom Brady repeatedly.


The Dolphins offense was effective running the football and mixing in short passes in the first half against the Patriots in week eight. They went right back to that game plan on their first drive attacking the weak interior of the Patriots defense with running back Lamar Miller and short passes in the middle of the field.  As the game progressed, the Dolphins started working the ball deeper to wide receivers Mike Wallace and Rishard Matthews.


The Patriots opened the second half with LeGarrette Blount in the backfield again and used the run to set-up the pass. Rookie Josh Boyce had a nice 30 yard reception to move New England down the field.  Boyce needed to step-up as fellow rookies Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins were out injured.  The opening second half drive by the Patriots stalled at the 30 yard line and kicker Stephen Gostkowski had a rare miss from 48 yards as he pulled it left.


The Dolphins took over with good field position and took advantage of it. Quick completions to Mike Wallace and Brian Hartline mixed with strong runs by Lamar Miller moved the Dolphins in the red zone quickly. Fortunately for New England, the defense tightened up and held Miami to three.


New England’s subsequent drive went back to the two back, two receiver, and tight end alignment and three straight runs by running back Stevan Ridley.  On second-and-eight, a big drop by Josh Boyce set-up a third down where defensive end Cameron Wake was able to get a coverage sack on Tom Brady.  For the first two-and-a-half quarters, the Dolphins pass rush did not get to Brady, but this time they finally did and forced a punt.


Again, Miami began moving the ball on offense.  Twice on the drive Brian Hartline got open over the middle of the field for seventeen and fifteen yards. The Dolphins were moving quickly on offense, setting the pace and rhythm, working no-huddle, shotgun and mixing in under center snaps.  On third and four at the seven yard line of the Patriots linebacker Dane Fletcher was flagged for a huge pass interference penalty to extend the drive for the Dolphins and give them a first and goal at the five.


This time the defense did not hold-up as Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill put the Dolphins up 17-10 on a two-yard pass to Daniel Thomas to open the fourth quarter and give the Dolphins their first lead of the game. Once again the Patriots found themselves trailing in the fourth quarter and the offense needing to step up and make plays. This time it was a disappearing act in the third quarter by the Patriots offense.


The Patriots offense needed to open the fourth quarter with a strong drive and it was wide receiver Austin Collie making a big conversion on third down and three.  With Nate Solder coming off the field, the Patriots move guard Logan Mankins outside to left tackle and guard Josh Kline stepping in for Mankins at left guard. Again, a big third down in Miami territory just past midfield and Brady this time found Julien Edelman for the third time on the drive to convert.


Again, Brady went to Edelman to get inside the Miami thirty yard line and went to him once more as the Patriots moved down to the Miami twelve yard line.  On third-and-two from the four yard line, the Dolphins dialed up the pressure and forced an incompletion.  With just under eight minutes to play, another long drive ended in a field goal as the Patriots cut the Dolphins lead to four.  The Patriots defense suddenly needs to get the ball back to the offense in the fourth quarter once again.


After just missing a deep connection to receiver Mike Wallace with good pressure by defensive end Chandler Jones just slightly disrupting the timing, the Dolphins faced a third-and-four and the Patriots again struck with the cornerback blitz, this time by Alfonzo Dennard. Dennard tipped the pass and forced the Dolphins to give the ball back to New England’s offense.


The Patriots attacked the Dolphins with their crew of slot receivers getting the ball to Danny Amendola, Julien Edelman, and Austin Collie.  Finally with 4:07 left in the game the Patriots got back to the end zone as Edelman weaved through the Miami defense to make a 24 yard  catch and run. Zigging, zagging, breaking a tackle and dragging a defender into the end zone Julien Edelman would not be denied on his twelfth reception of the game.


Unfortunately, kicker Stephen Gostkowski kicked off out of bounds and gave the Dolphins the ball with great field position at the forty. On third-and-seventeen, the Dolphins got a dozen back to sit at the forty-five and a fourth-and-five.  Miami tight end Charles Clay made a big play on his first reception of the game to convert just before the two-minute warning. The Dolphins made the decision not to punt and trust their defense.


It was a wise move as Tannehill found Rishard Matthews for 24 yards down the sideline to the 14. After an incompletion, the Dolphins attacked Dont’a Hightower in coverage as he was burned by running back Marcus Thigpen to give Miami the 24-20 lead with only 1:15 to play in the game.


Having the line shuffled hurt New England on their final drive of the game as center Ryan Wendell and guard Josh Kline had a miscommunication blocking forced an incompletion to make it fourth-and-eight. Fortunately, wide receiver Danny Amendola held on to the pass after a big hit to convert the first down. On the next play, the Patriots got 23 yards across the middle to Amendola again.  On a third-and-ten on the drive, Brady–under pressure again–found Edelman over the middle to convert the first down and put them inside the twenty with 27 seconds to play.


Street free agent Michael Thomas of the Dolphins made a great play knocking the ball from the hands of wide receiver Danny Amendola in the end zone.  WIth the ball at the fourteen yard line, fourth down, and seven seconds to play in the game, the Patriots had one play to score a touchdown and win. Unfortunately, Thomas stepped up again for the Dolphins and stepped in front of Austin Collie and picked off Brady.


One change with the New England defense is at linebacker with Jamie Collins and Dane Fletcher getting much more playing time in the base defense. What the Patriots defense gives up in stout run-stuffing ability, they are much more athletic and able to cover the Miami tight ends in the passing game.  The defense was able to stop Miami near midfield on the first drive and then force a quick three-and-out on Miami’s next drive in the first quarter.


On offense running back Stevan Ridley was on the bench and LeGarrette Blount was the feature back.  Blount came out running hard and through Miami’s stout defense touching the ball the first four plays on offense for New England. The Patriots had multi-tight end looks, three-wide receiver formations, fullback James Develin running the ball, wide receiver Matthew Slater in short yardage formations, and showed several different looks on their first drive of the game.  Showing different formations, receivers, and mixing pass and run showed what the Patriots offense will look like without tight end Rob Gronkowski going forward.


The Patriots opened the game with a fifteen play drive after starting deep inside their own end and stalling out with two incompletions on second and third-and-goal at the four. It was an encouraging drive by the Patriots as they kept the Miami defense on the field for over seven minutes, but not having tight end Rob Gronkowski at the goal-line showed as they were forced to settle for three points.


A key play in the turnaround against Miami in week eight was the cornerback blitz by rookie Logan Ryan. On the Dolphins initial drive of the second quarter the Patriots were able to dial it up again and this time it was Kyle Arrington coming off the edge to sack Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill on first down and stall the drive. Unfortunately, the Patriots offense went three-and-out after being pinned inside the ten yard line and punted the ball back to Miami.


With just over seven minutes before the half, the Dolphins finally made a big play with wide receiver Mike Wallace working the right sideline for 22 yards with an athletic catch.  Two plays later Wallace on the reverse ran for a 13 yard gain as the Dolphins offense finally was showing a sign of life against the much-maligned Patriots defense. On a key third-and-fifteen after a Chandler Jones sack Tannehill hit tight end Michael Egnew for 14 yards to put the Dolphins back in field goal range.


However, a miscommunication on the snap led to a fumble and the Patriots recovering and taking over after Nate Ebner recovered the ball. As the holder turned back to check the kicker, the ball was snapped and fortunately struck his helmet and bounced towards the line of scrimmage. This time, the Patriots grabbed the momentum with three quick passes to wide receiver Danny Amendola. Forty-eight yards later it was the two-minute warning and the Patriots were at the Miami 21 yard line.


A few runs by Stevan Ridley and an incompletion and New England was facing a third-and-eight at the thirteen yard line when number 47 pulled a number 87.  Tight end Michael Hoomanawanui in single coverage by tight end Philip Wheeler in the left corner made a one-handed “Gronk-like” grab to put the Patriots ahead 10-0 with under two minutes to play to the half.


Miami got the ball back and found wide receivers Rishard Matthews and Marlon Moore as the Patriots locked down on wide receiver Brian Hartline and tight end Charles Clay.  On the drive, the Patriots lost cornerback Kyle Arrington to injury. It was vital as on third-and-two from the 39 yard line Mike Wallace beat cornerback Marquice Cole on a slant and safety Steve Gregory took a bad angle and Wallace waltzed into the end zone to make it 10-7 with 32 seconds to play in the half. The Patriots took over and ran twice for a first down and went into halftime with a three point lead.


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