Tom Brady and the New England Patriots nearly pulled off another miracle comeback yesterday, but they fell short, as Brady was picked off in the end zone with two seconds remaining in the game. I posted four quick reaction takeaways shortly after the game came to a conclusion. Those takeaways can be read here.
I know you are dying for more Pats analysis, so here are five additional thoughts from the game.
1. Shane Vereen Neutralized
Coming into this game, we all expected the Patriots to utilize running back Shane Vereen in the passing game, to make up for the loss of Rob Gronkowski. Vereen is one of the most dangerous play-makers in the NFL, but the Dolphins locked him up, holding him to 21 total yards on the game. This forced Brady to go other places with the ball, and while the Pats offense was still effective, they certainly were hurt by the “absence” of Vereen.
2. Run Defense Solid Again
I touched on this yesterday, but the front seven of the Patriots had a very nice performance in this game. This group has been hit hard by injuries here in 2013, and the result has been allowing a lot of yards to be gained on the ground. But last week they shut down the Cleveland Browns ground attack, and this week they played very well against the Miami rushing attack. The insertion of defensive tackle Sealver Siliga seems to have stabilized this unit, although Isaac Sopoaga played a much bigger role in this game, than he has at any time in his short stint with the Patriots. Dont’a Hightower and Brandon Spikes were both terrific against the run (as usual), and rookie Joe Vellano continued his stellar first year in the NFL. It should also be noted that it appeared that Spikes was playing through a knee injury throughout this game, as on more than one occasion he was in obvious pain coming off of the field.
3. LeGarrette Blount Emerging As Capable Back
The Patriots have a stable of talented running backs to choose from, and they are at the point where they can actually roll out three different guys to attack a defense with. We know all about the talents of Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen, and both of them have been extremely effective at different points in this 2013 season. But right now LeGarrette Blount seems to have the hot hand in the backfield. His stats don’t look very good, but he runs hard when he gets into the ball-game, and he uses his strength to make it tough for defenders to take him down. He came into New England as a washed up back that probably was only there for depth. But the Pats have turned him into a 250 bound monster, and he will prove to be important to the Patriots offensive attack come playoff time. The Patriots were productive in the early portions of this tilt, and it is this productivity that made me wonder why New England went away from the ground attack. Even though they moved the ball through the air fairly easily, I think they could have been that much better, particularly in the red zone, if they stuck to running the football.
4. Injury Situation
New England came into this game with a lot of key injuries, and they left with even more. Left tackle Nate Solder had suffered a concussion last week, but he was cleared to play in this contest. However he was forced out after re-injuring his head, making his status questionable going forward. Solder is one of the best offensive tackles this league has to offer, and losing him would be a huge loss to the Pats offense. Logan Mankins moved over to the left tackle position while Solder was out, and Josh Kline took Mankins’ spot at left guard.
Wide receivers Kenbrell Thompkins and Aaron Dobson were both inactive yesterday, as they try to recover from lower body injuries that were sustained a few weeks ago. Their absence forced fellow rookie Josh Boyce into action, and after playing well for the majority of the game, he had to leave the contest due to injury. Beat writers for the Pats reported after the game that Boyce was walking with a “pronounced limp”, which can’t bode well for him, or the team.
5. Gostkowski Has Down Game
I don’t want to rag on Gostkowski too much, because he has had an amazing season up until this point, but his play yesterday definitely hurt New England. He missed a key 48 yard field goal on the Patriots opening drive of the second half, and after it appeared that they had won the game on a 24 yard Julian Edelman touchdown, he kicked the ensuing kickoff out of bounds. This set up Ryan Tannehill with a short field, which he converted into the game winning score.