Sep 7, 2014; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; Miami Dolphins wide receiverBrian Hartline
(82) stiff arms New England Patriots defensive back Malcolm Butler (21) during the first half at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
The New England Patriots kicked-off the 2014 NFL season in Miami taking on the Dolphins in the hot and humid South Florida weather. Both the Patriots and Dolphins come in with question marks on the offensive line. The Dolphins shuffled their five blockers completely from last year with five new starters. The Patriots shuffled the interior of the offensive line after their surprising trade of guard Logan Mankins.
The Patriots lost the opening coin flip and began the game with a major miscue as after a three-and-out the Dolphins blocked the first punt attempt. It was a low snap but the film shows that Rob Ninkovich did not hold the block on undrafted free agent Chris McCain. McCain stormed through for the block and that set up the Dolphins touchdown on 15 yard drive. McCain may not have even been active if not for the injury to starter Philip Wheeler. Once Dannell Ellerbee went off injured on the first play of the Patriots’ third drive, McCain had more playing time than anyone anticipated going forward and even added a sack.
The Dolphins converted to take an early 7-0 lead on a nice play-action pass with running back Lamar Miller slipping out of the backfield. Ninkovich was again the goat as the defensive end was in coverage and bit just for a second on the play-action. Any scheme requiring Ninkovich to cover the speedy Miller is a win for the Dolphins and a questionable defensive call by the Patriots.
Sep 7, 2014; Miami Gardens, FL, USA; New England Patriots running backShane Vereen
(34) celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the first half against the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
The Patriots seemed to grab control of the game as they capitalized on turnover after turnover by the Dolphins. First they drove for almost 7 minutes to tie the game at 7-7 on a 2-yard run by Vereen. A fumble by Mike Wallace resulted in 3 points for New England then an interception by Alfonzo Dennard on a pass intended for Wallace set up a 6-yard touchdown pass to Rob Gronkowski. On Miami’s next possession running back Lamar Miller fumbled. This time the Patriots had to punt. Miami weathered the storm and traded field goals before the half to make it a ten point lead at halftime for the Patriots 20-10 over the Dolphins.
The Patriots had a chance to put the Dolphins away early with the three turnovers but allowed them to stay in the game. Credit the Miami defense which stayed strong despite injuries depleting their linebacking corps. New England had the chance to make it a blowout if they could have turned the turnovers into touchdowns. Miami’s defense kept it close until the offense woke up.
The third quarter belonged to Knowshon Moreno as the Dolphins running back took over the game. As his intensity running the ball picked up, the Miami defense fed off that momentum and turned up the heat on the wilting New England offense. Twenty-three unanswered points later and the Patriots were going home looking up at the first-place Miami Dolphins.
It was the same old story in Miami for the Patriots.
Yes, on offense Brady made the mistake of locking in on tight end Rob Gronkowski far too often. Yes, Danny Amendola and Brandon LaFell were all but invisible. Yes, the Patriots never got the running game going as they rushed just 20 times for 89 yards. Yes, the Dolphins defense made a concerted effort to take away Julian Edelman after a big first half.
The defense really was the problem for the Patriots. Despite the return of linebacker Jerod Mayo and defensive tackle Vince Wilfork the Patriots were unable to make the stops in the running game when needed. Miller and Moreno combined to rush for 193 yards on 35 carries. Moreno did the bulk of the work as he ground out 134 yards on 24 carries and a touchdown.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill did not have a big game against the Patriots defense. The New England secondary performed well taking away tight end Charles Clay and receivers Brandon Gibson and Brian Hartline for most of the game. Mike Wallace was targeted early and often in the passing game, but finished with just 81 yards receiving and gift touchdown catching a pass that was swatted away by New England cornerback Darrelle Revis in the end zone and right into his breadbasket.
The Patriots ran out of gas in the second half of the game wilting from the heat of the Florida sun but most of all from the heat of the Cameron Wake pass rush. Wake had two sacks and two forced fumbles while bookend pass rushing partner Olivier Vernon added a sack. The Dolphins put Wake at defensive left end as usual to work on the right tackle. Today it was Sebastian Vollmer in his first extended action in nine months fought to contain the explosive pass rusher.
Of course, there were some odd calls by the line as one play had tight end Michael Hoomanawanui blocking Wake and it looked as if he was expecting help from running back Stevan Ridley to help out. It would make sense that was the call as asking a tight end to block Wake one-on-one is always a mistake. That fumble led to the touchdown that tied the game in the third quarter at 20-20. Earlier in the game on another pressure, a miscommunication had Vollmer pulling inside and Wake coming unblocked around the corner. Fortunately for New England, Brady was able to throw the ball away in time.
The Patriots’ offensive line was under the microscope to start with as expected starter at left guard Josh Kline was inactive and the Patriots moved swing tackle Marcus Cannon inside to take the spot of the traded away Logan Mankins. The interior of the offensive line held up alright in pass blocking as the main pressure came from the edge. Jordan Devey started at right guard and Dan Connolly starter and played most of the time at center. Ryan Wendell did jump in for a bit and rookie Cameron Fleming came in on running plays in the jumbo package as tackle eligible for extra blocking.
The tale of the game was that quarterback Tom Brady had to drop back 60 times and throw. While Miami controlled the time of possession and the game with the rushing attack, Brady was often forced to try and cram a pass into a tight window to Gronkowski. Gronkowski was targeted 11 times but ended with just 4 receptions. LaFell was targeted 6 times and came down with none of the passes. Amendola only contributed 16 yards on 3 receptions and tight end and new acquisition Tim Wright had just 3 catches for 15 yards.
The Dolphins defense kept Miami in the game, and the running game behind Moreno keyed the comeback. Once Miami got the New England offense on their heels, they were able to pin their ears back and collapse the pocket while slowing Stevan Ridley and the running game. A rusty Rob Gronkowski needs more time to knock off the rust and the newcomers on offense failed to have a positive impact. The defense wore down, failed to stop the run, and ended up losing the game.