After three straight losses to the Dolphins on the road in Miami, Tom Brady and co., at last, win in sunny Florida, and this time stomping all over the Dolphins. New England finishes their regular season at 14-2, going undefeated on the road (just the ninth team since 1972 to do so), locking up the one seed in the AFC and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. This is the sixth time in franchise history that they get home field.
Brady and the Patriots had this game under control from the very beginning. On the opening drive, the Pats drove down the field for 75 yards and 13 plays, shedding over seven minutes off the clock, ending up with a 2-yard touchdown pass to Martellus Bennett. Just a couple of plays before the eventual touchdown, the Clydesdale side of Brady came to life, Brady scrambling on 3rd-and-6 for the first down. It felt like it was going to be one of those hold-your-breath type of games right when Brady turned the wheels on.
On New England’s next possession, Brady threw a 14-yard TD pass to newbie Michael Floyd for his first score with the Patriots. This wasn’t just any touchdown, though. Brady faked a rush to Blount, ran forward and threw a dot to Floyd just yards away from the goal line. With essentially the entirety of the Dolphins’ secondary on his back, Floyd barely dragged his way to break the plane, extending his arm out for six points. It was a phenomenal effort on his part.
Late in the second quarter, New England led 20-0, seemingly having this one in the bag. Not so fast. Miami’s Matt Moore threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to Jarvis Landry, ending the shutout, Landry breaking a few tackles along the way. That gave Miami all of the momentum at the time. On their very next drive, to start the third quarter, Moore hit Kenny Stills with a 25-yard TD, finding his receiver way too wide open in the middle of the end zone. That brought the ‘Phins to within six, seemingly making it a game. New England’s defense looked out of touch, were out of steam and didn’t want it.
On the following drive, Brady hit Mr. Reliable, Julian Edelman, for a 77-yard touchdown, the longest reception of Edelman’s career. That basically killed any of Miami’s possible hopes at having a shot at winning this game. The highlight of that touchdown and maybe even the game itself was Floyd’s absolutely monstrous hit on Tony Lippett, allowing Edelman to zoom down the field into the end zone. Lippett was sent into the concussion protocol and, as expected, wasn’t the same for the remainder of the game.
As if the nail weren’t already put into Miami’s coffin at this point, it just kept getting worse for them. Devin McCourty delivered a big boy hit on Dolphins’ Damien Williams, forcing a fumble that Shea McClellin recovered and ran for 69 yards (somewhere out there, Gronk smiled and nodded) to inside the 10 yard line. That was the longest fumble return in Patriots history. This soon set up a LeGarrette Blount 2-yard rushing touchdown, Blount’s 18th of the season, further extending his already-Patriots record for rushing TD’s in a season. You’d think that Belichick would just choose to go for the PAT, considering that he’s up 33-14 with five minutes left in the fourth quarter? You thought wrong. He elected to go for two, and it was successful, a quick pass to Edelman for the two points. Classic Belichick.
The fact that the Dolphins are in the playoffs this season is a complete travesty, in my opinion. Through just the first quarter, the Patriots had 11 first downs, while the Dolphins had just 1. New England had 169 yards of offense to Miami’s 4 yards. As for time of possession, it leaned heavily in the Patriots’ favor, having the ball for 12:25 to Miami’s 3:25. That takes talent on Miami’s part. By the time New England led 20-0, the Patriots had 238 yards of total offense and 17 first downs opposed to Miami’s 30 yards and still 1 first down. That pretty much sums this game up as a whole.
As for Brady, he had himself a day, to say the least. He went 25-33, throwing for 276 yards, three touchdowns and, once again, zero turnovers. Brady set the record for the best all-time TD/INT ratio, surpassing Nick Foles’ 27/2 record, to 28/2. Nothing to see here, just another day of Brady making history. The Patriots, as a whole with three separate starting QB’s throughout the season, set a new record for fewest interceptions thrown in one season, throwing only 2, breaking the previous record which was 5. Speaking of history, Brady also surpassed Dan Marino for career passing yards, Brady now stands at fourth all-time with 61,582 yards. Ironically, Marino was at this game serving as an honorary captain.
In my humble opinion, Brady is this season’s MVP. It could easily be either Brady or Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, but with my imaginary vote, I choose Brady. I could care less about Brady missing the first four games; that argument is blasphemous. What he’s done in his 12 games this season is otherworldly, leading his team to 11 victories, setting his men up for success week in and week out. He’s always been his team’s most valuable player, but this year is different. Roger Goodell created a monster.
Anyways, back to the game. With both Malcolm Mitchell and Danny Amendola inactive due to their respective injuries, the Patriots had to go with a three receiver set: Edelman, Hogan, and Floyd. Edelman took over this game, catching 8 passes for 151 yards. He had an individually interesting day. Early on, he heabutted a Dolphin, and got flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, to his own and Belichick’s heavy displeasure. Edelman is known to be a vocal, physical and tough guy-esque player, but he typically controls himself better than that. Belichick sat him out for a play and had a quick talk with him on the sideline. Other than that, Jules took a beating per usual throughout the game and even limped at one point but is seemingly okay.
As for Floyd, this was a huge step in the right direction for him. That touchdown early on in the first quarter not only showed his physical strength and toughness, but he probably gained a little more trust from his teammates and coaches. If that weren’t telling enough, his hit on Lippett ensuing Edelman’s huge 77-yard touchdown run was by far his own personal highlight in this game. Floyd is obviously doing his best to gain mutual respect and trust from everyone around him in the organization and that hit did wonders for him in that department, being a Patriot. He’s been more and more vocal to the media in recent weeks about his transition from Arizona to Foxboro and how helpful his teammates have been. Who knows, he could play a role in the coming weeks in the playoffs.
A major part to New England’s success in this game was going to be the run game. Both Dion Lewis and Blount had great individual performances, and it further goes to show just how important a healthy running back core is. The team didn’t rely on the run game as much as I envisioned they would, but that obviously didn’t matter in this game. Belichick had no intentions of resting anyone and it definitely showed. There were no injuries (that we know of, fingers crossed) which is all you can ask for coming off of Week 17.
This Patriots, unfortunately, didn’t completely shut down this Miami offense, and had a few hiccups compared to their last few completely dominant performances. They got the job done overall, except in the late second and very early third quarters, where they coughed up their 20-point lead, cutting it down to just a six point lead at one point. In that period of time, they couldn’t tackle to save their lives, get a stop, let them convert third down after third down, you name it. A few players such as Elandon Roberts and Kyle Van Noy struggled in coverage. They just could not manage to get off the field, and they let the Dolphins make it a game.
Fortunately, crucial momentum shifts thanks to the Patriots offense helped the D snap out of it and do what they do best. New England allowed their first touchdown since Week 14 against Baltimore, so I guess it was kind of inevitable at that point. This team is so mentally tough and is able to overcome almost any adversity that comes their way, they can now work themselves out of any jam. The defense’s in-season improvements are noticeable and have been critical to the team’s overall success.
Week by week, it becomes more and more apparent that the Patriots truly have something in DL Trey Flowers. He had some key quarterback hits in this game and made critical tackles, many coming on third down to give TB12 the ball. Flowers has been an emerging star since pretty much the very first preseason game in 2016. He’s a beast, isn’t too big or too small, is quick and smart. There are always a couple of plays made by him a week that are highlight reel-worthy. Chris Long even said recently that Flowers is probably one of the best defensive players on the team, and that’s saying something, coming from a veteran like Long.
After forcing only two turnovers from weeks 4-11 and even going three straight games without a TO, this Patriots defense have been a turnover machine, forcing 14 since Week 12. Logan Ryan picked Moore off early in the second quarter, and of course McClellin’s fumble recovery to virtually seal the W both played big roles in this game for both teams. New England couldn’t have snapped out of their turnover skid at a better possible time; getting hot in that department in the later half of the season is never a bad thing.
This was yet another impressive win for the Pats. They decided not to rest guys and incredibly luckily remained healthy and experienced no new injuries. Brady gets better and better by the game. They finally won in Miami, after making it clear to the media that they were intent on being victorious at Miami Gardens at last, etc etc. The Patriots have a highly talented and mentally tough group of men, and the path to Super Bowl victory is painted out specifically for them. SB51 is truly New England’s to lose. They’re the best team in the league, have home-field advantage, and will host either Matt Moore/Ryan Tannehill, Tom Savage/Brock Osweiler, or Connor Cook/Matt McGloin in the divisional round (Saturday, January 14, 8:15 PM). I have a pretty good feeling about the next month or so for these Patriots.