However, a game that was expected to end in a comfortable Patriots victory was a closely fought contest.
Incredibly, the overwhelming feeling following the defeat was frustration.
Despite doing much better than expected, Miami let New England off the hook, and could have beaten the Brady bunch were it not for two costly special teams mistakes.
So, what went well for Miami, what went wrong and what was just plain ugly?
Most impressive was Miami’s defensive showing, which held the previously free-scoring Patriots to just 23 points.
The Dolphins’ defensive line contained Stevan Ridley, and Kevin Coyle’s defensive schemes made Tom Brady look mortal.
Brady was sacked four times by Miami (Cameron Wake, Koa Misi, Reshad Jones and Jared Odrick), the most sacks New England has surrendered all season.
In addition to the four sacks, the Dolphins even picked off Brady. Reshad Jones made a terrific interception which he returned for a touchdown, only to have the TD negated by a low block by Olivier Vernon.
This was one of just four interceptions that Tom Brady had thrown all season, and the outstanding Jones made a further case for his first Pro Bowl selection.
Jones has been the shining light in Miami’s secondary this season, and has excelled in Coyle’s defense. He deserves a spot at the Pro Bowl, and Miami fans should make sure they vote for the young safety to give him the opportunity, and paycheck, he has earned.
Outside of a solid defensive effort, there was less to cheer for the Phins.
Ryan Tannehill’s second-quarter touchdown drive was promising, and was another example of the rookie producing a big drive under pressure to get points. Tannehill didn’t play his best game, but made some big throws at the end of the second and fourth quarters and showed the sort of upside Miami’s coaches will hope he can deliver on a consistent basis.
There might have not been a lot of “good” in the game, but the Dolphins were two mistakes away from beating the Patriots. That, sadly, is as positive as it is frustrating.
Arguably the best news of the week came from New York, where Sexy Rexy’s vomit-green continues to implode despite beating the Arizona Cardinals. Mark Sanchez was finally benched, Tim Tebow was not active and the noodle-armed Greg McElroy led to Jets to victory. Sanchez has now been named starter for next week’s game against the Jaguars.
Regardless of what you think of Miami’s season, there is always that underlying knowledge that your team isn’t the Jets, and that, Dolphans, is a good thing.
We’ll start on offense with the most high-profile issue: the struggles of Ryan Tannehill.
The quarterback completed just 13-of-29 passes for 186 yards, and with the exception of the
aforementioned good moments, he had a difficult day.
Tannehill missed two deep balls to an open Brian Hartline, costing the Dolphins two touchdowns in the process. His accuracy seemed off throughout the game, and he lost a fumble when sacked, leading to a New England field goal.
It wasn’t his best day, but he did run for a two-yard touchdown at the end of the second quarter, and he is in his rookie season. Nevertheless, it’s important that he can bounce back this week.
Tannehill wasn’t helped by a very poor receiving corps. Brian Hartline snagged five passes for 84 yards, but outside of his effort, the receivers struggled to get open and limited the rookie’s passing options.
Daniel Thomas also fumbled yet again, and was briefly benched for his mistake. His fumbling was a concern when he was drafted, and that hasn’t changed. Furthermore, his habit of entering a pile backwards is also a worry; it helps no one.
On defense, there were issues in coverage, notably Miami’s decision to leave Wes Welker open on a regular basis, which allowed the former-Phin to record over 100 receiving yards and a touchdown.
Once again, they failed to stop an opposing tight end too; Aaron Hernandez was the beneficiary of this week’s generosity. This paragraph seems to be a permanent fixture in a weekly report, with only the names changing. Hopefully next year it will be gone.
Another worry was the season-ending injury to Jake Long, who is now on the injured reserve list. We may have seen his final snap in aqua and orange. It would be a shame to see the Dolphins’ leader go out this way.
That being said, this doesn’t make “The Ugly” category because it gives Miami a chance to see how Jonathan Martin fares at left tackle, and could help them make a more informed decision on Long’s future with the team. We’ll certainly learn a lot about Martin following next week’s contest with the 49ers and Aldon Smith, who leads the league with 17.5 sacks.
My final worry is that there may be problems the next time Miami faces the Patriots, This was a great opportunity to knock off New England. Next time they meet, Brady will be better prepared for Miami’s defense. You have been warned.
Most of this section is unfortunately dedicated to the Dolphins’ special teams, who had a hand in both of the Patriots’ touchdowns.
Firstly, Brandon Fields fumbled a snap. Then fumbled it again just to be sure. By the time he had the ball in his possession, he decided that he no longer had time to punt and ran for his life.
Unfortunately, Fields is a punter, and apparently not a very fast one at that, and was set upon by several Patriots like a group of rabid hyenas bringing down their prey.
The Dolphins turned the ball over deep inside their own territory, and it resulted in a New England touchdown.
(For the record, though, this doesn’t change the fact that Fields should go to the Pro Bowl as the AFC’s top punter.)
Then, after forcing the Patriots to punt, Jimmy Wilson raced recklessly through the line to block the punt, but only managed to draw a flag for roughing the passer.
Even more shamefully, he injured himself in the process. Wilson ran into a punter, and hurt himself.
Anyway, the Patriots’ fourth down became a new first down, and Tom Brady turned it into a touchdown pass to Wes Welker.
However, not all of the blame is on the special teams. Miami were in this game until the final 30 seconds.
They weren’t helped by converting just 3 of 13 third-down attempts. Tannehill, the receivers and the protection all need to improve on this critical down. It was not good enough, and could ultimately have been the key reason behind the defeat.
And there is still enough time for the coaches to find themselves in the "Ugly” section for their nonsensical decision to leave Cameron Wake and Jared Odrick on the sideline during New England’s final game-winning drive.
The Patriots ate up the clock by running the ball, while (arguably) the top defensive end in the AFC stood and watched together with another of the stoutest defenders against the run.
The decision made no sense, regardless of how the coaches explain it. It let New England eat up the clock, and ultimately win the game.
It really confounded logic. We can only hope that the Dolphins’ rookie head coach has learned his lesson, and that it never happens again.
Finally, I leave you with a concern that next week could get ugly if Nate Garner lines up at right tackle. He might surprise me, but against that Niners’ pass rush, you have to fear the worst.