This was the most satisfying—and most boring—Patriots win of the season. From the beginning, the game was never a contest. The Pats were in charge, and the Dolphins were…shall we say, like a fish out of water.
Unlike other games against mediocre opponents, there were no fourth-quarter comebacks, no reasons to hold your breath and little need to look upstairs and thank the football gods for averting disaster.
At the end of the half, Tom Brady’s completion rate and TD’s thrown mattered far less than a different set of stats: no sacks, no knockdowns, and no hurries. Mr. Brady could have taken a power nap and had a cup of hot chocolate before surveying the field and releasing the ball. He had that much time.
Just as the Texans’ JJ Watt became "JJ Who?" against the Patriots' surprisingly talented O-line, Cameron Wake seemed asleep at the wheel. He was simply invisible. How sublime.
For those of us who hadn’t found something more dramatic to watch going into the final 15 minutes, a few questions were yet to be answered in that fourth quarter.
First: With the game safely decided, would Coach Bill dare put Rob Gronkowski out there again?
The resounding answer to that was “Yes.” Brady found his favorite goal-line target with a quick hitter over the middle, and voila, we got to see the famous Gronkowski spike. It was nice to see the big guy back in there, even if he seemed to be trying to keep his wounded wing out of harm’s way most of the game.
Second: When would we see get to see Ryan Mallett?
The surprising answer to that one was, “Not at all.” Tom Brady stood under center and handed it off to his backs to the bitter end, while those of us who worry about the worst kept on begging Bill to get The Franchise out before he stubbed his toe or tweaked his shoulder. No problem. This one was so easy that they might not have needed to wash Tom’s uniform after the game.
Third: Could the Pats defense pitch a shutout? For a unit that has been so maligned, that was without their two best cover corners, and with Rob Ninkovich injured, could they ring up a goose egg on the scoreboard for the first time all season?
The gratifying answer to that was, “By all means.” A big part of that answer was seven sacks, and the big story of seven sacks was the emerging Justin Francis getting a hat trick. And with Reggie Bush needing to rush for 40 to reach the 1,000-yard milestone, the Pats shut him down cold.
This was a workman-like win: no nonsense and no heroics. The better team won hands-down, and they get to rest an extra week. Given that the Patriots are likely to be the better team no matter who they play down the road, I’ll gladly take three more just like today.