Dolphins vs. Patriots: Takeaways from New England's 27-17 Win over Miami
The Patriots started the third quarter with a three-and-out, and with the Dolphins knocking on the door to extend their 17-3 lead, New England's season seemed to be hanging by a thread.
But a missed field goal by the Dolphins turned the tide, and it was all Patriots from there.
New England sent an assortment of blitzes at Miami's offense, the kind of aggressive defense not often seen from the Patriots. Tom Brady hung strong after a dreadful start and led the Pats to 24 second-half points to secure the win.
It was the tale of two teams: the listless, lifeless Pats of the first half, and the inspired, aggressive Pats of the second half. Which one is the real Patriots?
Here are the takeaways.
Dane Fletcher Emerges
The Patriots removed both Dont'a Hightower and Brandon Spikes from their dime defense with Dane Fletcher coming on as the coverage linebacker. It looked like Fletcher could possibly get a shot with Jerod Mayo out, and when Hightower's performance in coverage against the Jets was poor, it opened the door for Fletcher this week.
Fletcher was beaten in coverage on the touchdown that made it 14-0, but he made up for it with a nice fourth quarter sack on Miami's final possession. He also chipped in a tackle for loss.
Fletcher looked like he did enough to earn more snaps against the Steelers next week and is an emerging player for the Patriots defense.
Injury Hits Yet Again
Sebastian Vollmer was carted off if the second quarter, and it looks like the Patriots might've lost yet another starter to injury. Vollmer's screams could be heard clearly through the television broadcast and it did not sound good. His ankle was put in an air cast before he departed.
Marcus Cannon has played plenty over the last two seasons and did an adequate job replacing Vollmer. He'll likely be the starter going forward, thus ending his experiment at right guard for the season. The Pats' depth along the offensive line was thin to begin with, so there's no denying that Vollmer's loss is significant.
The injury problems that have plagued the Pats this season continue.
Offensive-Line Struggles Continue
Jared Odrick sacked Tom Brady twice, and Miami's pressure was strong in the first half, but the Patriots pass protection settled down in the second half. Brady had time but still had trouble finding an open receiver in rhythm.
Brady was sacked and fumbled again in the fourth quarter, but the Pats were saved when the Dolphins were called for batting the fumble. It gave the Patriots 34 yards and put them inside the Dolphins red zone.
The Pats would finish the drive with a touchdown, giving them their third touchdown of the second half. The Dolphins have an excellent front, but the Pats were able to weather the storm and come through in the clutch.
Ridley Brings a Spark Again; Blount Ignites
The Patriots weren't doing much offensively until Stevan Ridley ripped off a 23-yard run that sparked the Pats' comeback from 14 points down. It was a major turning point in the game and really gave the Pats offense a much-needed big play.
Ridley appeared to be benched and did not see a snap in the first quarter, possibly due to high-stepping into the end zone against the Jets, but he has a burst that neither Brandon Bolden nor LeGarrette Blount have. He reeled off multiple solid gains and is making a case to be the full-time featured back.
And once Ridley got going, Blount started to put up some great yardage himself.
Ridley would finish with 14 carries for 79 yards, while Blount had 11 carries for 46 yards, including a 19-yard scamper.
Third-Quarter Problems? Not This Game.
It certainly didn't look good when the Pats went three-and-out in their first possession of the second half. The Pats entered the contest as the only team in the NFL without a touchdown in the third quarter, and it looked like those problems would continue.
The Pats would score two touchdowns in the third quarter, one to Aaron Dobson and a two-yard run by Brandon Bolden, a flurry that tied the game.
The Pats' third-quarter problems were continually pointed out last week, and with their backs truly against the wall, they came through. This third quarter could be just the thing to help this offense find a badly needed identity.
Defense Continues Streaky Third-Down Play
The Dolphins offense started the game five-for-five on third down and scored a touchdown on another as the Patriots' defensive third-down struggles carried over from the Jets game.
Miami went 6-for-10 on third down in the first half.
The momentum in the game shifted when the defense held on third down on a Dont'a Hightower sack and forced a field goal by the Dolphins that was missed.
The Dolphins were just 2-for-7 on third down in the second half.
The Patriots defense continues to make opponents earn every yard. Once it starts getting off the field on third down more consistently, the Patriots defense will look elite once again. The return of Aqib Talib will obviously help as well.
Patriots Defense Brings the Pressure
The Patriots sacked Ryan Tannehil six times and hit him eight times, an explosion given the Pats' usual conservative persona on defense. Once they started sending blitzers, the Dolphins offense folded. Miami didn't score a point in the second half.
Logan Ryan had two sacks, the first for a defensive back on the year, while Rob Ninkovich chipped in a sack and three quarterback hits. It was the best half of pass rush the Patriots defense has delivered in a long time.
Chandler Jones didn't have a sack but was consistently disruptive and blocked a key field goal at the end of the game to maintain the two-score lead.
The Patriots might not always send that many blitzers, but when they get after the quarterback that well, they will be tough to beat. It was a welcome new development.
Tom Brady Starts Cold, Finishes Warm Enough
Tom Brady's season-long struggles continued, but once again, he was able to make the plays in crunch time to pull the win out for New England.
Brady's final stat line (13-of-22 for 116 yards, one touchdown, one interception) is pedestrian, but he did enough to win in the face of much adversity.
Aaron Dobson is continuing to emerge and made some confidence-inspiring catches that he wasn't making early in the season. Kenbrell Thompkins barely saw the field as it looks like Austin Collie has overtaken him. Dobson has moved full-time to the X-receiver spot while Danny Amendola continues to find his stride.
Brady didn't over-target Rob Gronkowski this week, a positive sign, but the offensive struggles and inconsistency continue to plague the Pats offense. They were just 2-of-10 on third down.
It looked bleak early in this game, but Brady kept fighting just like he always has. He will be hammered for his un-Brady-like performance and statline, but he continues to rack up the wins.
The Pats Are 6-2
As Bill Parcells always said, "You are what you are," and the Pats are 6-2. It was dreadful early on against the Dolphins, but once the Pats started getting stops on third down, they took over the game.
The team is still looking for an identity on both sides of the ball, but there were a lot of positive strides taken today. Young players are really starting to step up, including Logan Ryan, Jamie Collins, and Alfonzo Dennard.
The returns of Danny Amendola and Rob Gronkowski haven't been an immediate fix to the Pats' offensive problems, but with each win, they buy a little more time and flexibility to work at it.
The Pats are not a perfect team right now, but they've put themselves in position to be right in the hunt of a playoff berth despite a ton of injuries, and that's what matters most.