Miami stunned Tom Brady and the Patriots on Monday at Hard Rock Stadium, 27-20, knocking New England back to 10-3 and ending its eight-game winning streak in the process. A victory for the Patriots would have set up a clash with Pittsburgh between two 11-2 teams.
Jay Cutler outdueled Brady, finishing with 263 passing yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions in a throwback effort for the 2008 Pro Bowler. Two of the touchdowns went to Jarvis Landry, while running back Kenyan Drake opened up passing lanes for Cutler with 114 rushing yards.
Miami recovered an onside kick to preserve the win after its defense forced a field goal on New England's final possession even though the Patriots advanced to the 1-yard line. It was a fitting conclusion for a defense that did more than just play a supporting role to Cutler and Drake.
It flummoxed a New England offense playing without tight end Rob Gronkowski—who was suspended for a late hit on Buffalo defensive back Tre'Davious White—and kept Brady in check throughout the contest. The future Hall of Famer completed 24 of 43 passes for 233 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions while failing to convert any of the 11 third downs the Patriots faced.
Brady will be seeing Xavien Howard in his nightmares after the second-year cornerback set the tone by intercepting him on New England's first possession of the game and first possession of the second half.
The second came on a fantastic over-the-shoulder catch while pursuing Brandin Cooks downfield.
WOW. @Iamxavienhoward with an AMAZING interception! His second of the game! #NEvsMIA #FinsUp https://t.co/SrF5GErBVn2017-12-12 03:09:26
Howard made the headlines and held Cooks to one catch, but the Dolphins defensive line consistently frustrated Brady as well. It registered two sacks, but the frequent hits, deflections and hurries prevented the Patriots aerial attack from establishing its typical rhythm.
Armando Salguero of the Miami Herald noted avoiding early dominance from New England played into the Dolphins' hands:
Armando Salguero @ArmandoSalguero
The Patriots aren't used to being behind. The Dolphins defense has wanted to play from in front. Let's see how this goes.2017-12-12 01:43:12
Miami's offense didn't have to worry about matching Brady in a shootout and dictated the tempo with a balanced attack.
Cutler answered New England's first touchdown—a three-yard run from Rex Burkhead—with individual brilliance by breaking free from a surefire sack and finding Drake on a third-down conversion in the red zone before hitting Landry for a score on the ensuing play.
He also threw two touchdown passes in the third quarter to help extend the lead from 13-10 to 27-10, one of which was a perfectly placed 25-yard strike to Jakeem Grant on Miami's first possession out of the locker room.
Incredible throw. Even BETTER catch. Can't stop watching this @_TheDreamIsHere TD. #NEvsMIA #FinsUp https://t.co/e9XwoyYvqq2017-12-12 03:16:08
His numbers would have been even better had Grant not dropped a deep ball that would have gone for another score in the fourth quarter.
New England climbed to within 10 after a touchdown pass to James White and seven with the late field goal, but Drake made any comeback effort an uphill battle by keeping the clock rolling with his second straight game of more than 100 rushing yards.
He also mixed in 79 receiving yards and earned praise for his ability to impact the game in a number of ways from Brad Evans of Yahoo Sports:
Brad Evans @YahooNoise
I'm beginning to believe Kenyan Drake enters next season as Miami's workhorse running back. Tough after initial contact. Excellent route runner. Clearly proven past couple games he can shoulder three-down burden.2017-12-12 02:33:33
Drake and Cutler spearheaded an effort under the lights that was a drastic change for the Dolphins, who lost by 40 to the Baltimore Ravens and 24 to the Carolina Panthers in prime-time contests earlier this season.
They remain in playoff contention with an upcoming game against the Bills, while New England will shift its attention toward the battle with Pittsburgh with the No. 1 seed in the AFC still on the table.