On Monday night, the Dolphins and Patriots took the field to kick off the 2011 season.
It was expected that the Patriots would come into Miami, pick up the win, then leave to prepare for a big matchup next Sunday against the San Diego Chargers.
Instead, we got the Patriots coming into Miami, blowing out the Dolphins, then leaving to prepare for a big matchup next Sunday against the Chargers.
In other words, it went exactly according to the script—or so it seemed.
But this game was a lot closer than you would think.
Well, no, that's a lie. It actually should've been worse.
So what did we learn about the Dolphins? Is this going to be the pattern or does the Dolphins' usually stellar defense just have problems against New England?
Let's find out.
Note: All quotes used in the article come courtesy of the Miami Dolphins' Sun Life Stadium Media FTP server.
That's not a compliment.
Remember during the Marino era how every year the Dolphins would profess that they were going to focus on the running game, and then once the season started it was still all about Dan Marino and the Marks Brothers?
Yeah, I got that feeling today. The Dolphins stats back this up.
On 20 carries, Miami had 98 yards and a touchdown. On the surface this not only looks decent, but also makes you wonder why they didn't have any more carries. That's a great average per carry.
Well, seven of those rushes, 59 of those yards, and the lone touchdown were the result of Chad Henne.
Yes, the quarterback.
Outside of Henne, the guys who are supposed to carry the ball (Reggie Bush, Lex Hilliard) had 13 carries for 39 yards—an average of only three yards per carry.
Yes, this Dolphins offense could use more balance. And yes, I'm wondering like most of you are why Larry Johnson didn't get any touches (or get in the game really).
But in the end, with a performance like that, both the Dolphins and their line are going to have to look back at Monday's game and get better. If they don't, it will be a long season.
And if Daniel Thomas doesn't perform when he's back, you will miss Ricky Williams.
I miss Ricky already as a matter of fact, as well as Ronnie Brown. I would've trusted either of those guys on goal-line plays and on 4th-and-.5.
See Aaron Hernandez in the picture?
Along with Rob Gronkowski, Wes Welker and the rest of the Pats receivers not named Ochocinco, he made the tandem of Smith and Davis—who Vontae said was the best in the league—look like a certain Spanish word pronounced mear-dah. (Its a Spanish word and I'm not translating it, only writing it phonetically.)
The Dolphins secondary as a whole got burned. The only good play made by a corner was Benny Sapp tipping a ball to Jared Odrick, which set up a game-tying touchdown early in the third quarter.
Other than that, yikes—disgusting.
The main question we must now ask is: Was this an aberrational performance against an exceptional offense or a bad harbinger of things to come?
We'll learn the answer to that question in due time.
However, before Vontae Davis and Sean Smith talk about being the best again, they should consider shutting down New England's offense—something we saw both Revis and Cromartie do last year in the postseason.
Four sacks to go along with six tackles for loss.
That's all that held up this otherwise excellent performance by the Miami offense.
If Miami's offensive line had played better, maybe the Dolphins could've kept up with the Pats offense and swung momentum on certain plays (i.e., the 4th-and-.5 where they attempted that fade route to Bess and the goal-line plays in the third quarter when down 21-14).
Instead, the line was as putrid as it was during the preseason, even with Jake Long playing.
Against a team like Houston that has a strong pass rush, this will be a problem next week.
Sure, that picture might've been from last year, but I had to show one of Reshad Jones getting burned. It's actually quite weird that despite the many times Jones was beat in the secondary, I couldn't find a picture of it from Monday night.
What Jones can give you as far as big plays, you give up in terms of coverage. If he were adequate, I wouldn't consider it a problem.
But he wasn't even that against the Pats. Jones was beyond terrible. As the last line of defense, Jones found himself beat way too often.
While Clemons doesn't give you that big play, his coverage is more than adequate. How many big Patriots plays could he have prevented that Jones just let go right in front of him?
Of course, this wouldn't be a problem had it not been for another part of the Dolphins' defensive unit.
“Hey, man, if you make mistakes, he’ll burn you. He executed well. Every mistake we made, he executed. That’s what the great ones do, and like I said, we can’t make those kinds of mistakes, not against him.”
That was Karlos Dansby following the game.
It's one thing to make mistakes, but to keep making the same mistakes over and over again was just insane.
Where was the pressure, especially when center Dan Koppen was knocked out of the game due to injury? Where were the linebackers as the Patriots tight ends were running amok in the middle of the field?
Why was the defense from Miami being worn down by an offense from New England? Last I checked, shouldn't the defense that had training camp in Miami during a hot and humid summer be more physically fit than anyone else save for Jacksonville, Tampa and Carolina?
That's how it used to be during the Shula, Jimmy Johnson, Wannstedt and Saban eras—why not now?
They’re a pretty explosive offensive team. They got a lot of guys who can make plays. They got a good group of receivers, good tight end, good back. Their quarterback played well. So, we had our moments. We made some plays. They made a few, so it was a good give and take. The turnover at the end was big. We hit the quarterback. He [Chad Henne] stood in there and made some throws. They got a good group of receivers. Good group of skill players.
That's Bill Belichick discussing the Miami Dolphins offense. Yes, the Miami Dolphins offense.
See, there were a couple of good things we learned about Miami, and I decided to save them for last.
Anthony Fasano's performance (five catches for 82 yards) was great and just what Miami needs out of their tight ends. (And look at that one-armed catch he had!)
Anthony Fasano seemed to save at least three drives on Monday night.
But he wasn't the only offensive player who did well.
Davone Bess had a great night as well (five catches for 56 yards). If only he could've reached out just a few inches more—not only would he have had a touchdown, but we'd also probably be talking about a completely different game (it would've put the Dolphins within seven—instead we got that disastrous 4th-and-inches at the goal-line play call that didn't convert, leading to the 99-yard touchdown that sealed the game for New England).
Reggie Bush contributed with nine catches for 56 yards and a touchdown of his own, while Brian Hartline was as reliable as you would expect, grabbing four catches for 47 yards and a touchdown.
Now, not to be nit-picky, but then there was Brandon Marshall. The good news with him was he wound up with seven catches for 139 yards. The bad news is that a touchdown wasn't one of them, but it wasn't for lack of trying.
On the drive when Miami settled for a field goal, Marshall was targeted twice and couldn't come down with the ball. Granted, the first time around he was under-thrown and actually prevented an interception (one of the few bad Henne throws of the day), but on the second one, I really don't know why he couldn't hold on to the ball.
Now, before you get upset at me for bashing Marshall, he's harder on himself than I could ever be on him—at least, that's the feeling you get from him.
When asked to describe the way he played on Monday night, Marshall responded: “Up and down. I need to be more consistent in my play. I expect a lot more out of myself. I think I can learn a lot from this game.”
Again, I'm nit-picking here. Marshall had a great day and showed that he's communicating better with Henne. Plus, based on how the running game is going, he should be the focal point of the Dolphins offense.
It just would've been better had he been able to get into the end zone.
The only time I want to see Henne on his back on the football field is when he's celebrating a touchdown, like in the photo.
Yet the Dolphins O-line allowed him to be sacked four times and knocked down at least another four times.
He remained strong and confident, however.
Last season Chad Henne would've fallen apart when the Patriots took control of the game.
But this season he just kept fighting back, earning high praise from his teammates, like Brandon Marshall.
Chad’s [Henne] better, I’m better, [Brian] Hartline is better. Davone Bess is better. I think our offensive guys put in a lot of work this offseason. We just have to build off of tonight. There is a lot of plays left out there and definitely something to build off of.
Meanwhile, Jake Long felt a bit disappointed in the play of his offensive line—not just because of the loss, but also because they let their quarterback down.
“We let Chad get hit too many times in the pass game, but Chad’s a warrior. He led us out there and didn’t let us quit. He’s the leader on our offense.”
That's the best way to describe it.
In the fourth quarter, when many would've folded (including Chad himself last year), Henne led two good drives. One ended with a touchdown from Reggie Bush, while the other started at the Dolphins 20 and got to the New England 17 before the final play of the game.
The final play was Chad's only interception. It was a play that would only mean something to a few people (New England was favored by 7.5 and a touchdown would've made the final score 38-31—you do the math), but Henne still rocketed a ball in between four Pats defenders, only to see the ball get batted around and then picked off.
The thing is, Henne shouldn't have been put in that spot.
However, that was thanks to the defense for not playing well, a few questionable goal-line calls by the coaches (not going for it on 4th-and-goal from the 2 when only being down by a touchdown, the fade route to Brian Hartline on 4th-and-.5 from the goal line later in the game) and the outright excellence of New England's aerial attack.
Photo evidence of Solder holding Wake. Solder got away with that the whole freaking night!
It's great that I found this photo. Now there's photographic evidence that Patriots rookie Nate Solder held Cameron Wake the whole night. I wanted to get that off my chest—I caught him holding Wake like that (which is holding by the way) at least seven times in the first half.
Now, to answer the question I posed about the defense earlier: No, I don't think they're in big trouble.
Last season the only team the defense had trouble containing was New England. They were able to contain Aaron Rodgers at Lambeau Field and on top of that they contained Mark Sanchez, Ben Roethlisberger, Joe Flacco and Jay Cutler as well.
In case you're keeping track, that's five of last season's playoff quarterbacks that the Miami defense contained last year. The rest of the playoff QB's didn't play Miami last season (Brees, Ryan, Cassell, Manning, Vick and Hasselbeck).
Brady now excels against Miami. It wasn't like that before, but it is now. New England's defense wasn't even what you would consider "good" today, but when you have a Tom Brady, you can still dominate.
But that doesn't make Henne a slouch—far from it.
I go back to Henne again because of how polarizing he's been all offseason. I know there are going to be some idiots out there—many of them reading this and ready to type out their "Chad Henne Sucks, We Should've Picked Mallett or Traded for Orton" diatribes—who will blame Henne for this loss.
(By the way, against Oakland Orton was 24-of-46 for 304 yards, a touchdown, an interception and a lost fumble. Not bad, but Henne had a much better night against a better team.)
Stop. If you blame Henne for this loss, you're an idiot who obviously has no business being a football fan.
Henne showed poise leading the Dolphins up and down the field. He only made one turnover (and it was a turnover that he should never have been put into position to make and didn't matter anyways) and only two or three bad throws (the aforementioned interception, plus the end-zone play to Brandon Marshall that was nearly picked off).
I felt the worst for him. You couldn't have asked for a better day from Chad Henne. The numbers speak for themselves (30-of-49 for 416 yards, two touchdowns, an interception, plus seven carries for 59 yards and a touchdown). Had Miami won, this game would have been seen as a breakout game for him.
In fact, if you somehow got the crazy inclination to start him on your fantasy team this week, more likely than not you won (unless your opponent had either Tom Brady or Cam Newton, of course).
Last season many of the Dolphins losses were about Chad Henne and the Dolphins offense letting Miami's stellar defense down.
Tonight, it was the Dolphins defense that let Chad Henne and the Dolphins offense down.
Now, next week against Houston, can we please make it so that nobody lets anyone down and Miami comes away with a victory?
Despite Houston's throttling of a Manning-less Indianapolis on Sunday, I'm going to go with yes.
I can already see the Dolphins offense building off of Henne's stellar performance tonight, while Miami's defense directs the anger they have towards themselves for Monday night's debacle on the Texans offense.
Thomas Galicia is a Miami Dolphins Featured Columnist. Follow him on Twitter @thomasgalicia. For more of his opinions, visit www.thomasgalicia.com, nominated by CBSMiami.com for "Miami's Most Valuable Blogger" in the sports division.