The Patriots went off the beaten path on Sunday when they took on the Miami Dolphins.
Instead of crumbling in the second half, they started the game slowly and only managed a field goal before halftime. Tom Brady’s 25 passing yards were his lowest since 2003 and the offense looked pathetic, to say the least. It seemed as though the Dolphins were going to be the next AFC East opponent to down the Pats for the second straight week. Luckily, that was not the case as there are two halves to every game.
The defense worked all game and managed to completely shut Miami out in the final two quarters. Rookie defensive back Logan Ryan had a career day with five tackles, two sacks and one pass defended. Devin McCourty and Marquice Cole teamed up for a huge interception and Rob Ninkovich had a sack and three hits on Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
While he was relatively quiet as compared to last week, Chandler Jones came up with a huge block on Miami’s fourth quarter, 39 yard field goal attempt to keep the shutout alive. Big plays by the defense at crucial points in the second half helped lead the Patriots to a comfortable 27-17 win.
The Patriots are a different team when Stevan Ridley is running the ball.
(USA TODAY Images)
Offensively however, the struggle was real. Brady threw bad passes, Stevan Ridley was held out until the Pats found themselves down 14 points and Sebastian Vollmer got his legs tangled up in what looked like a painful pileup and was carted off the field. Belichick was asked specifically about keeping Ridley on the bench and it should come as no surprise he went with the stock “we do what’s best for the team” mantra. It’s quite obvious how different this offense is with Ridley in the backfield. He’s easily the fastest running back on the team and while a rotation is fine, it’s important to put players in a position to succeed. Even though he was benched for what seemed like an eternity, Ridley still led the team with 14 carries for 79 yards. Legarrette Blount had one of his better games of the season but I think Josh McDaniels should transition him to the bruising third down back. He’s built to push the pile whereas Ridley is meant to squeeze through the seams. A plus for the Patriots is they are one of the better rushing teams in the league and as long as they get the right players into the right situations, there shouldn’t be any issues going forward.
What will be and continues to be an issue is the passing game. Brady’s hand was noticeably swollen but at his post game presser he said his hand was “perfect” and he joked that he didn’t know the reporters knew what the back of his hand was supposed to look like. Whether or not that is true, remains to be seen. Brady was clearly off in the first half throwing an interception on his first pass of the game. He managed to go 13 of 22 with a touchdown but he only threw for 116 yards, a season low. Brady just hasn’t been himself this season and it’s evident in his numbers. He’s in the same category as Peyton Manning and Drew Brees but while they surge, he’s slumping. You can blame it on the receivers all you want, but Brady has worked with “nobodies” before and made it work. What’s troubling is the Patriots are still ignoring the middle of the field unless the pass is going to Rob Gronkowski. Sideline passes are great but it’s time for the Patriots to get back to those short gains and lengthy drives. In four out of their eight games this season their opponents have won the time of possession battle. With bigger and better opponents coming up, it’s going to be key for the Patriots to find a way to keep their hands on the ball.
The Patriots have gotten off to a solid start if you look at their record alone. Diving in further you’ll see there is room for improvement in all phases of the game. They’re lucky to have started off the season with so many divisional games as they’re easily top of the class in the AFC East. But with the physical Steelers coming to town next week and the Denver Broncos just a few weeks away, the Patriots need to get some consistency in their game. It’s time for this team to start making changes that stick and putting in a full 60 minute effort.