This was a game the Patriots needed to win to basically keep the other teams a few games behind and pretty much assuredly take the crown. The Fins were on their last legs, gasping and desperate, and even without Brown and the Wildcat, gave a full out effort in this game, beating the Patriots with a late in the game drive and field goal.
This was a big surprise to many as the team has not lost back to back games in three years and it seemed in the first half, it was all in control, until a fourth and one failure and a Miami drive cut it to four points at the end of the half. Both offense and defense floundered and the Fins found a way to win the game, really throwing a shock into Patriot Nation.
With the two losses, there are many issues and a whole gaping hole has been opened up for so fans, critics and Patriot haters of world to jump on this team with a renewed vigor. Even long time fans are now part of a lynch mob that is growing with each day. It’s a sad commentary for both this franchise and the supposed fans.
Momentum Movement—–The Patriots started with a big bomb to Moss and continued with that with the D stopping the Dolphins with some key plays. The Patriot momentum was strong as they scored another TD on Faulk’s run, but then the Fins took over with a drive for a touchdown. This seemed to tip in their favor until Meriwether made a pick later in the quarter. This strong momentum continued to the fourth down Morris run where Miami put up a wall and stole it carrying it down the field to end the half with a field goal. The third quarter started again with the Pats momentum on defense stopping them and then surged with the Aiken’s pass and run. But just as quick as that occurred, the Fins stole it back with a drive and a field goal. And they kept it as the Patriot offense did nothing and marched down the field for another score, making it a two point game. The Pats stalled, but got it back with a drive, only to have a pass to Moss be picked off. But just as quickly, the D did a good job. Slowly the momentum was with the Fins, even though they again failed on a fourth down pass. The Patriot offense sputtered as the momentum was all Miami, down the field to get a field goal and win the game.
Tipping Point—–it was late in the game, but Henne’s 13 yard pass to Camarillo on 4th down was the play that tipped it in their favor. If that had been incomplete, the Patriots would have had the ball with two minutes and could have used up most if not all, punting maybe with some time left, but not much. With that completion, the ball was at the 28. Even with no further advancement, it would have been a 46 yard field goal and certainly within Carpenter’s range. It was basically over from that point. Given the way the offense was playing, I did not think they had any shot with a minute left. They could not get a first down on their last two series and before that it was a pick in the endzone, so for all practical purposes, it was over.
Stat Check—–A big difference in this game was third down efficiency and the Fins were 10 of 19 for 53 %, while the Pats were 4 of 10 for 40 %. In the first half, the Dolphins were a blistering 7 of 8 for 88 %.
The Patriots opened the game with one of their strongest quarters in the season. They started with a bomb to Moss six plays in and after stopping the Dolphins, proceeded on a long drive mixing short passes and runs. It ended on the six yard line, with Faulk going in for their second TD on the first play of the second quarter. In between, the Fins did get into Patriot territory, but were stopped cold, with a sack and a loss of 15 on a Wildcat gone wrong. Unfortunately, they could not keep that up for the next three quarters or even come close to it.
The largest turning point was in the second quarter, after a long pass to Welker. It was 1st and 19 at the Miami 15 and instead of any points being put up on the board, it was a loss of possession on downs. There were two runs by Maroney and the ball moved nine yards. Unfortunately, the two attempts at running for the first down failed and the Pats gave the ball over to the Fins at their 6. I know that many were very upset they did not go for the field goal, but at that point, they had moved the ball for two scores, were threatening for a third and punted only once. I think if they had felt it was going to be a close game, they would have secured the field goal. If they had thought there was going to be any offensive problems later in the game, they would have done likewise. Instead, they gambled and lost. Given how the team had moved easily, there was no reason at all to grab the easy three. If they had put up another touchdown, the Pats would have led by 14 and changed the dynamics of the game. Unfortunately, one of the downsides of failing on a fourth down play, is that it gives a shot in the arm to the other team. In this case, even though there was less than two minutes left, Miami was able to drive and kick a field goal. The fact that they were getting the ball to start the third quarter only made it worse. In retrospect, I think a field goal would have been the move, but predicting a pretty pitiful offensive performance in the second half at that point was impossible.
While the defense has been the punching bag a lot of weeks, this game they made some key stops. Pryor stopped Hilliard on a 3rd down run, pushing him back a yard. On the next series, Boddin tipped a Henne pass away, forcing the Fins to kick a field goal. Burgess got pressure on Henne enough to force a bad throw to Camarillo on a 3rd down pass to open the last quarter. Butler broke up a pass to Hartline on their next possession, forcing a punt. He also stopped Bess from catching the ball on a 4th down play with a bit under five minutes left in the game. It all came down to the last drive and at that point, Henne’s short passes were quite on target and the defense had nothing left to make the big stop. What was also the case was that the offense, went quite cold after their last score.
After the great Aiken catch and run, they had the ball five times, before the final winning field goal drive by the Dolphins. The last two drives occurred in the last nine minutes of the game and both were three and outs. Any drive then would have increased their chances of winning the game. The series before that ended with a Davis interception in the endzone. Even if they had kicked a field goal, it would have forced the Fins into a situation where a touchdown was needed. The other two drives were in the 3rd quarter and consisted of another three and out and one with one first down and a successful fourth down play, negated by a penalty. The failure of the offense in the second half to either hold onto the ball for a few series or punch it in for points contributed greatly to the team’s loss.
The Dolphin D was strong when it had to be with Starks, Wake and others getting pressure on Brady. Porter led the charge on the 4th down attempt by Morris and Davis made a big play in the endzone for a big pick in the last quarter. On the other side, it was Henne who had a big day with 29 completions for 335 yards. What was interesting was that he completed only 10 passes in the 2nd half, with drives of 46, 64, 37 and 51 yards and no pass longer than 19 yards, making the drives very efficient. Williams added 42 yards rushing in the 2nd half. Carpenter’s three field goals were also key in the win.
What was troubling was that in the first half Maroney ran quite well, but hardly touched the ball in the second half. Why was the run game abandoned? Why did they go long on a number of occasions on third down? Why did things change so drastically in their approach in the second half?
It’s sad is that the incredible catch and run by Aiken is quietly fading away from even any talk. It might have been one of the greatest catches in Patriot history. He basically made the catch over Smith’s back, held onto it, vaulted over him and sprinted down the sideline for the 81 yard touchdown. There are few catches that are better than that one.
In the end, the Patriot team could not get it done again on the road with the typical pattern now of starting fast and fading in the second half and not holding on to the win. If one looks at how this team has been incredible in holding leads, this year has been quite the opposite.
Thumbs Down—–1) The Patriot’s Red Zone Offense—This has been a problem all year and for a few games it seemed it was getting better, but with some things, when they do not improve, they end up biting oneself and hurting deeply. This is the case as the Patriot’s had two drives deep and came out of it with no points on either. On one, they gambled on 4th down and was stopped while on the other, in the last quarter, it was a Brady mistake of throwing an interception that stopped the drive. They had been getting by at times, even though they showed that it was not fixed. This game it was front and center when one might list reasons for the loss. If they are going to advance into the playoffs, finishing drives has to be done; touchdowns not field goals and points rather than turnovers. I think it’s all been said before, but now it’s more critical. 2) The Patriot’s Defense—Again, the D allowed a lot of yards passing and this time it was not a top quarterback that did it. When Henne can throw for over 300 yards, there’s a large problem. It’s not all secondary issues either as the lack of a pass rush is becoming a major issue. Any reasonably good quarterback can hit receivers with time. Henne, either in the pocket or rolling out, seemed to have all day to throw the ball with little pressure on him. The defensive backs, however swift and strong can not cover receivers forever. The trick is to have a rush that forces the throws to be quick, so in that the little time, defenders can cover tightly. That is something that is not happening and must change if this team is going to make any noise post season. 3) Tom Brady—I know he had injury issues and he started hot, 14 of 15, but he finished up with only 5 completions in his last 14 passes, including the interception in the endzone. That was more of a mental mistake and that really hurt. If he had thrown it away, they still would have had a shot on third down and could have added a field goal at the worst. Instead, he forced the pass and Davis’s pick stopped their last real attempt at a score.
Thumbs Up—–With a loss as disappointing as that was, I don’t think any players should be mentioned. It was not just one unit, but all that did not play like they should. It’s now two weeks of this and of players underachieving and that for this team is really poor.
Bumps and Bruises—New England–QB Tom Brady–He was plastered by two defenders on the bomb he threw to Moss and went into the locker room quickly. He returned and played on the next series. It was believed to have been a finger or a rib, but other than that speculation, nothing further was known. This week a rib injury was added to the report and he missed two days of practice —CB Leigh Bodden—He hurt an arm tackling Williams in the 3rd quarter, but returned later in the quarter. —-WR Sam Aiken—He hurt his shoulder in the 3rd quarter extending himself to catch a Brady bomb, having it for a second and hitting the ground hard. It was a great effort though and he did return on the next series. Miami—LB Jason Taylor–He went out with shoulder injury on the long pass to Welker in the 2nd period, but returned in the second half. —RB Rickie Williams—He pulled a hamstring in the later stages of the 4th quarter, but returned on their next series, the winning field goal drive.
The loss not only left the Patriot team with a one game lead and making these last four games so important, but it exposed larger issues with the team, ones that may have been hidden and glossed over the last month or so. It’s obvious that the team misses some of the veteran leadership. Young players and those new to the organization really are a bit lost and in many ways, this is so far away from the type of team of earlier in the decade. Reports of the team squabbling on the sideline in the last two games and of lots of laughter on the busses after the loss in Miami speak loudly as to the lack of character of this team. It’s obvious that some take it all as a joke, but the leaders need to take the majority of the players and march forward with them. This season is not over, but more at a crossroads.
If they win out, they will get the crown, but a bye now seems long gone. The Dolphins and Jets may not win out, but any Patriot loss will make it so much closer. If they can get it together, this low point might seem like the storm, before the sunny weather, but it is going to take a lot of hard work and I don’t know whether this team has that.
Play Under the Radar–Sam Aiken made a nice play on the 58 yard pass to Welker. With him and Welker on the right side, he was able to move inside a bit, drawing coverage, allowing Welker to get outside and down enough so he could get free for the long pass. As it turned out, the play went for 58 yards, but the Pats came out of it sans points.
The Chalkboard—With all the ways the Dolphins could have gone, it was interesting that they saw throwing the ball as their best option. With other teams, it’s been a use of the Wildcat, even without Brown and more of Pat White. With other opponents, it’s been more run oriented. After their first series, it seems they chose the passing option, giving Henne the ball and attacking the Patriots through the air. If one looks at the past few games, this has not been successful at all, but in this game, it was. Taking a few parts of the Saint playbook and incorporating it into their plan, they were quite successful in the game. They used short crossing patterns and a lot of short passes, more to the sides than the middle and the Patriots could not stop them when it counted.
Chad Henne was 29 for 52 for 335 yards. When was the last time a Dolphin quarterback threw that many passes? And what is interesting is that his longest completion was for only 29 yards. In throws that were less than 8 yards, he was 19 for 28 and he threw only 8 over 15 yards. Also, most of his throws were to the right side, 30 in all and he completed 17 of those to that side. What is most disturbing was that he was 11 for 15 in third down completions and that 10 of those 11 resulted in first downs, two for touchdowns. This strategy paid off very large for the Dolphins with Henne’s big performance.
The Whistle—Steratore and crew have to be one of the worst in the league, I do think they had an impact on the game, aiding Miami with a spattering of calls and non calls in the third quarter. Stinky Steratore was the referee who in the Titan game made up his own story late in the game on Young’s aborted snap, blind to his picking up the ball and going into the endzone on his own accord. Young fumbled and the play should have been a safety, but that didn’t matter as Steratore magically placed the ball inside the five yard line, making up his own rules and basically erasing the reality of the play. When one has that type arrogance, the shenanigans in this game seem minor, although there were many that he and his crew made.
The Patriots were called for 6 penalties for 82 yards and the Dolphins only 2 for 10 and that is quite one sided, but some teams do play pretty error free football, while other teams are less disciplined and commit many more. But if one looks at the penalties themselves and at other plays where there is a non call, there are discrepancies galore. The False Start call on Watson and the Illegal Motion call on Arrington on the punt were quite correct, but the other four were questionable and when one looks at the non calls, to me raises concern.
The Roughing call on Wilfork was pretty cheap as once a ball is intercepted, a quarterback is not given the same protection as he has when throwing the ball. Vince pushed him, not even hard enough for him to fall down, but apparently enough for a 15 yarder. While it was a cheap call, that one I can understand.
Mankins was called for Holding before the 81 yard TD pass to Aiken. It was negligible, if that and that is OK if they are calling plays like that. What is rather amusing is that Miami’s line had more blatant holding on a few plays with no flags called. On the last drive, Wright was held from getting to Henne and the same official that was so quick on throwing a flag at Mankins, kept it in his pocket.
One of the worst calls was the Pass Interference call on Wilhite. Hartline, in fact, had his hands pushing Wilhite aside before the ball was there, which was so much more obvious than the Aiken PI call, but gutless Greg Gautreaux threw the hanky and Miami added 47 yards, with a first down and three points a minute or so later. It’s okay to call them as tight as that, but at least be fair about it. In the fourth quarter, Welker was hit by Allen past the 5 yard mark and then again by Bell as the ball came by him. Where was the flag? The gutless ones refused to throw it.
Before I discuss the last penalty, there was a blatant Block in the Back penalty not called in the 3rd quarter. Slater was running down on the right and beat Wilson, who pushed him from behind right in the open. Although Slater doubled back and made the tackle, it was an obvious penalty and the non call gave Miami the 36 yard line instead of the 16. It was on this series that Miami scored and got to within 2 points, but I have to wonder if they would have done that if they were pushed back inside the 20.
The absolute worst call though had to have been the Aiken’s Pass Interference penalty on what was a successful fourth down play. Given how one sided this crew was in the third period, I knew that if they did get it, it would be taken away. That was how obvious this crew was. That call was pitiful as Aikens was going forward and in fact Sims alluded to it in what he saw. “Oh, man, I tell you. That is just an unbelievably tough call. Sam Aiken is allowed to go straight ahead.” Yes, and that is what he did, but in Steratore’s world, where a player running into the endzone on his own, fumbles it in what should be a safety and is given a spot of a few yards, calling a penalty on a legitimate allowed play, is nothing.
I am not saying the result of the game would have been different, but when there are uneven calls and non calls at a key time in the game, it smells pretty rotten and Steratore and crew lived up to that and more last Sunday. The Pats should have won despite what these jokers were doing and that they did not is quite sad.
Last Thoughts–There are four games left and if they can win out, they will be in good shape. The big issue is does this team have the character to rise up, win these games convincingly and have momentum headed into the playoffs. I think it’s a question mark at this point.