By: Russ Goldman
The Patriots took charge early on Sunday on their way to beating the Miami Dolphins 38-7. With this victory the Patriots finished out the 2010 regular season at 14-2, and were also the number one seed in the AFC going into the playoffs.
The Patriots came out strong from the minute the game began. Devin McCourty intercepted Chad Henne on the Dolphins opening drive, setting New England up with great field position. They would score on their opening drive and never looked back, taking a 24-0 lead into the locker room at halftime. Since they were in complete control of the game, it appeared that the second half was more about giving some players a chance to play to get some reps heading into the playoffs. Overall, this was an easy victory for the Patriots as they just showed why they are 14-2 and the top seed in the conference.
So what did we learn from watching the game on Sunday?
The first thing we learned is the defense just continues to get better. They were playing an inferior opponent, but you could see continued discipline and more aggressive play up front.
The second thing we learned is the Patriots offense is so versatile now that if they just go out and execute, they’re able to move the ball regardless of who is out there. Head coach Bill Belichick sat Deion Branch, Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez against the Dolphins. Yet even with those players out, Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman picked up the slack with key contributions. The Dolphins were the #3 defense in the league going into the game, and the Patriots went right through them without any real problem.
The Dolphins going into the game were out of the playoffs, but I expected them to play hard against the Patriots. I couldn’t have been more wrong as it seemed the Dolphins were playing like they were already on vacation. The majority of the media in Miami basically wrote on Monday morning that the players had quit on head coach Tony Sparano, and after watching the game that definitely seemed to be the case.
On offense, the Dolphins were pathetic. Henne might have shown he is not the franchise quarterback they need in Miami. He was 6-for-16 for 71 yards and was replaced at one point for Tyler Thigpen, who was not much better. The running game did not give the Dolphins anything to help out the Dolphins quarterbacks. This was a shockingly bad performance.
On defense, the Dolphins supposedly have one of the better defenses in the league, but they certainly did not come to play against the Patriots. Brady had time to throw the ball, and just picked apart the Dolphins secondary. Also, BenJarvus Green-Ellis was very effective running the ball against this unit. Lastly, did Cameron Wake even play yesterday? He was held to just 4 tackles and no sacks.
For the Patriots on offense, Brady was efficient and in control throwing two touchdown passes. Green-Ellis also did a nice job, and was able to get enough yardage to reach the 1000 yard plateau for the season.
On defense, this unit continues to make plays and get better. Whether is is ex-UFL player Eric Moore stripping the ball from Ricky Williams, or Vince Wilfork sacking the quarterback, the Pats defense is really coming together at a time of the year when they need to.
The most important thing we learned is that the Patriots are ready for the playoffs. If this was a tune-up for the postseason, then Belichick’s team passed this test with flying colors.
As I always do, I like to look back at my keys to victory to see what kind of role they played in the game. Below is my analysis of ” My Five Keys To Victory For the Patriots Against The Dolphins.”
1. The Patriots should come out passing to get up early on the Dolphins. I don’t think the Patriots came out passing like crazy. In fact, I think their intention was to run the ball and mix in the pass. It worked out just fine because they were able to get up early on the Miami, and this one was never in doubt.
2. The Patriots should run the ball heavily in the second half and get some work in for Sammy Morris and Fred Taylor. The Patriots did get some work in for Morris and Taylor in the second half. Taylor had 10 carries for 35 yards. I think the Pats though wanted Green-Ellis to get to a 1000 yards so you did still see him in the second half. It’s fairly obvious that was the case since that milestone came on a 4th-and-16 rushing attempt at the Dolphins 19 where they could have easily opted to kick a field goal. Regardless, the running backs in total did the job in the second half and it was good to see him get there.
3. The Patriots defense should be trying to force turnovers when they have the opportunity. The Patriots certainly succeeded in this key. McCourty had an interception on the opening Dolphins drive, and Eric Moore forced a fumble. New England finished the year with a +28 turnover differential, and both situations helped the Patriots control the game on their way to a victory.
4. Stopping the run on defense is vital. The Dolphins did not run the ball much against the Patriots. However, the Pats defense did a great job limiting their yards when they did run the ball. The Dolphins overall ran for 44 yards with a 2.8 yards per carry average. It was a great effort, and it’s obviously good to see them playing so well up front heading into the postseason despite several guys missing from the line-up.
5. Brandon Tate and the rest of the kick-off return unit need to do a better job with starting field position. This key was a non-factor in the game as Tate only had one kick-off return for 23 yards. However, kick-off returns is an area of the game the Patriots will need to excel in when they get to the playoffs. The return game did see a punt return from Julian Edelman, who ran back a punt 94 yards for a touchdown. He’s a guy who overall seemed to be struggling with his confidence, and that should hopefully give him some heading into the postseason.
So what did we learn from this game? I just think we saw a team just getting ready for the playoffs, and making sure they ended the year on the right foot. The Patriots are now ready for the postseason, and I have a great feeling about the direction they are going. Belichick may have his club taking things “one game at a time”, but fans can look forward, and I’m starting to see a Sunday in February with the Patriots possibly playing on the biggest stage.
What are your reactions to the game? Feel free to leave a comment and let me know what you thought of New England’s 38-7 victory against the Dolphins.