December 06, 2009
This Time, Itís The Patriots Who Flop In The Fourth
BY: Bob George/BosSports.net
MIAMI -- In each of their last five losses, the Miami Dolphins either blew leads or failed to gain the lead in a close game in the fourth quarter.
On Sunday at Land Shark Stadium, the Dolphins had just the perfect foil to stop this trend. They had a team who can no longer defend the pass, beaten down and forlorn after a Monday night whipping, and just for good measure, ran up against an offense which suddenly forgot how to close out games against defenses worse than their own. Instead of blowing a fourth quarter lead, it was the Miami opponent who turned out to be a most magnanimous visitor and handed the win to them on a silver platter.
So continues the sad saga of the 2009 Patriots, who saw their potential 12-4 finish morph into a 7-5 record following a 22-21 loss to Miami on Sunday. A 41-yard field goal by Dan Carpenter, who will not remind you of Pete Stoyanovich or Olindo Mare, gave the Dolphins their first lead of the game with 1:04 left. The Patriots saw an opening assault on the Miami defense turn into the latest testimonial on what a non-factor this team will be in the postseason, assuming they get there at all.
With Darius Butler as their main target, the Patriot pass defense made Chad Henne look like another Michigan quarterback of years past, one who once upon a time managed to win three Super Bowls. Unlike many other contests of past years, the aforementioned former Wolverine, Tom Brady, threw two fourth quarter interceptions and failed to put the game away when the game literally dictated the Patriots either win big or win late. It was a jarring loss for the Patriots, who still lead the division by a game over the Dolphins and Jets, but don't seem like they deserve to do so.
The Patriots bombed the Dolphins early. On the sixth play of the game, Brady faked a reverse to Wes Welker and lofted a perfect 58-yard toss to Randy Moss who ran right by Vontae Davis and into the end zone for a 7-0 Patriot lead. On the next drive, the Patriots drove 80 yards in 13 plays, capping it off with a 6-yard run by Kevin Faulk for the score and a 14-0 lead. The Patriots were killing the Dolphins in every phase in the game up to this point, and it seemed like it would be a long afternoon for the hometowners.
Most all scribes and experts will pin this loss on the defense, and rightfully so, but more blame for this loss should go to the offense. It was the offense who gave the Dolphins hope in the second quarter, and it was the offense who failed to put the game away down the stretch when the defense was actually making stops when it had to up until the final drive of the game.
After the Faulk touchdown, the Patriots got the ball back at their 19 and drove to their 44. It was fourth down and inches to go on the fifth play of that drive. But Bill Belichick opted to punt the ball instead of trying to gain those few tough inches. The Dolphins gave the ball right back to the Patriots thanks to a Brandon Meriweather interception, and the Patriots drove from their 23 to the Dolphin six. But it was fourth and one at the six, and this time Belichick opted to go for it. This was one full yard, not inches as before. A fullback handoff to Sammy Morris was stuffed for no gain by Tony McDaniel and many others.
The Patriots had two fourth downs in the second quarter and made the wrong call on both. Going for it on the second one wasn't the wrong call, the play called was. It seems clear that Brady's physical condition is on the minds of the coaches, as both situations screamed for a Brady sneak. It is a play that has been near automatic for the Patriots in years past, but Belichick seems afraid to use Brady on such plays. Laurence Maroney cannot be counted on to get that one yard. Morris might have been better off had he been lined up at halfback instead of fullback. This is a case where they really didn't replace Heath Evans, who could have gotten that yard from up close.
The Patriots got a gift touchdown in the third quarter on an 81-yard right sideline bomb to Sam Aiken, where he had to stumble over Sean Smith to make the catch and somehow stay in bounds all the time. It was 21-10 Patriots at this point, but the Patriots would put no more points on the board.
It was 21-19 at the beginning of the fourth quarter. The Patriots took over at their own 39 and landed on the Miami 4-yard line. On second and goal at the four, Brady threw a poorly advised pass into the right corner of the end zone, thinking Moss could outleap Davis, whom he beat in the first quarter. Instead, Brady left the ball up short and Davis made the end zone pick. It was a pass Brady normally doesn't make, and it cost the Patriots the chance to make it a 2-score game.
The defense did its part on the next two drives, forcing a three-and-out and a nice play by Butler denying Davone Bess on the Patriot 40 on fourth down. But during this period, the Patriots suffered two three-and-outs, with Brady going 0-for-3 passing and Morris, Faulk and Maroney rushing three times for three net yards. The incomplete passes cost the Patriots a chance to run the clock, with Miami having burned two of their timeouts in the third quarter.
The Dolphins made their game-winning drive thereafter. Starting at their own 26, Henne hit Bess for 16 yards, Sal Fasano for 12, then Greg Camarillo for 13 (against Butler, who was torched most all afternoon). The Dolphins had the ball at the Patriot 28, then bled all the remaining Patriot timeouts before Carpenter nailed his game-winner.
With 1:04 left and no timeouts, Brady had a chance to get the Patriots into field goal range. But after an 11-yard completion to Morris, Brady tried to hit Aiken deep right and misfired. Then on the third play, Brady was rushed by Cameron Wake and threw early off his back foot. Channing Crowder made the interception to end the game.
Brady did manage a 58-yard bomb to Welker in the second quarter, as well as the touchdowns to Moss and Aiken. But three times in the fourth quarter Brady fired deep and overthrew each time, one other time to Aiken and once to Welker. The Patriots needed to run clock and move the ball, but Brady instead got greedy and tried to end the game early, as if to make up for the end zone interception by Davis.
Brady somehow managed a 101.5 passer rating, hitting 19 of 29 passes for 352 yards and two touchdowns. But he failed to produce in the fourth quarter and threw both interceptions with the game on the line. Welker continued his excellence with 10 catches for 168 yards, but his last catch was early in the fourth quarter.
The defense does deserve its scolding. Henne finished with 335 yards passing, and a rating of only 80.2 thanks to 29 of 52 passing. Butler was killed in the second quarter, giving up four passes from Henne including a 15-yard touchdown to Bess which made it 14-7 Patriots at the time.
Another curious stat from the game is that the Dolphins ran the Wildcat only twice with Pat White at quarterback, and both times it failed (two carries, zero yards). The Dolphins really never needed the Wildcat at all, as the Patriot secondary still cannot cover normal offensive packages.
Never mind a Super Bowl contender. Belichick may morph into Jim "Playoffs?!" Mora any day now.
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