FOXBOROUGH – Injuries can change games. But when you almost blow a 31-3 lead, that’s one pretty eventful injury.
The wonderful story that is Jimmy Garoppolo came to a sudden pause (hopefully, not an end) midway through the second quarter on Sunday at Gillette Stadium. On third and nine at the Miami 36 yard line, Garoppolo rolled to his right and hit rookie Malcolm Mitchell for 15 yards and a first down. But Kiko Alonso tackled Garoppolo just after he released the ball, and the quarterback came crashing down on his right shoulder. In obvious pain, Garoppolo had to leave the game and never returned. At the time, the Patriots led the Dolphins, 21-0.
Rookie quarterback Jacoby Brissett came into the game and the drive stalled three plays later. Stephen Gostkowski kicked a 24-yard field goal to put the Patriots up 24-0.
In the end, a last second interception by Duron Harmon in the end zone sealed a 31-24 win by the Patriots over the Miami Dolphins. In between, the game shifted more dramatically than a waffling politician. The game suddenly became the Ryan Tannehill show, as the Dolphin quarterback suddenly morphed into a quarterback he really isn’t.
At one point, the Patriots led Miami, 31-3. The Dolphins mounted a tremendous second half comeback and nearly got the game to overtime. Tannehill went on a ridiculous run where he completed 25 of his last 30 passes. The Patriot defense morphed suddenly into a group which seemingly wanted to preserve the lead rather than to keep attacking Tannehill up to that point. It was understandable that the Patriots go conservative on offense with Brissett in the game, but the defense seemed to be even more conservative.
Brissett certainly wasn’t the reason the game got close. He finished 6 of 9 passing for 92 yards and a 100.2 passer rating. He did lead the Patriots on a scoring drive early in the third quarter following a Jay Ajayi fumble. He completed three passes for 59 yards before LeGarrette Blount finished it off with a bruising 9-yard touchdown run.
The Dolphin defense did bring pressure on Brissett, and he was sacked twice, once fumbling the ball where James White recovered. Bill Belichick and Josh McDaniels dumbed down the offense for Brissett, giving him nothing complicated to decipher. Most of his passes were of the screen/dump variety, and he showed a good deal of poise while in there. None of his passes were picked off, and other than allowing the sacks, did nothing to lose the game.
Garoppolo, meanwhile, was having no trouble at all with the Dolphin defense. The Patriots scored touchdowns on their first three drives. Garoppolo finished all of them with scoring passes.
On the first drive, Garoppolo found Danny Amendola on a slant route from 12 yards out despite oncoming pressure. On the next drive, he found Martellus Bennett (Rob Gronkowski was out once again with his hamstring injury) for a 20-yard score with a pretty pass up the right seam, leaving Alonso in his wake. Then on the third drive, he found Amendola from 10 yards out on another right slant route despite a heavy rush from Koa Misi.
Garoppolo finished 18 of 27 passing for 234 yards and a perfect passer rating of 158.3. Bennett had 114 yards on five catches, while Julian Edelman had 7 catches for 76 yards.
Tannehill got going in the third quarter and suddenly stopped missing receivers. He completed 4 passes for 50 yards on the first drive before Ajayi lost a fumble after being hit by Jonathan Freeny. On the next drive, he was 6 of 7 for 75 yards and found Kenny Stills for a 24-yard score after beating Justin Coleman on a double move along the left sideline. It was still 31-10 Patriots, but no reason for concern yet.
On the next drive, which extended into the fourth quarter, Tannehill led the Dolphins on a five-play, 88-yard drive which featured a one-handed catch by Jarvis Landry for 33 yards and a questionable pass interference call on Logan Ryan on DeVante Parker where it seemed Parker shoved Ryan for offensive interference. On the next play, Tannehill hit tight end Jordan Cameron for a 12-yard score, a seeing-eye laser where defenders Jamie Collins and Patrick Chung collided on the play.
Sacks of Brissett had stalled the last two Patriot drives up to this point. Tannehill got the ball back on the Dolphin 26 and drove them 74 yards to bring them to within a touchdown. Parker and Landry burned Malcolm Butler for 28 yards on consecutive plays, and Stills beat Coleman for 15 yards before Kenyan Drake ran around right end for seven yards and a score to make it 31-24.
Perhaps the real hero of this game for the Patriots, who really brought them home in the end, was Blount. On the ensuing drive, badly needing to bleed clock and timeouts from Miami, Blount ran eight times for 35 yards. The Patriots succeeded in emptying the Dolphins of their timeouts, and got the clock down to 1:08 left. What should have been a dagger from Gostkowski ended in an inexplicable missed 38-yard field goal, as the All-Pro kicker pushed the kick wide right.
It remained a one score game as Miami took off on their last chance to tie the game. Tannehill hit Parker for 20 yards, Tannehill scrambled for 17 yards, and it came down to the Dolphins at the Patriot 30-yard line with nine seconds left. Tannehill dropped back and tried to hit Parker in the left corner of the end zone, but Harmon leaped up and made the pick to seal the win.
Tannehill finished 32 of 45 passing for 389 yards and two touchdowns. His rating was 112.1. The Dolphins had four turnovers in the game, compared to one for the Patriots.
The Patriot defense seemed to back off following the Garoppolo injury. The Dolphins went to a hurry up offense which seemed to tire out the Patriot defense a bit, but it seemed that the pass rush disappeared and that the defenders were playing the receivers as if to defend the end zone and not the particular play. Butler had a particularly down game, not providing any sort of lockdown coverage. Coleman was burned twice on long plays.
Post game reports say that Garoppolo’s x-rays were negative, showing no broken bones. He is likely to have an MRI which would reveal any ligament damage which could endanger his season. The Patriots have a short week, then play Houston on Thursday night at Gillette Stadium. Brissett will likely have to start that game, and the Patriots will likely sign a free agent quarterback very soon. Edelman has quarterback experience from his college days at Kent State, but it is unlikely the Patriots will go in that direction.
The Tom Brady suspension odyssey is now half over, with a dramatic twist. If the Patriots can make it to 4-0 without Brady given what they now have to deal with, Belichick should be canonized on the spot.
Posted Under: Patriots Commentary
Tags: Bill Belichick Jacoby Brissett Jimmy Garoppolo Ryan Tannehill