Strong performance nets Patriots Home Cooking for the playoffs
The Patriots handled their own business this time around and finished the regular season right with an impressive 35-14 win over the Dolphins on Sunday afternoon in Miami.
With the victory, the Patriots finished with the best record in the NFL at 14-2 and secured home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. They also finished with an 8-0 road record, just the seventh time that it has been done.
Before hitting the All-22 coaches’ film, here are our grades for the week. We’ll start with the offense and the players can come forward to pick up their grade sheets.
Tom Brady was razor sharp once again completing 25-33 for 276 yards and three touchdowns behind a clean pocket for most of the day despite being short three of his receivers. He spread the ball around hitting seven different receivers on the day.
His play action fake to LeGarrette Blount was a beauty, freezing the linebackers just long enough to hit Martellus Bennett for an easy touchdown pass. He also recognized the blitz coming when the Dolphins had closed to 20-14 and he and Edelman combined for a 77-yard touchdown pass, that essentially put the game away.
Brady set the standard for a touchdown to interception ratio with 28 scoring tosses to just two interceptions on the season breaking the old record of 27/2 set a few years ago by Nick Foles. He also passed Dan Marino on the all-time passing yardage board.
Brady also showed that the Patriots were all in very early in the game. On the third snap of the day, he scrambled for a first down, setting the tone for a touchdown drive that got the team off to a fast start offensively.
Running Backs: B
LeGarrette Blount’s workload has been cut back as the team tries to save him for a playoff run. He ran for 51 yards on 14 carries with a touchdown and other than a few late stops by Miami on the final drive, had a very solid game.
Dion Lewis carried 11 times for 48 yards, displaying a nice ability to run between the tackles despite his diminutive size. He caught a pair of passes for just four yards.
James White had just two carries for nine yards and chipped in with four catches for 21 more. Overall the Patriots running game had a good but not spectacular day, running for 120 yards on 29 carries. Going against a Miami team that had been gashed against the run all season, it was bit less than what was expected. The backs contribution in the passing game was also a bit low for what we projected in this matchup with just six catches for 25 yards.
Wide Receivers: B+
Josh McDaniels and Brady got everyone involved and despite no Gronk, no Amendola and no Malcolm Mitchell they were still able to keep Miami on their heels for most of the game.
Julian Edelman had another big day catching eight passes for a career-high 151 yards, including a 77-yard touchdown. With so many of Brady’s weapons out, he targeted Edelman thirteen times and he responded with nearly 60 percent of the receiving output. Edelman did have a drop (his league leading 12th), but considering the areas where he treads, that is expected. His penalty however in the end zone was costly as it took them out of a touchdown drive and forced them to settle for three.
Michael Floyd is proving to be a late-season, waiver wire steal. He caught three passes for 31 yards and a highlight reel touchdown. From the 14-yard line, he caught a short slant from Brady and then bulled his way into the end zone carrying a slew of defenders with him. He also made a really, nice catch on the sideline, displaying deft touch and getting both feet down inbounds.
But his best play was perhaps one where he didn’t even have the ball. The Patriots demand that their wide receivers block, in both the running game and downfield. It is something they also take pride in. Floyd’s thunderous block on Tony Lippett sprung Edelman on his long touchdown reception.
Chris Hogan had four catches on his four targets for 27 yards.
Tight Ends: B+
Martellus Bennett had three catches for 33 yards and a touchdown and was one of the targets that the team didn’t use as much as they could have in this game, perhaps a case of McDaniels not showing all of his cards. But his touchdown was a nice throw and catch with Brady. Bennett is a solid blocker in the running game and now that he’s getting healthier, that should improve even more.
Matt Lengel had a single catch for 4 yards as well as a drop. Brady has shown that he’ll go to him, which just opponent’s defenses more to think about.
Offensive Line: B+
The Patriots offensive line had a very good game on Sunday. They opened holes for the running game to really set the tone for the offense in the first half. The situation prevented them from continuing that in the third quarter but on a day where Brady and the passing game was clicking, the 120 yards they pounded out in the running game was enough. Miami’s Ndamukong Suh is a player that plays on and frequently over the edge. But the OL put him on the MIA list and after he was yapping at the Pats, they ran right at him for Blount’s touchdown run, pushing him back with ease.
They did a good job of protecting Brady overall and Miami with a very good defensive line got zero sacks. They did get pressure at times and a few hits, but overall, Brady had plenty of time to throw.
Defensive Line: B
The Patriots defensive line continues to be a position of strength all season long. Alan Branch has been fantastic in run support all season. Jay Ajayi had 206 yards the week prior against Buffalo and was held to just 59 yards. Miami as a team rushed for just 75 and averaged 3.3 yards per rush. That is getting it done or as NE likes to say, “Doing Your Job.” Branch had a few run stuffs in the backfield and knocked down a pass at the line.
Trey Flowers is rapidly becoming an impact player on the edge. He was generating pressure from both the edge or the interior of the line and has been the team’s best pass rusher in 2016.
Chris Long continues to do the little things on the edge that won’t show up on the scoresheet but help win games. He set the edge in the running game and was getting some pressure on the outside. Jabaal Sheard has to be shaking his head on a would-be sack of Moore where he let him slip away after blowing by his block on the right side.
Malcom Brown was benched again for Vincent Valentine so perhaps there might be more to this story than the one late meeting.
Dont’a Hightower was active for this game which showed that the Patriots were all in trying to win and secure the top seed in the AFC. He still doesn’t seem 100 percent, though.
Elandon Roberts stepped up with solid run support chipping in seven tackles and helping limit the Dolphins running game to an afterthought.
Kyle Van Noy had a good day that was marred by a blown coverage. Kenny Stills blew by Van Noy who it appeared was trying to pass Stills off to a safety that wasn’t there. Shea McClellin made a heads up play on the Devin McCourty forced fumble and scooped it up and returned it 69 yards to set up the Patriots final score.
The Patriots secondary had a pretty, solid day. They were trying to limit the big plays of the Dolphins passing game and forcing them to slowly make their way down the field. And in that they were successful. The one area that they were having issues with was the crossing routes of the Dolphins which were open for the majority of the day. Their target was usually Eric Rowe and they had him in chase mode after they used the legal pick plays inside.
Logan Ryan had another good day with tight coverage and an interception. He logged seven tackles, Malcolm Butler added six tackles and provided good coverage.
Devin McCourty was victimized on the Stills touchdown by someone blowing a coverage. Whether Van Noy was supposed to stick with him in an obvious mismatch or not, McCourty was stuck in No Man’s Land between two deep wide receivers who were open. That was obviously a mistake but give the Dolphins credit for a creative play call.
McCourty also sealed the deal with a forced fumble on Damien Williams. Williams caught a pass at the Patriots six-yard line and was attempting to spin and work his way to the end zone. McCourty reacted quickly and punched the ball free, where Shea McClellin scooped up the loose ball and raced 69-yards putting the Patriots in scoring position to put the game away.
Matt Moore was completing a majority of his passes but for the most part, the secondary kept the play in front of them and held Miami to just 205 yards passing on the day. They were averaging just about six yards per attempt.
Special Teams: B
Stephen Gostkowski had a good day making all three extra point attempts and his first two field goals. His only miss was a 52-yard attempt at the end of the first half where his position was right on a seam where the turf was patched. The field was in terrible shape after the bowl game on Friday night, so he gets a pass for that one.
Ryan Allen was only called on to punt three times but he had a good day averaging 44 yards per kick including a 56-yarder. The Dolphins averaged only 3.5 yards per punt return and 20 yards per kickoff return on the day.
Julian Edelman was back returning punts again with Amendola and Cyrus Jones out but only had one for zero yards. The kickoff return game was nothing special again. Geneo Grissom had a costly penalty on a punt return that pushed the team way back.
Bill Belichick remembered the 2015 finale and ensured that this time the results were going to be much different. After laying an egg in Miami and being forced to go to Denver for the AFC Championship game, the Patriots weren’t going down that road again. They came out fast, prepared and put the Dolphins on their heels with some dominant play in the first quarter.
Belichick made it clear last week that the Patriots were going all-in this time in an attempt to secure home-field advantage for the entire playoffs. He had the team prepared to go and they looked like the hungrier team than Miami did.
Josh McDaniels had a good plan for the offense to get untracked quickly. Miami was expecting the Patriots to come out running so McDaniels reacts with three straight passing plays although Brady was forced to scramble for a first down after he was flushed from the pocket.
McDaniels kept the Dolphins off balance by mixing things up nicely as the Pats rolled up nearly 400 yards of offense and 35 points. He got everyone involved in the play calling which kept the pressure on a defense that was banged up and missing some of its players.
Matt Patricia had a good game plan as well. They were determined to slow down Jay Ajayi and force the ball into Matt Moore’s hands. Then the goal was to force Miami to slowly work their way down the field and take away the big, chunk plays in the passing game. That worked as they played some good defense except for a period at the end of the first half and early in the third quarter.
But the Patriots defense forced two big turnovers that resulted in 11 points for the offense so it was a good day there as well. Patricia has them forcing much more turnovers down the stretch.
So, the Patriots get the bye week to rest, recuperate and do some self-scouting, an area that they’ve always been very good at in recognizing areas that they need to tighten up in. Next stop…the Divisional Round of the playoffs at Gillette Stadium.
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Tags: 2016 NFL Season 2016 Patriots season Bill Belichick Danny Amendola Dion Lewis Dont'a Hightower Jabaal Sheard Julian Edelman LaGarrette Blount Malcolm Butler Martellus Bennett Miami Dolphins New England Patriots NFL Patriots Patriots edge rushers Rob Gronkowski Tom Brady Trey Flowers