With the Patriots preparing for another key division game tonight against the Dolphins, here are some final thoughts as New England tries to keep pace with the Pittsburgh for the top seed in the AFC after the Steelers pulled off a last-second win over Baltimore Sunday night.
1) If you look back at the Patriots battle against the Dolphins two weeks ago, one of the things that comes to mind is the fact the Patriots were able to get on top of the Dolphins early, with Tom Brady and the offense scoring touchdowns on both of their opening drives to start the game. That ended up being one of the biggest keys during their win because it allowed the Patriots the ability to absorb mistakes, and they made a big one early. Ted Karras made a bad snap in their own territory that flew past Brady and was recovered and returned by the Dolphins’ defense for a touchdown, allowing Miami to get back in the game at 14-7.
But New England came right back on the next drive and scored another touchdown, and thanks to their fast start, the Patriots were able to take the control right back, going up 21-7 while putting the pressure right back on Miami.
Brady has said on more than one occasion that going up early and playing the game on their own terms is one of the biggest things they focus on and it ended up being one of the more important aspects in their original meeting as it allowed New England’s defense to be more aggressive and they forced several turnovers as a result. Hopefully they’re able to achieve the same success during tonight’s rematch, although without the miscues.
The Patriots have had their struggles in Miami over the years.
2) Normally a trip down to Miami is an immediate red flag given some of their past problems down there, but the Patriots actually find themselves a little fortunate tonight thanks to the fact the schedule makers cut them one break in that they’re heading to South Florida in December instead of earlier in the season. Those early season meetings where the heat and humidity has been miserable has been their Achilles’ heel in a few of those games, creating an environment where the home team has had the clear advantage.
Instead, according to Weather.com, the forecast is calling for temperatures closer to 70-degrees, which will likely be even cooler when the sun goes down by game time. That plays right into their hands, hopefully setting up a comfortable night for the Patriots to play their best football as they look to sweep the Dolphins for 2017.
3) Speaking of conditioning, it’s going to be interesting to see whether or not the Patriots can continue the same success they’ve had the last two weeks running the football against Miami’s defense. In their previous meeting, Dion Lewis rushed for 112 yards on 15 carries, averaging 7.5 yards per carry against a Dolphins defense that just couldn’t stop him.
The Patriots also hit Miami with a strong dose of Rex Burkhead, who carried 13 times for 50 yards as New England went on to pile up 196 yards rushing on the afternoon.
The ability to run the football allowed Brady to keep them off balance, with the veteran quarterback completing 10-of-12 for 67 yards and four touchdowns on second down, which is also normally a down where they’re a threat to run the football.
Instead, the Dolphins never figured things out and it created a productive afternoon for the offense. This meeting will obviously be a little different since the Patriots will be dealing with managing Rob Gronkowski’s absence, who played a big part in what they did the first time around. Fortunately Chris Hogan seems poised to return tonight, but with Gronk sidelined, it will be interesting to see what they do to try and compensate for him not being out there. However, it’s worth noting that in the one game he missed this season against the Buccaneers, the Patriots managed just 19 points, their lowest scoring output of 2017. Hopefully they’re a little more productive in this one.
Brady and the offense had a strong outing in their last meeting.
4) It’s amazing how when Stephon Gilmore went down with a concussion after the team’s Week 5 game against the Buccaneers, there were many who thought the team should part ways with him after Gilmore had some early difficulties with the communication in the secondary over the first month of the season. But since his return in Denver, Gilmore has arguably become one of the team’s most important parts of the defense as they’ve continued their eight-game winning streak, and it’s clear he’s managed to establish a strong relationship in the locker room.
Looking back at the team’s first meeting with Miami, Gilmore made an interception and nearly had another at the end of the game. Instead, Duron Harmon, who collided with Gilmore on the play, ended up with the football after Gilmore gave it up to Harmon when the two caught the pass simultaneously and fell to the ground.
After the game, in a moment caught on film by the team in the locker room, Harmon was met by Kraft and was all smiles as he talked about the play.
“That’s a good teammate!” said Harmon, pointing at Gilmore. “He did that for me!” Kraft smiled and walked up to Gilmore, shook his hand, and gave him a hug. It was a huge play, as it proved to be the game-winning turnover as the Patriots closed out the Dolphins.
It’s been great seeing Gilmore settle in to this defense and he played well last week making some big plays, including a terrific defensive stop on 4th-and-1 on the back corner of the end zone in the fourth quarter against his former team. They’ll need those types of plays in the coming months, and after a rough start, it’s nice to see him become the type of player they hoped they’d get when they signed him.
Scarnecchia definitely brings out the best in New England’s offensive line.
5) One of the things that really stands out is how well-respected Dante Scarnecchia is, and how big of an impact he really has on his players. That was evident in watching back the video following the team’s win over the Bills this week, where Scarnecchia was spotted on the sideline sitting his linemen down and reminding them that they needed to step up and help make sure the Patriots offense made their way into the end zone instead of letting the defense force them into kicking field goals.
“We’ve gotta be at our best when it counts the most,” urged Scarnecchia, who locked eyes with each player as he spoke. “We’ve got to stand up to them and we’ve gotta f—n get it done out there. We just kicked two field goals. It’s a one score game, it’s not enough. We get those points in, it’s a whole different deal. We’ve got to rise up and be better than that, at that time. And we’ve got to understand that situation, embrace it, and get it done.”
It obviously worked, as the Patriots punched it in on back-to-back drives to begin the second half as they went on to beat the Bills for their 10th win of the season.
It’s a reminder of what a terrific influence he is and it’s obvious why this offensive line has been so much better since he came out of retirement. He clearly brings out their best, and he possesses a gift that the Patriots will likely have a tough time replacing when he decides to retire again. But he’s certainly the type of coach you want out there in the face of adversity and it’s definitely a lot of fun watching him work.
A win tonight will see the Patriots clinch the AFC East and it will set up a huge meeting next Sunday when they battle the Steelers down in Pittsburgh.