Yes, we know how short-handed the Patriots were on Monday night, missing several key players and losing another in the first half, but that wasn’t the story on Monday night in Miami. The Dolphins were the team ready to play on Monday night and it showed. They dominated in all three phases of the game and the final 27-20 score doesn’t do justice to how much they pressured and stymied the Patriots offense.
Monday night was the Patriots worst game since their early season struggles. They were sluggish from the opening snap and Miami’s offense set the tone early. The Dolphins were running short crossing routes and the Patriots defenders were having trouble with their communication and the crossers and rub routes were very effective. Jay Cutler didn’t resemble anything close to the aging QB who has struggled all season in South Beach and had arguably his best game of the season. Cutler, scraggly neck beard and all, even showed some fire on the field as he beat New England for the first time in his career.
On the opposite side, Tom Brady was flustered and off-balance all night. The Patriots offense had to rely on their running backs as their wide receivers were MIA in Miami all game long and were a complete non-factor. The Patriots also ended their streak of allowing 17 points or less as well as their 14-game road winning streak. Other observations from tonight’s game include:
Play Calling Curious: Josh McDaniels abandoned the running game far too early in this one. Despite being dominated in the first half, the team was down only 13-10 at halftime. The last time the two teams met, New England rushed for nearly 200 yards. To only give your running backs 10 carries? Curious.
Late in the game, needing two scores, Danny Amendola was tackled right near the goal line giving the team first and goal at the one-foot line. Rather than attempting to run it in, they passed, steadily moving backward until they faced a 3rd and goal from the 15-yard line. They kicked a field goal but the onside kick was comically bad and Miami recovered and killed the clock.
But had they scored a touchdown there, a field goal would have been all that was needed to tie the score. Very un-Patriot like.
Offensive Line Issues Abound: With the running game an after-thought, the Patriots offensive line was not up to the task of protecting Brady. Miami was blitzing all night, normally a sign that New England would be eating them up offensively, but not tonight.
Brady was under duress from all points of the compass and pointing the finger at just Cameron Fleming is wrong. They were beat all along the line and the communication there wasn’t the best.
The worst part is, the pressure Miami was bringing was right up the middle, not allowing Brady to step up enough and throw in the pocket.
Dolphins Secondary Dominates: Miami did a great job of taking away the middle of the field. Granted, that is a spot where Gronkowski normally dominates, but other than passes to the running backs, Brady and the wide receivers were never able to get anything going in the middle of the field until very late in the game.
Xavien Howard erased Brandin Cooks tonight, and intercepted Brady twice. Cooks was shut out until the fourth quarter when the Dolphins dropped into a zone and had a bad bust in coverage. But holding Cooks and Hogan to one catch a piece is a big win for their secondary.
Danny Amendola ended up with six catches with all of them coming in the second half. Miami forced Brady into his first two-interception game in the regular season since 2015 against Philadelphia. And the Patriots were an astounding 0-11 on third down.
Brady Battered and Flustered: Tom Brady was hit hard again and this time, the effects were shown. He finished 24-43 for 233 yards with one touchdown and two picks. His QB rating of 59.5 was his lowest since 2013.
Unable to convert a single third down and a combined 2-12 when targeting Cooks and Hogan, Brady was unloading those low percentage deep balls time and again. In the first quarter, the Patriots got two (2) yards of offense. Two, that is not the way you want to start. In the second half, they got away from targeting the running backs as they were forced to stay in and help with pass protection.
Kenyan Drake Shreds the Defense: The former Alabama third down specialist is now an every-down back and he’s electric. The Dolphins wanted to get him the ball more as he’s got tremendous speed. And his array of moves was on full display tonight. He faked Pat Chung with a spin move leaving Chung holding air that was amazing. And once he hits the hole, if the defense doesn’t lay a hand on him, he has the speed to take it to the house.
Drake finished with 25 carries for 114 yards and five catches for 79 more in the passing game. They split him out wide and isolated him on Elandon Roberts which is a total mismatch. While Roberts has issues in coverage, asking him to cover Drake deep is a win-win for Miami. He burned Roberts for a 47-yard gain deep down the right sideline.
If Drake can hold up physically, he’s going to be an intriguing member of the Fins to watch next year.
Butler Has Rough Game: Malcolm Butler had one of his least memorable games in Miami tonight. He was constantly behind in coverage and was beaten badly by Jakeem Grant a couple of times, one for a 25-yard touchdown and on another on a deep pass by Cutler that was perfectly thrown and the wide-open Grant dropped it.
Butler is going to have to have a very short memory this week as he’ll be facing Antonio Brown this week in Pittsburgh. And judging from the game Brown had on Sunday and Butler had last night, the Steelers will be going to the well early and often against Butler this Sunday afternoon.
Branch Injury Leaves Defense More Depleted: The Patriots defensive line took another shot as Alan Branch injured his knee in the first half, tried to return but left for good leaving an already depleted defense even thinner. Facing the Steelers offensive line and Le’Veon Bell on a short week, if Branch is unable to go, that will be a huge loss.
Right now they have Malcom Brown, Lawrence Guy, and Adam Butler inside, with Guy playing some on the edge as well with Trey Flowers and Kyle Van Noy out. Vincent Valentine hasn’t even begun practicing yet so expecting help from him this week is not going to happen.
The Patriots simply were outplayed from start to finish in this one. Miami was hungrier, more motivated and came out with a purpose. This is what we expected from New England. So the Dolphins are alive for one more week and the Patriots still hold their destiny in their hands. With a win over the Steelers, they’d still own the #1 seed. We’ll have more on this game later in the week.