FOXBOROUGH – We get it. Jacksonville was the fifth preseason game, Detroit was the sixth.
Facing a 3-0 Miami Dolphins team at Gillette Stadium on Sunday afternoon, the Patriots suddenly found a renewed purpose. Looking nothing like the team we saw the previous two weeks, the Patriots went out and served notice to the outgunned Fish who is still the big brother in the division. Tom Brady threw for three touchdowns, Sony Michel became the first Patriot rookie running back to crack the 100-yard mark in six years, and the Patriots squished the Fish, 38-7. Only a late Dolphin touchdown ruined a shutout; otherwise, the afternoon was a complete domination for the Patriots.
Most satisfying from this win was the near shutout posted by the defense. Ryan Tannehill and the Dolphin offense were stuck in neutral for the entire game. Tannehill hit Kenny Stills for 22 yards on the first play, and Miami did next to nothing after that until Brock Osweiler came on in relief of Tannehill in the final period. The front seven was able to get pressure on Tannehill all game long, the Miami running backs were held in check for most of the game, and seven Miami drives ended either in turnovers or three-and-outs.
Miami’s low offensive numbers pretty much speak for themselves. Frank Gore led Dolphin rushers with 41 yards on 11 carries, but 29 of those yards was in late garbage time on the one Miami scoring drive of the day. Stills led the Dolphins in receiving yards with only 40 yards. Albert Wilson had four catches to lead the team. And Danny Amendola, returning to Foxborough for the first time since departing the team he won two Super Bowls with, had only two catches for 21 yards.
Tannehill was held to only 100 yards passing on 11 of 20 attempts. He threw one interception, and his rating was only 47.9. He was sacked only once, but was rushed and hurried all game long. The Patriots used several dime and quarter packages to take away the passing game, and it was successful all game long.
Tannehill also suffered a fumble, on a bad shotgun snap in the second quarter. Kyle Van Noy recovered at the Miami 22, and on the next play James White ran 22 yards for a touchdown to make it 17-0 Patriots at the time. He hit the line up the middle, then cut left and found a ton of open running room. School was pretty much out after that exchange of plays.
Sony Michel had a breakout game, his first big output in the NFL. He cracked the 100-yard barrier with 112 yards rushing on 25 carries, averaging 4.5 yards per carry. He is the first Patriot rookie back since Brandon Bolden (who also returned today to Foxborough as a Dolphin but did not play) to eclipse 100 rushing yards. It wasn’t a “dominating” 100 yards, but it was good enough for Tom Brady to use play action to open up the passing game. Perhaps more satisfying than the yards gained is the 25 carries, which will help the Patriots greatly if he doesn’t break down into December due to a heavy workload.
White was the leading receiver for the Patriots with 68 receiving yards on eight catches. Along with White, Cordarelle Patterson and Philip Dorsett hauled in scoring tosses for the Patriots. Patterson’s touchdown grab was a 55-yard fade toss left where he put a beautiful fake on T.J. McDonald after the catch and scampered untouched into the end zone. Also showing up on the stat sheet was Josh Gordon, who caught two passes for 32 yards in his Patriot debut after being acquired from Cleveland via trade.
White had 112 all-purpose yards, averaging over five yards per rush on eight carries. Both Michel and White had rushing touchdowns.
Brady finished 23 of 35 passing for 274 yards, and two interceptions. Those two picks kept the rating down to 94.2, something that will no doubt rankle Brady in the film room. Still, Brady looked like the Hall of Famer he someday will be, totally unflappable and in control. Credit the offensive line for not allowing the Miami pass rush to cause problems for Brady most of the time during the game, as Brady was not sacked at all on the afternoon.
This game showed everyone that all is still well in Foxborough. Literally nothing that happened Sunday afternoon resembled anything from the previous two weeks. Miami looked nothing like a 3-0 team, and New England looked nothing like a 1-2 team. It almost seemed, based on what you saw on Sunday, that the last two weeks were almost concession games, trying to get through the Julian Edelman suspension as well as seeing what works and what doesn’t work, and not worrying about winning the games. The Patriots perhaps thought that the two games were more losable than winnable, and now the Patriots are exactly where they were last year after four games, at 2-2.
The Patriots have very little time to catch their breath and relax, because they are on a short week. They will play Thursday night at home against the Colts, a team that they have handled with ease in the Andrew Luck era at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots should be ready to excel in this game also, as they have never yet allowed Luck to have any kind of success against the Patriots. Of course, it was against the Colts in a playoff game where DeflateGate was born. Suffice it to say that all footballs used in this game will be properly inflated.
But the Patriots are fine. As the season wears on, and players get more suited with their roles, the Patriots will look more and more like the annual Super Bowl contenders they have been for several years now. The Patriots have seen this sort of thing over the years, and 2-2 starts are never something that anyone at Fort Foxborough worries over.
See you Thursday night, and don’t worry. All is well. Reports of the end of the dynasty are greatly exaggerated.
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