FOXBOROUGH – The Miami Dolphins have a defense with an attitude, sometimes making questionably dirty plays. Maybe the reason for that is that is all they have going for them.
Miami’s season turned in the preseason when Ryan Tannehill was lost for the season. Retread veteran Jay Cutler was brought in, but his injury gave way to Matt Moore starting at quarterback. Patriot nemesis Jarvis Landry, who predicted two wins over the Patriots, tried his best to make that questionable prediction come true.
But the Dolphins aren’t anywhere close to the Patriots on paper, and having the game at Gillette Stadium didn’t help. Miami has now lost nine straight games in Foxborough, with the Patriots prevailing 35-17 on Sunday. Despite Landry catching eight passes for 70 yards, Moore was sacked seven times, threw two interceptions, and despite some stretches of finding a rhythm, was completely overmatched by the Patriot defense, who played cleaner and better than Moore’s Miami teammates did.
Tom Brady was knocked silly at times by the Dolphin defense, but looked happy and upbeat in his postgame press conference. Some of the hits on Brady were questionable, none of which drew penalties for roughing the passer. Cameron Wake was not called for a leg whip on a sack of Brady in the fourth quarter. Kiko Alonso, who ended Jimmy Garoppolo’s season last year at Gillette, gave Brady a forearm on a second quarter hit. Ndamokung Suh stopped Dion Lewis for a three-yard loss in the third quarter, tackling him by the facemask but did not get called for a penalty.
But those sacks of Moore helped the Patriots put the clamps on this game, and Brady was able to find receivers and throw four touchdown passes. Twice Brady hit Rob Gronkowski for touchdowns; those two are now the fifth most prolific quarterback-receiver touchdown duo in NFL history. Brandin Cooks continues his uptick, making six catches for 83 yards and a touchdown on a jet sweep in the fourth quarter.
Lewis enjoyed his best day as a Patriot, rushing for a career high 112 yards on 15 carries. Cooks also had an end around for 11 yards to go along with his pass catches. Rex Burkhead continues his yeoman work with 50 yards on 13 carries.
The Patriots were at times sloppy themselves. Brady was charged with two turnovers, but was responsible for only one of them. On the fourth play of the second quarter for the Patriots, they were sitting at their own 39, second and three. Brady was set up in the shotgun and was looking to his right, calling an audible. But backup center Ted Karras, filling in for the injured David Andrews, snapped the ball too early. The ball sailed over Brady’s left shoulder and rolled back towards the end zone. Reshad Jones picked up the loose ball and stumbled into the end zone to make it 14-7 Patriots. On the sideline, Dante Scarnecchia let Karras have it with a vocal onslaught. Karras called it “100% on me” when he was interviewed in the locker room.
Brady threw an uncharacteristic bad pick later in the second quarter. On third and eight at the Miami 48, Brady tried to force one into Danny Amendola in the left seam, but the ball went right to Bobby McCain, who would later be ejected from the game for throwing a punch at Amendola. Fortunately, the ensuing drive for Miami also ended in a pick, as Stephon Gilmore hauled in a Moore pass in the end zone at the end of the half.
The Patriots also suffered some noteworthy injuries. On the opening drive of the game, Miami held the Patriots to a three and out, but on fourth down at their own 27, the Patriots ran a fake punt and ran rugby buff Nate Ebner around right end for a try – oops, first down. Seriously, Ebner sustained a knee injury on the play and would not return. Special teams suffered another blow when Trevor Reilly had to leave the game after a violent collision on the opening kickoff of the second half. Marquis Roberts also left the game in the third quarter after assisting on a sack of Moore by Trey Flowers. Kyle Van Noy left the game in the fourth quarter, again also following a sack of Moore.
Brady finished the game 18 of 28 passing for 227 yards, four touchdowns, one interception and a passer rating of 114.1. Moore was 23 of 34 passing for 215 yards, one touchdown, two interceptions and a passer rating of 70.1. Despite Landry making some plays, Moore was never really able to find or sustain any kind of rhythm all game long.
The Patriots were able to keep pace with Pittsburgh for conference playoff positioning. The Steelers have the tiebreaker over the Patriots for the moment with a better conference record, but play an interconference game Sunday night against Green Bay. Assuming the Steelers win that game against a Packers team still minus Aaron Rodgers, other tiebreakers will kick in which will determine which team actually has the lead in the conference. The entire football world will still be looking to three weeks down the road, and that December 17th matchup at Heinz Field between the Patriots and the Steelers.
Bill Belichick will only be looking at next week, and the Patriots’ first matchup against the Buffalo Bills in western New York. The Patriots then get Miami again, down south in sultry south Florida. Both of these games could be trap games if Belichick allows it, which he won’t. The Patriots will finish the season with home games against Buffalo and the Jets. Most everyone assumes that the Patriots-Steelers game is the only game that matters.
Buffalo has shown flashes of brilliance this year, but currently has a quarterback issue with Tyrod Taylor and rookie Nathan Peterman. Peterman started last week and threw five picks. Taylor started this week and engineered a win over the floundering Kansas City Chiefs.
So, we are on to Buffalo, not Pittsburgh. That game will still have to wait.