MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – All week long, the talk was about Antonio Brown. He shoots his way out of Oakland, is picked up by the Patriots a minute later, and then gets hit with a federal civil lawsuit alleging rape and sexual assault.
Patriot Nation has a lot to think about regarding the signing of Brown. The rest of the NFL has another problem to deal with, that being the Patriot defense.
The Miami Dolphins were blasted at home last week by the Baltimore Ravens, 59-10. The immediate impression was that the Dolphins intend to tank the regular season, and get into a position to draft Alabama quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (or perhaps Oklahoma quarterback Jalen Hurts or Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence), prompting several Miami players to contact their agents to try and get them traded away from the Dolphins. The Patriots came into this game a 19-point favorite at Miami, a remarkable spread given how poorly the Patriots play here, and the fact that it is in hot and humid September, with the heat index at 100 degrees at kickoff.
No such problem for the Patriots. The Patriots were able to withstand some offensive yips and substandard placekicking and still blast the Dolphins 43-0 at Hard Rock Stadium on Sunday. The Patriots shut out the Dolphins in Miami for the first time in franchise history. Miami was held to 184 total team offensive yards and only 11 first downs for the entire game. The Patriots picked off four passes, two of which went for pick-sixes. If you picked the Patriot defense in fantasy football, you were rewarded with a whopping 35 points.
There were some interesting backstories in this game, but the overall feeling you get from this game is that this may be, barring injuries down the road, the best defense in Patriot history. Combined with holding the Steelers to only 3 points last week, and the carryover from holding the Rams to 3 points in Super Bowl LIII, this defense is off and running and looking like a defense for the ages. It is early, but the Patriot defense, especially minus Brian Flores, looks like a monster.
Flores, now the Miami head coach, may have been the target of some bad sportsmanship by Bill Belichick late in the game. On the final offensive possession of the game for the Patriots, Belichick left Tom Brady in up 37-0 and needing only to run the ball and run out the clock. Instead of what would have been a perfect time to indoctrinate Jarrett Stidham into some real game action, Brady was in there.
Brady lined up in the shotgun on some occasions, and he came out slinging as if it was the final moments of Super Bowl XXXVI. The Patriots drove 59 yards in five plays, with Brady hitting a wide-open James White for a 10-yard screen pass for a touchdown to make it 43-0. This was clearly an unnecessary touchdown, and it looked like running up the score. Then on the ensuing drive, the last one for the Dolphins, keeping the shutout was a priority for the Patriots. Belichick called time with 10 seconds left and the Dolphins at the Patriot 25. Josh Rosen hit Jakeem Grant in the left flat for 17 yards, which nearly ended the game. Flores called time with one second left. On the final play, a tipped ball went to Jamie Collins to end the game and preserve the shutout, but the exchange of time outs by both coaches was also telling.
In his press conference, Belichick gruffly said “We play for sixty minutes.” On a local postgame show, Bert Breer of Sports Illustrated opined that Belichick was more upset with Flores taking assistants with him (Chad O’Shea, Jerry Schuplinski) than he was with Flores simply going to Miami. Belichick was in a difficult situation in the offseason with his coaching staff, not helped by the sudden retirement of new defensive coordinator Greg Schiano. Belichick, as he has shown in past years, is easily angered by former players and coaches who seem to diss him on their way out the door, such as Eric Mangini when he bolted to the Jets and took assistants with him a decade ago.
Collins and Stephon Gilmore both had pick-sixes. Both came in the fourth quarter on consecutive drives. Gilmore jumped the route when Ryan Fitzpatrick tried to hit DeVante Parker in the right flat and took it 50 yards to the house. On the next drive, Fitzpatrick hit Kalen Ballage in the left flat with a perfect throw, but the ball caromed off his stone fingers and landed in the arms of Collins. He lumbered 69 yards for the score, and seemed to run out of gas after 50 yards of more running than he is used to.
Brady managed some good numbers nonetheless, despite an offensive line missing both starting tackles as the game went along. Marcus Cannon was an injury scratch due to a sore shoulder, and Isaiah Wynn left the game in the first half with a sore foot. But Brady finished with 20 of 28 passing for 264 yards, two touchdowns and a 124.7 rating. He was sacked twice but otherwise looked in control and anything but a 42-year-old. He spread the ball around nicely, hitting seven different receivers.
Brown started fast and had a good first half, but fizzled on a third quarter drive and wasn’t heard from again. Brown led the Patriots with four catches for 56 yards and a touchdown, the scoring play coming in the second quarter on a nice timing throw to the left pylon with Brady releasing the ball before Brown made his hook, the play covering 20 yards. He and Brady have a long way to go as far as chemistry, but for the first game, especially the first half, Brown deserves a lot of credit for looking so good so early in his Patriot career.
Stephen Gostkowski had a bad day with his placekicking. He missed two extra points and a 48-yard field goal in the second quarter. His kickoffs were all touchbacks, so the length is not lacking. Historically Gostkowski kicks poorly here in Miami, so a bad game like this isn’t unexpected nor should be interpreted as a red flag. But it is annoying at worst, someone of his pedigree consistently playing substandard here in Miami.
The last time the Patriots played in Florida in September, they were smacked around by Jacksonville last year, 31-20, on a hot and humid day worse than this. For the Patriots to come down here in a stadium which has been inhospitable to them and weather that really bogs them down, to win 43-0 against an obviously bad Miami team is still a good thing. They come home to the Jets next weekend, minus Sam Darnold who is ill with mononucleosis. Assuming Brown survives this week and doesn’t get put on the commissioner exempt list, he will get a full week with Brady and everyone else, learning this offense in the process.
Meanwhile, Flores might tuck this loss away and plan for the day when he gets even. It likely won’t be this year, but he won’t forget the last three minutes of this game. He will remember this longer than he will anything Antonio Brown.