Sunday’s 31-24 win over the Dolphins was obviously spoiled by the loss of Jimmy Garoppolo, but there were certainly a variety of things we came away with after the game. Here are some thoughts as we turn the page toward the Texans, who will visit Gillette Stadium on Thursday night.
1) Injured or not, Garoppolo comes away a winner – Jimmy Garoppolo already put together a pretty good showing for himself after his performance in Arizona, but on Sunday he proved week one wasn’t a fluke after coming out on fire against Miami. The third-year quarterback was 12-of-15 in the first quarter along 177 yards and two touchdowns and added another to begin the second quarter as he lit up the Dolphins’ defense and helped New England build a 21-0 lead. He left the game with 234-yards passing and seemed like he would have put up even more, had his day not ended early after being driven into the ground by Miami linebacker Kiko Alonso.
Even if Garoppolo isn’t able to come back before Tom Brady returns, he’s put enough down on film where he’s proven that he’s got what it takes to be a starter in this league. As a result, he’ll earn a big pay-day from someone and the only question for the Patriots will be whether or not another club will come up with enough to make Bill Belichick and the team want to part with him, which is obviously a good problem to have. However, even more importantly, Belichick can at least feel good about the fact that should the Patriots see Brady get hurt when he comes back, Garoppolo has proven he’s capable enough to step back in and help keep them going.
2) Blount is at the top of his game right now – This has been a frequent mention in recent weeks, but LeGarrette Blount looks about as good as he ever has and it’s obvious that with the weight he’s lost, he looks like a completely different player. On Sunday he showed the best of both worlds, showing some decent power runs inside as well as some burst around the outside that included him hurdling a defender on a 26-yard run, his longest of the afternoon as he went over 100-yards rushing for the 11th time in his career.
He came up big in the fourth quarter, carrying 11 times for 69 yards and helping the Patriots control the clock and close out the game. Make no mistake, his performances have been key in Garoppolo’s success, giving their offense enough of a running threat for both quarterbacks to execute play-action, which has opened things up in the passing game.
Overall, he’s been much more effective than he was by the end of last season, and he’s done more than could have been expected. The big question now will be whether or not he can maintain it over the course of the next 14 games, which will help in making sure they stay away from becoming one-dimensional.
3) Bennett Had a Great Game – Martellus Bennett had a solid afternoon, catching 5 passes on 6 targets, totaling 114 yards along with a touchdown. All five of those receptions went for over 10 yards, with four of them resulting in a first down (one was a touchdown – the league credits a player with a first down on a scoring play). It was Bennett’s 3rd career 100+ yard career game.
Bennett admitted after the game that he’s really enjoying his time in New England.
“I’m just having a lot of fun right now with these guys,” said Bennett via NESN. “I love my teammates. I love the coaches. I love this environment and the fans, and for me, that’s all it’s really about: Just going out there and doing the things I love to do, and having fun doing it.”
“I haven’t had this much fun in a long time in the NFL, and I think it’s making a difference for me. Because when it’s fun, it’s much easier to go out there and play.”
4) New England’s Defense Still a Work in Progress – Sunday’s performance against Miami was a little concerning, primarily as it pertains to the Patriots inability to adjust in the second half on the defensive side of the football. After shutting down the Dolphins and keeping them to just one first down in the first quarter, Miami started figuring it out in the second as Ryan Tannehill went 10-of-16 (63%) for 116 yards, which included a 7-of-10 performance on their scoring drive at the end of the first half when they got on the board with a field goal.
But in the 3rd quarter, while they cut down one Dolphins’ drive after they forced a turnover thanks to a fumble by Jay Ajayi to open the second half, Tannehill caught fire and they started really struggling. The Miami quarterback went 13-of-14 (93%) for 176 yards and a touchdown, and it carried over into the fourth quarter as he kept firing away as he put together a stretch where he hit 20-of-21 while adding another touchdown. Over that span, the Dolphins converted 4-of-5 third downs, which was a stark change compared to the first half where Miami went 1-of-5.
Fortunately, they created a turnover at the end to seal the victory thanks to Duron Harmon’s game-clinching interception, which is what good teams do to win games. Hopefully this is the last time we’ll see an opposing quarterback have that much second-half success because this game was just a play or two away from turning out differently.
5) Another Great Outing By Amendola – This is a potent group of receivers right now and Danny Amendola came out and played well again this weekend, catching all four passes thrown his way for 50 yards and two touchdowns. Amendola finds himself in the middle of an offense that for the first time in recent memory has very little in terms of weaknesses, with Julian Edelman, Chris Hogan and Malcolm Mitchell each rounding out an incredibly talented group. Bring back Rob Gronkowski into the mix to join Bennett, and they’ll become pretty lethal.
But Amendola is a talented player who should thrive with the number of one-on-one opportunities he’ll get this season, which could see him go out and have a great year.
Brissett now finds himself front-and-center after Garoppolo’s injury. (USA TODAY Images)
6) Edelman and Brissett Not Yet on the Same Page – With Garoppolo, Julian Edelman caught 13-of-15 for 135 yards, with the two failing to connect on just two attempts. On Sunday, Brissett connected on just 1-of-3 attempts to the veteran receiver, as the two don’t seem to yet be on the same page.
There weren’t many attempts by Brissett as the quarterback only threw the football 9 times on the afternoon with six completions, but he was perfect targeting Bennett (3-of-3 for 68 yards) and James White (1-of-1 for 5 yards), and he was 1-of-2 targeting Hogan for 12 yards.
It looks like for the foreseeable future they’ve got a little bit of work ahead of them as even Garoppolo and Edelman were a little shaky back in the preseason before they settled in together. Hopefully the same will happen for Brissett.
7) First Turnovers of 2016 for Patriots Defense – After forcing no turnovers last week out in Arizona, the Patriots defense took the ball away from Miami four times on Sunday, picking off Tannehill twice along with forcing two fumbles.
Both Logan Ryan and Jonathan Freeny each forced a fumble, while Chris Long and Trey Flowers each recovered them. The interception by Jamie Collins was big because it took the ball away from Miami at midfield late in the first half and prevented a potential scoring opportunity for the Dolphins, and the one by Duron Harmon was obviously massive because it sealed the win. Anytime you can force four turnovers, it’s definitely a good thing and hopefully this is the beginning of a trend for this unit heading into the rest of the season.
8) Patriots Losing the Penalty Battle thus far – So far through two games, the Patriots have been the more penalized team in both contests. They committed 8 last week compared to 6 for the Cardinals, with two of the more significant ones coming in the fourth quarter and came on back-to-back plays. Marcus Cannon had an offensive holding penalty that negated a pass interference penalty that would have given the Patriots a first down, followed by an offensive holding penalty on Bennett that negated a 10-yard catch by Edelman on a 3rd-and-4 that would have given them a first down to the Cardinals 15.
On Sunday they committed seven penalties compared to Miami’s 5, and again made a few that cost them. Joe Thuney had an untimely offensive holding penalty on a 2nd-and-9 at the Miami 30-yard line that negated a first down after a 14-yard pickup by James White, although fortunately, the Patriots went on to score a touchdown on that drive.
Logan Ryan also had a pass-interference penalty that gave the Dolphins the ball at the 12-yard line, which Miami ended up converting for a touchdown.
But Thuney again had an offensive holding penalty in the fourth quarter on a 2nd-and-5 that negated a 7-yard gain by Brissett which would have put the Patriots at the Dolphins’ 28. Instead, it backed them up into 2nd-and-15 and the Dolphins got a sack, which helped also push the Patriots out of field goal range and spoiled another potential scoring opportunity and kept the game within reach for Miami, who scored on their ensuing drive.
Those are things that likely drive Belichick crazy, and it’s certainly been an issue so far through two games.
9) Surprising Clutch Miss For Gostkowski – After a perfect start in week one where he hit all three of his field goals out in Arizona, Gostkowski missed an uncharacteristic field goal at a critical time on Sunday against the Dolphins when he pushed a 39-yard field goal wide right that would have sealed the win for the Patriots.
The thing that’s a little surprising is the fact Gostkowski also missed two field goals during the preseason, missing one kick from less than 39 yards and another from over 50. We get a little spoiled here in New England given how consistent he’s been, and it’s rare for him to miss kicks like this so early in the season, especially at home. The normally clutch veteran isn’t one to miss a kick like that in critical moments, and considering he’s had a little trouble this early in the year, hopefully it’s not something we see as the year progresses and the weather begins to turn.
10) Big Plays Given Up By the Defense is Concerning – One thing to keep an eye on in the coming weeks is going to be the number of big plays given up by the defense, which saw a spike on Sunday against the Dolphins.
Last week in Arizona, the Patriots allowed four plays of 20 or more yards, while on Sunday they allowed seven. That’s obviously unacceptable and something that will likely be a point of emphasis going into their match-up Thursday night with the Texans since, regardless of who the Patriots line up under center, it’s something they’re going to need to get better at moving forward.