Tuesday, October 12, 2004

Patriots 24, Dolphins 10 (10/10/2004)

Hey, some people might be bored with this, but not me. My first six years with season tickets went like this: one game followed by a player's strike; 5-11; 1-15; 6-10; 2-14; 5-11. In fact, in the 1-15 season I went to all eight home games and they *lost every single one*. So I have no apologies for enjoying 19 wins in 19 weeks. It's a great accomplishment that has gotten just about the right amount of national attention. And as Seattle's loss on Sunday (after leading by 17 points with 5:50 left the game) showed, it is easy to lose your focus for just a few minutes and cost yourself a game. The Pats have maintained that focus, and have beaten 12 consecutive over-.500 opponents -- not bad, not bad at all.

Now, on to the ugliness. Tom Brady goes 7-19 for 69 yards, two touchdowns, one INT; Miami kicker injured *during warm-ups*. Pats go 4-14 on third-down conversions; Miami rushes for a 2.6 yard average. Both teams get more first downs by penalties than by running plays. Brady gashes his chin and is knocked around a lot more than the one sack would indicate; Miami loses both quarterbacks by game's end (and both are likely out for next week, too). Take your pick; it was an ugly game. But in the end, only the score counted and that went in the Patriots favor for the 19th consecutive time.


I thought the offense performed pretty well. Miami's defense is very good, and their plan was to hit Brady whenever they could (including some "roughing-the-passer") -- and it showed. So the Pats ran the ball right down their throat, and that worked pretty well. The Patriots out-gained Miami 2-to-1 in rushing, and once they had a lead, it allowed them to work the clock while daring Miami to try to score. Which of course, Miami could never do.

Given how the game played out, I give the O-line, tight end, and running backs a lot of credit. It was great to see Kevin Faulk back in the lineup, and Corey Dillon went for almost 100 yards and the recently picked-up Rabih Abdulla added a touchdown against a very stout defense. With Bethel Johnson, Troy Brown, and Deion Branch on the sideline, the Pats went with only three wide-receivers -- one signed only the previous week. And they did enough to get 24 points, which is more than you might expect against Miami, even with a full compliment of players. Brady's aforementioned stats are terrible, but if you want the most important stat in the game, here it is: red-zone efficency, Dolphins 20%, Patriots 100%. Ballgame. Two great play-fakes for two easy touchdowns were the difference.


Another stellar performance by Rodney Harrison. He was in on just about every big play of the game, and he anchored the secondary without Tyrone Poole (and sometimes Ty Law). And the play of the young guys continues to impress. Randall Gay got his first INT, Asante Samuel acquitted himself nicely (notwithstanding two completions against him), and Vince Wilfork played his best game as a pro. Now the Miami O-line is pretty bad, so I don't want to go overboard about Wilfork; but he might be the key to the Patriots having another very successful year. When he plays well, the Pats play a 3-4 defense (three defensive lineman and four linebackers), and in essence, that allows them to have much more complex blitzes and Rodney Harrison is free to blitz, drop into coverage, or help with the run. Keith Traylor has not been able to handle the demands of the 3-4, but Wilfork has shown flashes of being able to do so. He continues to improve, and that improvement might be more important to the Patriots season than most people think.

As for the rest of the defense, Bruschi and Law had big days, and I thought Roman Phifer played well. Also Richard Seymour and even Keith Traylor made some important plays. However, Ted Johnson is just a liability in pass defense. That wouldn't be so bad, except that the offense seems to change to a pass play whenever they see Johnson on the field. Now, the only reason they bring Johnson into the game is when we're having trouble stopping the run; so this situation bears watching. Better play from Wilfork and Traylor could mean less playing time for Johnson.

As for the overall defense, any time you stop a team from scoring 80% of their trips inside the red zone, you have accomplished something. Heck, the Dolphins had first-and-goal inside the one-yard line, and they lost 13 yards *and* both quarterbacks and didn't score. That's impressive no matter how bad the other team's offense is.

Special Teams

I guess they practiced and practiced and practiced all last week, and it seems to have sunk in. The Pats cut Shawn Mayer and signed Je'Rod Cherry (from last year's team) and some speed burner named Kevin Kasper. There are also rumors that Bethel Johnson was inactive for the game because he wasn't practicing hard enough. And the message finally got through: Miami averaged only 20 yards per kickoff return and 8 yards per punt return. The Pats return game wasn't better than it was against Buffalo, but the coverage teams were markedly better. Larry Izzo and Cherry were the special teams stars, seeming to make just about every tackle there was to be made.


I'll say it again: the Patriots haven't played their best football yet. They're getting better -- fewer turnovers and penalties and better special teams coverage. And they will have to continue improving to beat a very good Seattle team this week. I won't be at the game (::sobbing::), but I'll be rooting right along with the rest of you. I think the Pats will score against Seattle, especially if they get one or two receivers back this week. So the burning question will be whether or not Seattle can score more against the Patriots. And I think the answer will be "no."

Your Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom:

"This was the second week in a row the Patriots played a team that *should have* signed away a Patriots assistant to be their head coach. The Dolphins are fond of blaming all their problems on Ricky Williams [who left the team just before the season started]. But their biggest off-season blunder was keeping a coach whose teams continued to decline even as they added more talented players."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 4-0!

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