Monday, October 22, 2007

Patriots 49, Dolphins 28 (10/21/2007)

Sometimes, I can't believe I'm writing things like, "Patriots 49, Dolphins 28." The Pats didn't just destroy the Dolphins on Sunday. They crushed them, smashed them into little pieces, and fashioned them into a decorative mosaic for floor of the new Patriots Hall of Fame. The Pats have won games by 21+ points before (6 times this season, in fact), but I never remember them imposing their will on another team the way they did on Sunday. The win kept them undefeated and maintained their 4.5 game lead over the "surging" Buffalo Bills (now 2-4).

In the past, Miami has given Tom Brady trouble, mostly by pressuring him with their front four. But not in this game. Brady was barely touched (even with some complex blitzes), and he threw away only two passes and was sacked just once. He completed his first 11 passes, and finished 16 of 19 for 291 yards and 5 touchdowns. Finished the *first half*, that is. For the game he was 21 of 25 for 354 yards, 6 -- count 'em -- 6 touchdowns and a perfect QB rating of 158.3. His favorite targets were Wes Welker (9 catches for 138 yards and 2 touchdowns), Randy Moss (a ridiculous 30.5 yards per catch and 2 spectacular TDs), and Donte Stallworth pitched in with another tackle-breaking run-after-the-catch for a 30-yard touchdown. Brady's heave-ho throws for Moss touchdowns were not great, and he won't get away with them against a much better secondary next week. But it was nice to see them take the calculated risk against an undermanned defense and to have Moss there to make the play.

But Brady owes everything he got in this game to the O-line. They kept Brady clean and let him stand back there and slice-and-dice the Dolphins D. Only a few players came free on blitzes, and Brady got rid of the ball when they did. For the most part, the pocket was picture perfect and the QB had time to look over the whole field more than once. The Pats didn't do much in the rushing department, but after they got the big lead, the Dolphins loaded up to stop the run. Laurence Maroney returned for limited duty (6 rushes for 31 yards), and the Patriots were actually out-rushed 179 to 84 -- not that it mattered much.

The defense featured a resurgent Tedy Bruschi (12 tackles), Rodney Harrison (8 tackles and 1 sack), and steady play from Adalius Thomas (7 tackles). Vince Wilfork played about half the time, and along with Ty Warren, he gave the Dolphins fits in the running game. The 'Phins got most of their rushing yards against second-teamers and nickel and dime packages in the third- and fourth-quarters. The secondary made some nice plays: Asante Samuel knocked down a few passes, Randall Gay intercepted a throw in the end zone, and Rodney Harrison was good in run support. But overall, I'd give the defense a B+ on the day. They had a fair number of missed tackles, and even though they were in a prevent defense, Miami had too many easy plays in the second half. Also, Ellis Hobbs looked a step slow, and James Sanders was alternately very good and lost.

Special teams played very well indeed. Backup CB Willie Andrews was the star of the day, with a kickoff return for a touchdown and a great play to down a punt at the 1 yard-line. Stephen Gostkowski's kickoffs were consistently touchbacks, and the punt and kick coverage made the Dolphins work a long field all day. Miami's average starting point was their own 18 yard-line, and they never started a drive beyond their own 26.

The coaching was very good. A solid game plan and nice adjustments on defense. Some have questioned whether or not the Patriots are running up the score, but I thought Belichick's explanation was perfectly valid. Lest we forget that three short years ago, the Pats lost in Miami after leading 28-17 with just over 2 minutes left in the game. Maybe the fake-spike play was bush-league, but I think Brady called that, not Belichick, and it was a heat-of-the-moment decision not a calculated one.

So where does that leave us? Again, the AFC East race is effectively over; the Patriots are 7-0 with a 4.5-game lead over their nearest rival. In baseball terms, that would be like the Red Sox having a 45-game lead after 70 games -- utter domination. Things do get tougher in the up-coming weeks (Washington and Indy). Washington has a very good defense and one of the best secondaries in the league. Their coach, Joe Gibbs, is pulling things together nicely, working with a young quarterback and a solid running game. It should be an interesting matchup, but I expect the Patriots will come out with a win at home, perhaps by forcing mistakes from a QB facing Belichick for the first time.

Statistical Oddity of the Week: The Patriots have outscored their opponents by 159 points this year, far and away the best point-differential in the NFL. Interestingly, it's exactly one point more than the second- and third-best differentials in the league combined (Steelers at 82 and Colts at 76).

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: "On 10 possessions to end the Dallas game and begin the Dolphins game, the Pats scored 8 touchdowns and 2 field goals. That's beyond domination, it's full-blown mastery."

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. 7-0!

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