Monday, December 11, 2006

Patriots 0, Dolphins 21 (12/10/2006)

Say “good-bye” to the Bye. The Dolphins severely damaged the Patriots chances at one of the first two playoff spots with a 21-0 undressing in Miami. At 9-4, the Pats maintained their two-game lead in the division (thank you, Jets), but any hope of catching the Ravens or Colts is just about gone (essentially two games behind with three to play).

I guess that’s what happens when you can count the good plays on one hand and all of them were on defense. Tough to win when you can’t score, and the offense was bad, worse, and worst all day. 66 net yards passing, 5 sacks, 3 fumbles, 4 badly timed penalties for 20 yards (and a nullified touchdown), and a paltry 3.3 yards per play (including 2.0 yards per pass attempt). Did I leave anything out?

To repeat, the offense was awful. The O-line looked like they were playing five-against-ten, with rushers coming free play after play. It looked like Nick Kazcur and Matt Light were in their first professional games. Neither could stop a power rush or slow down a speed rush. Dolphins defensive end Jason Taylor even beat a two-offensive-linemen double-team by just splitting them up the middle and crashing into Brady. Don’t be fooled by the rushing stats (123 yards, 4.9 average); the offensive line stunk up the joint.

As for the running backs, Dillon was fine (79 yards on 16 carries), and Kevin Faulk did okay work both running and passing. Unfortunately, the Pats couldn’t keep it on the ground because penalties and negative plays kept them in long-yardage all day. And Faulk messed up a crucial play when threw a forward pass to Brady instead of a lateral, which nullified a touchdown that would have made the game 13-7 with ten minutes to go. Instead, Brady was strip-sacked three plays later and the game was over.

Rosevelt Colvin and Ty Warren were the defensive stars of the game, and Colvin is coming on as the season closes just like last year. The team held the Dolphins to 1-6 on third-down conversions and only 6 points in the first half, but it just didn’t matter. With the offense playing like it was the pre-season, the defense needed to get a turnover in the first three quarters to really make a difference. And they couldn’t do it.

To top it off, Vince Wilfork was injured in the third quarter, and the Dolphins took advantage, running enough to draw the Pats defense up and then burning them with deep passes for 32 yards (a touchdown) and 26 yards (which led to a touchdown). If Wilfork can’t come back, the Pats are in trouble, because their remaining road games are against two of the top rushing teams in the NFL (Tennessee averages 4.5 yards per rush, Jacksonville 4.4). Be well, Vince… be well.

And Ken Walter, your 34.1 yard gross average and 29 yard net average just don’t cut it when your counterpart gives his team 41.2 and 37.7, respectively. Show us your rehab is complete, kick just one 50-yarder to restore our confidence, will ya?

And I’ve got one complaint for Josh McDaniels. I thought his double-lateral-Brady-pass that resulted in the called-back touchdown was great, and they ran enough to keep the Dolphins off-balance. But whomever decided to throw it 30-yards down field to Ben Watson on third-and-eleven must own up to it. It was still a 6-0 game, and you needed a first down – so if you called for the 30-yard pass, then stop it, and if Brady decided to throw it, then tell him to stop it. Nothing has killed you guys more this season than long pass attempts on third-and-manageable downs – long passes that end drives if they are off by six inches.

Statistical Oddity of the Week: The three best Patriots offensive plays of the day were a 21-yard pass to Troy Brown, a 17-yard run by Corey Dillon, and a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty on the Dolphins.

Weekly Water-cooler Wisdom: “The Patriots are tied for the fifth-best record in the league. Why does it feel like they’re almost out of the playoffs?”

Keep the faith,

- Scott

PS. Correction from last week: I said the Patriots had nine turnovers in two games -- it was really eight.

PPS. 9-4!

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