It was a tale of two football games all wrapped into one as I observed Saturday’s match-up between the Miami Dolphins (5-10) and the New England Patriots (12-3). Coaches at every level of sports always preach about playing from start to finish, and it was on full display this past weekend! The Dolphins defense completely dominated the first half of the game, making Patriots quarterback Tom Brady look confused and frustrated. At one point in the first half, Brady was two of nine for 31 yards with two sacks, four hurries and knocked to the ground three times! All Dolphins fans know now that Brady turned into the elite player that he is in the second half and led the Patriots to their 12th victory of the season. Here are some of the things I learned watching both the good and the bad from last week’s game!
1) The Dolphins Have Play Makers On Both Sides Of The Football – The Miami Dolphins could not have written a better script or executed a better game plan to start the game against New England on Saturday afternoon. It all started on defense for the Miami as they made Brady look uncomfortable in the pocket, and set the tempo early by bringing pressure from everywhere. Safety Yeremiah Bell (second sack of the season) and linebacker Jason Taylor (seventh sack of the year, 139.5 of his career) found their way to Brady in the first two defensive series, getting sacks and making life miserable for the Patriots offense. Linebacker Karlos Dansby led all Dolphin defenders with 13 total tackles and Bell was second with 12. The Patriots offense was forced to punt on six straight possessions and the last drive of the first half ended with a missed field goal! The Dolphins offense found a way to put 17 points on the scoreboard and created multiple big plays starting with quarterback Matt Moore (three touchdown passes against New England and 15 on the season) finding wide receiver Brandon Marshall for 47 yards early in the second quarter. That set up the Moore to Marshall 19 yard touchdown and the Dolphins were rolling! Marshall had a huge game catching seven passes for 256 yards and averaging 22.3 yards per reception. Running back Reggie Bush was spectacular once again rushing for over 100 yards for the fourth straight week (22 carries for 113 yards verses the Patriots) and eclipsing 1,000 yards for the season (now with 1,086 for the season) for the first time in his six-year career.
2) Hard To Stop Brady And Company For Four Quarters – When looking at Tom Brady’s stat line after the game (27 of 46 for 304 yards and one touchdown through the air, two on the ground) it’s hard to imagine that he would get to those lofty numbers throwing for only 87 yards in the first half! Brady was able to change the tempo of the offense going no-huddle to spark the offense. His 304 yards marked the 10th time Brady passed for over 300 yards this season, and that’s tied for 2nd-most such games in NFL history. Patriots receiver Wes Welker was invisible through two quarters and looked like he was as frustrated as Brady! Welker only had two receptions for 20 yards going to the locker room, but the second half was a different story. Welker finished the game with 138 yards on 12 catches and looked like the leading receiver in the league. Tight end Rob Gronkowski was quiet most of the afternoon, but his opening catch of the second half for 22 yards seemed to set the tempo for Brady and company. Gronkowski finished with modest numbers against the Dolphins (seven receptions for 78 yards) but a twenty yard catch and a key nine yard reception led to 10 points down the stretch.
3) It Was A Mixed Bag For Matt Moore – Quarterback Matt Moore has been very impressive this season for the Miami Dolphins and his numbers against the Patriots (294 yards and three touchdowns) were solid. Moore led the Miami offense into the red-zone three times and was perfect on the afternoon converting in all three attempts. Big plays were plentiful connecting with Marshall for 47 yards that led to a 19-yard bullet down the seam for a touchdown, and finding wide receiver Brian Hartline for 39 yards. Two more positive plays stand out to me as Moore showed great patience and poise in the pocket allowing tight end Charles Clay to clear underneath the Patriots linebackers for an easy touchdown. The other play showed terrific anticipation throwing the football with touch into the back of the end zone allowing wide receiver Davone Bess to adjust and make a play for his quarterback in the end zone. There’s only a short list of plays that Moore would like to have back, but they were plays that changed the momentum of the game! The center/quarterback exchange fumble (recovered by Nose Tackle Vince Wilfork) that gave the Patriots offense instant field position (New England gets the football on the Miami 33 yard line) is always on the quarterback. The other play that could have been a big play for the Dolphins but resulted in a turnover for the Patriots (New England leads the AFC in turnover ratio at plus 15) when Moore pass to Hartline was under-thrown and intercepted by Patriots defensive back Devin McCourty. Matt Moore is a quality quarterback and has given this team an opportunity to win over the last nine football games, but sometimes the guy pulling the trigger needs to play a bigger role down the stretch. Moore was hit and pressured in the pocket on numerous occasions in the second half (Dolphins gave up five sacks on Saturday) and that needs to change this week against the New York Jets.
4) Injuries Piling Up – The injury situation didn’t improve after Saturday’s game against the Patriots. Miami came into the game with starting tight end Anthony Fasano out with concussion-like symptoms and his status won’t be updated until this Wednesday. All-Pro offensive tackle Jake Long left the game in the first half with a right bicep injury and he was replaced by John Jerry. Long has been battling knee and back issues over the last couple of weeks, but he ‘s not the only concern on offense. Running back Reggie Bush limped off of the field late in the fourth quarter with what appeared to be a leg injury, and his status will be updated on Wednesday. That could be a problem because Daniel Thomas left the game in the first half with a knee injury. The defense was hit with an injury as well when corner back Vontae Davis had to leave the game after suffering an elbow injury that forced Davis to miss most of the fourth quarter.
5) AFC East Games Are Usually Competitive No Matter What The Records Are– It’s easy to watch Saturday’s game and say that the Patriots (12-3) and the Dolphins (5-10) are teams heading in different directions. New England is in the playoffs and could be the number one seed hosting games throughout while Miami is hoping to beat the New York Jets (8-7) on Sunday to win their sixth game of the season, and keep the Jets out of the playoffs. New England has twelve wins and arguably the best quarterback in the league, but needed a second half rally to defeat an inconsistent Dolphins team. The Jets need a win desperately at Sun Life Stadium to keep there playoff hopes alive, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Miami completely shuts out quarterback Mark Sanchez and the Jets offense on Sunday! These teams know each other so well inside the division that anything can happen and it usually sets up for some entertaining football. It would be a huge surprise if the Buffalo Bills (6-9) can force Brady into four interceptions this time around in there season finale, but it wouldn’t shock me to watch Miami win at home and keep the Jets home for the new year.
The opinions, analysis and/or speculation expressed by The Finsiders Blog represent those of individual writers, and unless quoted or clearly labeled as such, do not represent the opinions, policies or desires of the Miami Dolphins organization, front office, coaches and executives. Writers' views are formulated independently from any inside information and/or conversation with Dolphins officials, including the coaches and scouts, unless otherwise noted.