NFL Wire News

Patriots run away from Dolphins

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The Sports Xchange

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Despite the short week and a sluggish start, the New England Patriots (7-0) pulled away from the Dolphins (3-4) for the 36-7 victory Thursday night at Gillette Stadium.

Offensively, New England’s win included everything that has come to be expected. Quarterback Tom Brady led the way with 355 yards passing, four touchdowns and no interceptions for a 133.2 passer rating. Tight end Rob Gronkowski got things rolling with a 47-yard catch-and-run opening score on his way to another 100-yard day. Wide receiver Julian Edelman added a pair of late touchdowns among his seven catches, while running back Dion Lewis returned from a rib injury to tally 112 yards from scrimmage and a couple more highlight reel plays to make Miami tacklers look silly.

Nearing the midway point of another march toward a possible undefeated season, all those are now expected on a weekly basis from a team that seemingly rolls out of bed and scores 30-plus points.

But the win over a team that had been so explosive in Dan Campbell’s first two weeks as interim head coach was as much about the New England defense as it was anything else.

Coordinator Matt Patricia’s unit came in looking to shut down Lamar Miller after the back’s consecutive 100-yard games that had him averaging six yards a carry. And that’s exactly what New England’s burgeoning front did, holding Miller to just 15 yards on nine attempts and keeping the Dolphins as a team to just a 1.2-yard average.

That success on run defense created two things – long-yardage third downs and a one-dimensional opponent. The result was a Miami team that converted just two of 11 third downs and a night for quarterback Ryan Tannehill that included a pair of interceptions and five sacks, even if he did put up 300 yards through the air.

“We’ve got a group that’s dialed in right now, just to the game plan,” safety Devin McCourty said. “We talked about third down. If we could just get off the field and let our offense do the work, we’d be good. I thought we started off, I think we gave up a first down, and then we just kept getting off the field on third down. And that’s huge – third down and turnovers, which we preached all week. And it showed tonight.”

New England actually held Miami to a punt or a turnover (botched snap safety and an interception) on the first six drives of the night. And while the success may overshadow a secondary that’s still a work in progress with young, inexperienced personnel, the front seven has become a real strength.

Defensive end Chandler Jones leads the NFL with 8.5 sacks, after getting to Tannehill twice. Dont’a Hightower and Jamie Collins create one of the best linebacker tandems in the game, a versatile duo that can play the run, rush the passer and cover.

“It was good team defense, which it always is when you play good,” head coach Bill Belichick said. “We had a couple good negative plays, put them in some long-yardage situations. That was helpful. And I thought Matt did a good job mixing up the calls – pressures, man, zone. But we had a lot of good plays by our front, linebackers were active, secondary was active. I thought we tackled well for the most part, and that was a really important part of this game because these guys make a lot of yards with the ball in their hands. They’re really good runners – (Jarvis) Landry, (Lamar) Miller – guys like that. Again, good team defense. No one guy can stop that type of offense. You’ve got to have all 11 guys doing their job and we had that.”

If the Patriots continue to get such an effort, and such a performance each week combined with the offense that’s the best in the NFL, New England will be seemingly, well, unbeatable. And given the history of Belichick-coached teams getting better as the season wears on, the rest of the league has seemingly been put on notice that the defending champs are very much headed toward defending their title.

The offense is leading the way, but the defense is growing more and capable of doing its share on a weekly basis.

“I think this whole team knows each week we’ve got to get better, and it’s no different – offense, defense, special teams,” McCourty concluded. “It’s the same thing. We’ve just got to keep getting better each week and improve throughout the season. And to me, that’s what we’re showing. We’re doing that each week, getting better. Different offenses, different schemes, but when we dial in and adjust each week and go out there and play, we do alright.”

REPORT CARD VS. DOLPHINS

–PASSING OFENSE: B-plus. Only the high expectations that come as the best passing offense in the game led by arguably the greatest passer in history keep the Patriots from an even higher mark here. QB Tom Brady completed 26 of 38 passes for 356 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions for a 133.2 passer rating. He was sacked just twice, but was hurried often throughout the night, in part leading to a three-of-12 conversion rate (25 percent) on third downs that’s well below New England’s usual standards. Brady hit three different players with six or more passes, led by TE Rob Gronkowski’s 113 yards on his six receptions, including a 47-yard catch-and-run score in the first quarter. WR Julian Edelman had seven catches for 81 yards and a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns. Pass-catching running back Dion Lewis also bounced back from injury to catch six balls for 93 yards, including a 16-yard score. Defensive ends Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon gave the Patriots tackles problems, otherwise the New England passing attack cruised along yet again to continue to put up huge numbers.

–RUSHING OFFENSE: C-plus. The Patriots clearly wanted to run the ball more than they did a few days earlier when they ignored the ground game against the Jets. LeGarrette Blount opened the game with an 8-yard ran and closed it out with some late production, but in between the New England ground game wasn’t overly impressive against a Miami defense that came in 30th against the run. Coordinator Josh McDaniels’ play-calling balanced out the offense with 26 runs for just 95 yards and a 3.7-yard average. Blount led the way with 17 carries for 72 yards, but 26 of those yards came on his final three carries when the game was long over. RB Dion Lewis added a limited spark on the ground in the second half with a nice 11-yard run, but still only managed 19 yards on his five attempts. This was a game where the Patriots probably could and should have expected a bit more consistency out of Blount and the ground game, even behind a banged up offensive line.

–PASS DEFENSE: B. Miami entered the game with plenty of offensive momentum and big plays in recent weeks. Though QB Ryan Tannehill completed 28 of his 44 throws for 300 yards, the Patriots never allowed the big plays that had fueled the Dolphins of late. In fact, New England got the big plays of its own with five sacks and a pair of interceptions on the night. DE Chandler Jones had a pair of those sacks, including one in which he impressively beat a double team from tight end Jordan Cameron and left tackle Branden Albert. S Logan Ryan and Duron Harmon notched the interceptions. WR Rishard Matthews led Miami with seven catches for 62 yards while WR Jarvis Landry had six catches for 71 yards, at times making Malcolm Butler look bad. But the linebackers did an impressive job holding Lamar Miller to just 19 yards on his five catches, symbolic of the impressive tackling that the Patriots did overall to ensure that Tannehill’s trademark short passes didn’t turn into catch-and-run big plays. The pressure and the playmaking combined for a solid if not shutdown night for New England.

–RUSH DEFENSE: A. Five days after completely shutting down a hobbling Chris Ivory, New England’s front did the same to a healthy, more dynamic Lamar Miller. Coming off consecutive 100-yard games, the Miami lead back had just 15 yards on his nine rushes, including an 8-yard run on Miami’s first play of the night. Over the next three-plus quarters the Patriots dominated the run game to make Miami one-dimensional and put the visitors in longer-yardage passing situations. As a team, the Dolphins averaged just 1.2 yards per carry on 13 attempts, just 0.6 yards per attempt after the first play of the night. New England’s improving and impressive run defense came in looking to hem Miller in and did just that in very impressive fashion.

–SPECIAL TEAMS: B. Stephen Gostkowski has clearly established himself as one of the best kickers in the game today. Thursday night that included two more field goals, one a 52-yarder, to extend his streak to 26 straight, passing Adam Vinatieri for a franchise record. He also hit all four of his PATs to extend his NFL record streak and put all seven of his kickoffs in the end zone. The All-Pro also made a touchdown-saving tackle on Landry on a 50-yard return that was really the lone black mark in the Patriots kicking game all night. Punter Ryan Allen continues to roll right along as well despite a slightly more active night than he’s used to, hitting a net average of 42.5 on his six punts, including four downed inside the 20. Julian Edelman had a 17-yard punt return, while the punt coverage held Landry to just a 2.3-yard average.

–COACHING: B. Playing on Thursday Night Football presents a unique challenge for coaches to get their team ready – physically and mentally – on the short week. That challenge was even more unique for Bill Belichick and his staff as they prepared for a Miami team that had played just two games under interim coach Dan Campbell. Though it wasn’t always easy and at times looked like the typical ugly Thursday night affair, the game plans on both sides of the ball were well executed. Offensively that included a more balanced approach that was productive if not impressive. Defensively the clear focus was getting the run game stopped early on, tackling well and avoiding the big plays. All three were accomplished. The Patriots are clearly the more experienced, talented team in this matchup, and they executed as such after a week that included a trio of light walk-throughs to prepare. It’s not always easy to take care of business in the NFL and win games that you’re expected to at home, but Belichick’s consistency trickles down to his coaching staff and players as the Patriots achieve that goal more often than most.


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