|Are the Patriots Still Legitimate Super Bowl Contenders Without TE Rob Gronkowski?||Notes and Observations Week 14: Patriots Mount Another Improbable Comeback; Beat Browns 27-26||Connelly’s Top Ten – Patriots Stink but Exciting; Poor Gronk||Patriots Lose Gronk But Complete Miraculous Comeback to Beat Browns, 27-26|
It’s hard to justify a must win game in October, but this game was just that. After letting a win slip away against the Jets last week in overtime, a game against the division rival Dolphins became more important than usual. The Patriots needed this one to keep distance in the division as the Jets were only one game back in the loss column heading into Week 8. Luckily everything worked out in the end. The Patriots beat the Dolphins, and the Jets were manhandled by the Bengals.
- Everyone is all over Tom Brady’s right hand, and rightfully so. It certainly looks swollen and it’s no secret he’s been struggling to hit his receivers this year. He finished the game 13-for-22 with only 116 yards. He threw his ninth touchdown of the season but he also threw his sixth interception. The stats are way down and he continues to throw inaccurate passes to everyone from Rob Gronkowski all the way to Brandon Bolden. We hear you say that you’re fine, Brady, but forgive us if we’re a little skeptical due to what you’re showing on the field.
- No one on offense really had a terrific game, but Stevan Ridley showed again he is the best running back that this team has. He was benched in the first quarter for his apparent high step into the end zone against the Jets. When he came on the field, the offense got a much needed jolt. He was finding the hole and pushing the pile to keep drives moving. I like that they have multiple running backs on the team, but it is clear that when Ridley is out there the opposing defense has to account for the running game. It isn’t the same with Blount and Bolden as they don’t have the same explosiveness that Ridley does. Stevan finished the game with 79 yards on 14 attempts with a touchdown. For those keeping score, that’s a 5.6 yards per rush average.
- On the topic of benching players because of antics on the field, Logan Ryan suffered the same fate. He was on the bench for the first quarter of the game due to his crotch-grabbing touchdown. However, when he was on the field he did everything he could to make Belichick realize he needs to play this guy. Ryan finished the game with two sacks, one where he forced a fumble that was picked up by Rob Ninkovich. He almost had another pick-six but the ball bounced off his shoulders and hit the ground. He’s showing some real improvement week to week and is giving the Patriots some depth at defensive back that they have been missing for quite some time.
- In a game where Aqib Talib was once again inactive, the 60 million dollar man Mike Wallace only managed three catches for 41 yards. Money well spent, Miami.
- During the first half, the defense looked overmatched. They were getting carved up on the run and the four-man rush wasn’t getting any pressure. The second half was a complete 180. They did what I and many others have been calling for week after week. They blitzed, and they blitzed a lot. It seemed like every play in the second half they sent more rushers to put pressure on Ryan Tannehill, who has had his fair share of sacks this season.
- Have to give credit to Matt Patricia in this game. He saw the weakness with the offensive line and decided to attack the middle. He brought Brandon Spikes, Dont’a Hightower, and Dane Fletcher in different looks throughout the second half. The threat of the blitz made the Dolphins nervous. That was evident on a play where Fletcher showed blitz but dropped into coverage to cover the back Lamar Miller. Fletcher took away Tannehill’s check-down option and the Patriots, who only sent four, were able to get the coverage sack courtesy of Chris Jones and Ninkovich. The Patriots finished the game with six sacks of Tannehill.
- Joe Vellano and Chris Jones continue to defy expectations. What they lack in size and strength compared to Vince Wilfork, they make for in speed and technique. There have been a lot of four man defensive lines with Wilfork out for the year, and Jones and Vellano have combined to fill the void left by the big man. Jones had a sack while Vellano penetrated to defend a pass at the line. On another second half play, Vellano got into the backfield, chased Tannehill out of the pocket, and stayed with him all the way to the sideline. He wrapped him up but Tannehill just threw the ball away before he was down. Tannehill is a quick quarterback and Vellano stuck with him stride for stride, showing terrific pursuit. Jones and Vellano are certainly no Wilfork but they are playing at a high level for undrafted rookies.
- Marquice Cole is always an adventure to watch in coverage. He was burned on the second touchdown pass of the game, but he made up for it with that incredible interception. Devin McCourty set it up with a tremendous tip to keep the ball in play and Cole reeled it in while keeping his toes in bound. That play was all athleticism and awareness. It was reassuring watching the secondary play well even though they were missing their best player in Talib.
- It’s a shame the Gronkowski touchdown was called back. It’s been too long since a Gronk spike and Gillette went wild when he scored. The good news is that he survived another game without shattering his forearm again, so that’s a plus.
- While the offense still looks stagnant there is progress, particularly with wide receiver Aaron Dobson. He made a nice grab coming back for the ball on the fade in the end zone. Brady got hit as he threw so the ball was a little wobbly, but Dobson came in just a bit and went to the ground to make the nice grab for the score. Last week Brady was mad when Dobson ran up the sideline and Brady threw to his back shoulder. Dobson kept running instead of stopping and it was incomplete. This week Dobson broke off the route and caught the ball just the way they drew it up. Small victories.
- Brady struggled again so none of the receivers had a great game. What I did take away from that game is that when everyone’s healthy it looks like we’ll be seeing Danny Amendola, Julian Edelman, and Austin Collie as the main guys. Dobson played a good amount of snaps and continues to look like he’ll be the big downfield threat. Kenbrell Thompkins seems to be the odd man out, though. He only had two catches last week, and he had none this week while playing limited snaps. This offense is still trying to figure out exactly what its strengths are. I think they will try different looks and combinations of their receivers in the next couple of weeks.
- The Patriots have played far from perfect in the first half of the season, but they’re 6-2 and in control of the AFC East. That is legitimately all you could ask for through the first eight weeks.
Tags: Aaron Dobson, Aqib Talib, Brandon Bolden, Chris Jones, Danny Amendola, Devin McCourty, Dolphins, Joe Vellano, Logan Ryan, Marquice Cole, Mike Wallace, Patriots, Rob Gronkowski, Rob Ninkovich, Ryan Tannehill, Stevan Ridley, Tom Brady, Vince Wilfork