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Sunday’s game against the AFC East division rival Miami Dolphins could not have started out more poorly, but the Patriots managed to pull it together late and take down the Fins by a final of 27-17.
Early in the first, the Patriots received the ball at their own 27-yard line, advanced the ball a few yards, but then Tom Brady, while trying to hit Randy Moss, threw an interception to Dolphins cornerback Vontae Davis. On the ensuing Miami possession, a potential fumble that was returned for a TD was called back after review showed Dolphins’ quarterback Chad Henne had been in the act of throwing when he was hit. The Dolphins got the ball back and came away from the turnover possession with a field goal to take an early 3-0 lead.
The Patriots did not panic however, and responded with a score of their own on their next possession. After a squib kick gave them good field possession to start things off, Brady tossed a 36-yard pass to Randy Moss, who leaped into the air, grabbed the ball with one hand, and came down with it at Miami’s 1-yard line. A Laurence Maroney run promptly gave the Patriots the lead back at 7-3. This Brady-Moss connection would play itself out over and over again this game, as Moss caught six passes for a total of 147 yards, plus a touchdown pass later in the game (which he helped create by giving a beautiful stiff-arm to the man covering him).
The rest of the quarter was uneventful, as both teams traded possessions without scoring any points. The second quarter began with a Dolphins 3-and-out, which led to a Patriots field goal that made the score 10-3. It was during this drive that Tom Brady started heating up. All in all, he had an excellent day, going 25/37 with 332 yards, with 1 touchdown pass and 1 interception. Another player who had a solid day was Stephen Gostkowski, who went 4/4 on field goal attempts and booted several of his kickoffs for touchbacks, helping to neutralize Dolphins wide receiver and kickoff return specialist Ted Ginn, Jr.
The Dolphins used the second quarter to feature their Wild Cat offense, using Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams as their twin running backs. While this did not work all that well, they also featured the option play using Pat White at quarterback. He was able to rack up 45 of Miami’s 133 rushing yards via the option play, and it worked very effectively. In fact, it even led to a Ricky Williams touchdown run whenWhite faked the run and pitched back to the streaking Williams.
However, the Patriots responded with a solid drive, aided by two pass interference calls against Miami, and were able to come away from the half with another field goal that pushed their lead to 16-10. This drive featured the game debut of Wes Welker, who went on to have a solid day with nine catches for 84 total yards.
The ‘Fins began the second half with a beautiful drive that ate up over 10 minutes of clock time. They picked up several key first downs on 3rd or 4th and short, and seemed to rely on Pat White for short yardage situations and Chad Henne for longer yardage situations. The possession ended with a fake Wild Cat play, with Ronnie Brown connecting for a touchdown pass. This gave the Dolphins a one-point lead, but the Patriots remained unfazed. In only 1:36, the Pats responded with a touchdown drive of their own, with Brady connecting with Moss for a 71-yard touchdown pass. Brady also hit Moss for the 2-point conversion that gave the Pats a 24-17 lead through three quarters.
The fourth quarter was marked by more of the same from both sides. The Patriots had several promising drives that stalled out around mid-field, but the Dolphins could not respond with any scores of their own. When the Patriots got the ball back a little more than midway through the quarter, Miami burned up all of its timeouts. With none left, they had no choice but to take a delay-of-game penalty on their next possession while facing a big potential New England blitz. This backed them up deep in their own territory, and they turned the ball over on downs. A fourth Gostkowski field goal gave the Patriots a two-possession lead with only a minute to play, and the score held up through to the end.
Overall, New England played a very good game on both sides of the field. Offensively, Brady had a field day picking on the rookie cornerbacks of the Miami Dolphins. While the Pats never really established a running game, what else is new with this team? Defensively, I think they did an excellent job bending but not breaking in the face of Miami’s strong running game. All in all, it was a very complete effort on both sides of the field, backed by excellent special teams play, and the Patriots truly deserved the victory. Next week they play the Colts, which is always an exciting and challenging game for New England. I’m looking forward to it.