By: Steve Balestrieri
The New England Patriots (12-3) clinched a first round bye in the 2011 NFL Playoffs with a 27-24 come-from-behind win over the Miami Dolphins (5-10) at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough. The Patriots can clinch home field advantage throughout the playoffs with a win next Sunday against the Buffalo Bills.
The Patriots rallied from being down 17-0 at halftime to pull out the victory. So what did we learn from the Patriots win yesterday against a tough Dolphins team that had nothing to lose yesterday?
The Patriots are a resilient, mentally tough team-
The Dolphins had a simple game plan coming in to the game yesterday; they weren’t going to allow Tom Brady to annihilate their defense like he did on Week 1 of the season when he burned them for 517 yards passing. Their decision was made easier when during warmups, LT Matt Light hurt his ankle leaving the Pats thin along the line. It was made thinner when Logan Mankins was hurt for the first time in his career and didn’t return.
Dolphins Defensive Coordinator Mike Nolan’s plan was to blitz Brady (against conventional wisdom) and once the injuries to Light and Mankins came to light (no pun intended), blitz him some more. According to stats from Greg Bedard of the Boston Globe, Miami blitzed Brady 16 times in his first 23 drop backs. They furthermore blitzed him 29 times in 50 dropbacks overall.
But the Patriots figured it out and made the Dolphins eventually pay, after starting a woeful 3-14 for 37 yards; in the second half Brady was 20-27 for 219 yards and 1 TD. On defense, the Patriots were gashed early and often by Miami’s running and passing but once the Dolphins got ahead 17-0, they shut down the Dolphins until their final drive which by then, they were ahead by ten points.
This is a never say quit, mentally tough football team, that doesn’t panic and doesn’t cash it in. Three times this season, they’ve come back from sizable deficits. Down 10-0 in Philadelphia, down 16-7 in Denver and being down at the half 17-0, the Patriots came back to win all three. That is the hallmark of a very good team when they can win when things aren’t going their way. With that being said…
This team is still maddeningly inconsistent-
Just one week after Tom Brady pronounced that the team had played its first 60 minute game in Denver, the Patriots showed up for only 30 yesterday. Luckily it was the final 30 and they were able to pull out a win.
Give the Dolphins all the credit for that first half however, they can out with a good game plan and executed it to perfection, completely dominating the first half on both sides of the ball and running out to big 17-0 lead. The bottom line though is the Patriots came out flat and looked like they were not ready to play.
This inconsistency is something that they can’t afford once the games start for real in a few weeks in Foxborough. Against the good teams in the playoffs a 30 or even a 55 minute game can result in a long painful spring and summer and an early exit from the playoffs.
The best thing this team can do is to come out next week against Buffalo and put together a 60 minute game that will carry them into their bye week as they wait to see who will be traveling to Foxboro to face them in the divisional round of the playoffs.
The coaches made some great adjustments at halftime-
This one can’t be overstated, the Patriots coaches did a fantastic job of figuring out what the Dolphins were doing and adjusting to it.
Look no further than Offensive Coordinator Bill O’Brien, he saw that the Pats running backs were being bowled over by the fierce pass rush of the Dolphins. So he scrapped the idea of them staying in to block and instead, went to an empty backfield and spread the Dolphins out. This in conjunction with going to the Hurry-up Offense, did two things. It allowed Brady more time to see where the pressure was coming from, and it also prevented the Dolphins from freely substituting their pass rushers and sub-packages.
The result was the Dolphins were getting gassed by the fourth quarter and their pass rush was becoming less and less effective. Brady was able to find more seams in their pass coverage and the Dolphins were forced to back off a bit with their press coverage at the line of scrimmage. It worked to perfection as the Patriots scored 27 second half points.
Say what you will about the Patriots defense, Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia made the adjustments so that they didn’t allow the Dolphins any points until the final minute and a half after going down 17-0. They also got some key turnovers that set the Patriots offense up with great field position. Devin McCourty, after a rough start, played much better down the stretch in the second half and came up with an interception, his first this season.
Tune in to Patriots Fourth and Two on Monday night at 7 p.m. as Russ Goldman, Damien Jarrett, Derrick Havens and I will be doing a recap podcast on the game as well as touching on next week’s game with the Bills.
And don’t miss out on some outstanding Patriots coverage with PatsFans.com. There are plenty of outstanding writers who cover the Patriots from A-Z. And some of the most extensive stats on the Pats that you can find anywhere.