By: Steve Balestrieri
The New England Patriots rallied from a 17-3 halftime deficit to beat the Miami Dolphins 27-17 in what was essentially a polar opposite from the first half.
The Patriots outscored Miami 17-0, including their first two touchdowns of the year in the pivotal third quarter. Prior to today, the Patriots had only managed nine points in seven games in the third quarter.
After being utterly dominated on the field and on the scoreboard in the first half, this third quarter started exactly like the first half ended, with the Patriots getting the second half kickoff and going on a quick three-and-out, taking only 45 seconds off the game clock. Poor execution, and poorer play-calling added to their first half woes.
Missed FG The Turning Point: The Dolphins drove 29 yards before a Dont’a Hightower sack stalled them. It was the Patriots first sack of the afternoon and one of six they would end up with in the half. The game changed on that and the next play, Caleb Sturgis’ field goal attempt would bounce off the right upright and the Patriots were finally in business.
Stevan Ridley the forgotten man again in the first half took a first down handoff and rolled 24 yards to get the team moving. The drive would end on a nice Tom Brady 14 yard touchdown pass to Aaron Dobson to draw the Patriots within seven at 17-10.
On Miami’s next possession, rookie corner Logan Ryan blitzed off the right corner and strip sacked Ryan Tannehill and Rob Ninkovich recovered at the Miami 13 yard line. Three plays later Brandon Bolden powered it in from the two yard line and the game was tied.
Belichick Smart Clock Management: After forcing Miami into another punt late in the quarter, the Patriots drove to the Miami 30 where Brady drilled a 30 yard apparent touchdown to Rob Gronkowski. But Nate Solder was flagged for holding and the Patriots settled for a Stephen Gostkowski 48 yard field goal to go up 20-17.
That was significant not only because the Patriots took the lead, but Bill Belichick called timeout with 18 seconds left in the quarter because he had the strong, gusty wind at Gostkowski’s back. It was a smart move at the time and the Patriots were able to erase Miami’s lead with just eight seconds left but an entire frustrating first half.
The Patriots got another turnover on a fantastic play by Safety Devin McCourty and nickle corner Marquice Cole. Tannehill tried a deep sideline pass down the right that McCourty had perfect position on. He tipped the ball back towards Cole, who was able to keep his feet inbounds and come down with a big interception, with an assist from McCourty.
New England would add an important insurance score on a Stevan Ridley 3 yard touchdown run halfway through the fourth quarter for the final points. But by then, the Patriots defense had flipped this game and was dominating the line of scrimmage and getting a lot of pressure on Tannehill.
Here are some other observations from Sunday’s game:
No Style Points in This Win: While a fantastic team win and an all-important division win which bumps the Patriots to 6-2, this was a very ugly affair for the Patriots in the first half. Miami was dominant on both sides of the ball and the Pats were fortunate to go into half-time only down 14.
For a team that prides itself on playing 60 minutes, it was a win that showed that they’re mentally tough and they never quit, but when Tom Brady passes for only 25 yards and Miami rushes for over 100 yards when they’re averaging only 79 per game, it was one of the worst first half performances by the Patriots in recent memory.
Stevan Ridley Again Little Used: For the second week in a row, Stevan Ridley was virtually unused for the entire first half (six snaps total, zero in the first quarter). Once he was used more in the 2nd half, it was no coincidence that the offense took off.
Ridley ended carrying just 14 times but garnered 79 yards for an impressive 5.6 yards per carry average. Why he’s not being used more especially early in games remains a mystery, Bill Belichick was asked about it after the game but would only respond with, “we do what we feel puts us in the best position to win.”
Milk Carton Time For Kenbrell Thompkins: For the second week in a row rookie WR Kenbrell Thompkins was rendered invisible. Last week he had only one catch, on Sunday against the Dolphins Brady never threw in his direction.
After coming up big in the game over the Saints, it was thought Thompkins would evolve into a bigger part of the passing game. That assessment seems to be incorrect; he’s been the forgotten man the past two weeks.
Ninkovich, Hightower, Ryan Spark Defense: In the Patriots big surge in the second half, the defense which had been gashed for over 100 yards on the ground in the first half, came to life and got very aggressive, sacking Tannehill six times.
The best players on the field were the rookie Ryan who had two sacks, a forced fumble and two passes defensed, Hightower who really stepped up and perhaps had his best day of the season and the always underrated but productive Rob Ninkovich.
Ninkovich set up the big sack by Hightower early in the third quarter by flushing Tannehill out of the pocket. He later got a sack of his own and knocked down another pass. But Ninkovich has become invaluable to this defense, playing defensive end, some drops at linebacker in sub-packages and playing at a very high level.
Field Goal Push Part 2: A week after the debacle against the Jets in overtime, the Dolphins were trying for a field goal late in the game to try to cut the lead to seven. But the Patriots got great penetration and Chandler Jones blocked the attempt by Sturgis.
It was the first block by the Patriots since Oct. 2010, also against the Dolphins and a nice play by Jones who was negated by Bryant McKinnie in the pass rush department Sunday. Jones was looked at earlier to feast on the leaky Miami offensive line. He was a non-factor and got caught twice losing containment on the edge for big runs.
Gostkowski Having a Big Season: After sputtering through a so-so preseason Stephen Gostkowski is having an excellent year. On a day where the winds at Gillette were gusting quite a bit, he was flawless hitting field goals from 34 and 48 yards and was booming his kickoffs.
Gostkowski has been a constant bright spot throughout the entire season and has given the team a big boost on their special teams.
Injuries Continue to Pile Up: Already snake bit by injuries, the Patriots suffered two more on Sunday. RT Sebastian Vollmer went down with looked like a serious leg injury that had Vollmer screaming in pain and had an air cast immediately inflated on the spot.
Kyle Arrington left with a groin injury and didn’t return in the second half. These will have to be monitored once the team releases the details, next week.
The Dolphins Brandon Gibson suffered a serious knee injury in the first half leaping up high for a pass and was rumored to have suffered a season ending injury.
The Patriots remain home next week and face the Pittsburgh Steelers at 4:25 p.m. Sunday. We’ll have more on that matchup later in the week.