By Denny Hackett
After a couple of sloppy losses, the Patriots finally got their act together and took care of the previously undefeated Miami Dolphins on Sunday.
Once again the Patriots proved everyone wrong, myself included, that everything was going to be okay after another slow September start and showed that despite their record, the Pats are still the team to beat in the AFC East.
The difference in the way the Patriots played Sunday compared to the last two weeks was night and day. In every phase of the game the Patriots improved. But the biggest improvement was on offense.
The running backs were able to kickstart the offense right away. Rookie Sony Michel rushed for 37 yards on the Pats opening drive and set the tone for the rest of the game. But the backs were involved all game, as James White did most of his damage through the air, finishing with 68 yards and a touchdown, but also rushed for 44 yards and a touchdown as well. By the end of the game, Michel rushed over 100 yards for the first time in his career and grabbed his first touchdown of the season.
Going forward, the running game should be a priority for the Patriots offensive. Setting up the ground game takes pressure away from Tom Brady and allows the offense to have a bit more flexibility when it comes to play calling. As the season goes on, building on the rushing attack will make things easier for the offense as a whole. With Michel finally starting to find his form after a slow first couple of games, the Pats have plenty to build on with the promising rookie.
Because of their success with the running backs, the Patriots were able to open up their playbook on offense by mixing in play-action passes and screens to the running backs as well as receiver Cordarrelle Patterson. Patterson broke free late in the second half, catching a 55-yard touchdown pass from Brady. Josh Gordon also made his debut for the Patriots, catching two balls for 32 yards, both of which coming on third downs. Gordon also made an impact by drawing two key penalties on the Dolphins’ secondary that ended up leading to first downs for the Patriots.
Despite throwing two interceptions on the day, Brady was able to return to form and played well against the Dolphins. On the day he finished with 274 passing yards and three touchdowns, a huge improvement over the 133 yards he was able to muster against the Lions a week ago. For Brady, things should only get better with his favorite receiver Julian Edelman returning from his four game suspension this week.
The one concern with the Patriots offense was how limited star tight end Rob Gronkowski appeared to be. He registered just three catches and went into the locker room during the third quarter with an ankle injury that he has been dealing with for the last two weeks. It is unclear what the severity of the injury is but Gronk has clearly been limited in each of the past three games.
Defensively, both safety Patrick Chung and Trey Flowers returned to the lineup after suffering concussions in the loss to Jacksonville. Miami could do nothing against the Patriots defense through the air or on the ground.
The Patriots secondary was excellent covering the Dolphins’ receivers and limited Tannehill to just 100 yards on the day while also forcing an interception. Throughout Sunday’s contest, the defense got after Tannehill several times, including two sacks and a forced fumble recovered by linebacker Kyle Van Noy. Linebacker Elandon Roberts was also injured with just three minutes to go in the game and went to the locker room immediately.
The Patriots have a short break before they take on the Indianapolis Colts on Thursday Night Football later this week.