The day started off poorly for the Patriots, with two good returns wasted. The first drive went three and out. After the defense earned a punt from Miami, the offense gave it right back. In the second start of his career, Cassel showed poor pocket awareness and bad decision-making, forcing a terrible interception on a screen pass -- a gift to Dolphins defensive end Randy Starks that hit him in the belly. Miami took the invitation and went 74 yards on 8 plays, capping their drive with a gadget-play TD run. With quarterback Chad Pennington lined up in the slot, Ronnie Brown took a direct snap, faked an end-around hand-off to Ricky Williams and followed his pulling guard into the endzone, untouched. Dolphins 7, Pats 0.
It was a harbinger of things to come. Game summary and open post-game thread over the jump.
In suffering their worst defeat in recent memory, the Patriots looked utterly unfamiliar to this observer. While Matt Cassel (19/31, 1 TD, 1 INT) struggled the story of the day was the defense, which was absolutely gashed by the Dolphins. Both the passing attack of the 'Phins and the ground game were dominant, punishing. New England were on the back foot from the opening kick.
After Miami's opening score the Patriots struggled to establish any kind of a rhythm, with good plays negated by brainless ones. A fine completion to Jabar Gaffney (6 rec./51 yds) on 4th and 1 was followed by a telegraphed quick-throw to Wes Welker (6/55), netting -1. After throwing for 3 on 3rd and 6, the Pats had to settle for a field goal, trailing now 7-3 with the pattern for the day established: Miami would be nimble and creative, while New England would struggle mightily on both sides of the ball.
Following New England's field goal, the Dolphins took the ensuing kickoff and, keyed by a 33 yard strike on the first play from Pennington to Greg Camarillo (4/60), carved up the New England secondary. The 79 yard drive led to a touchdown. Ronnie Brown ripped off a 15 yard run for the score, as Jerod Mayo and Rodney Harrison were blocked out of the play. The Dolphins had an 11 point lead, and the Pats had been exposed. The young-and-old secondary looked like diapers-and-Depends, and Cassel was under pressure to actually produce, with a defense not playing to type.
The Patriots caught a huge break before the half, when a sure giveaway interception was flubbed by the 'fins and was cradled by Welker for a big gain. But Cassel's inability to look at anyone but Wes when his back is to the wall (which led to a sack in the second half) combined with abysmal blocking for the run, forced the Patriots to settle for 3--on a barely good Figgie from Stephen Gostkowski. They kicked away with 4:54 still left in the half, trailing 14-6.
Miami made good use of that time. The New England DB's continued to do their best to make the Dolphins' receivers look like All-Stars, inexplicably playing well off their receivers and allowing Pennington (17/20, 226 yds, 0 TD, 0 INT) to do what he does best: take the open completion. Setting the Patriots on their heel with the pass allowed huge mis-direction gains on the ground, as D-lineman pulled their heads up and were made to look the fool. Once more, Ronnie Brown (17 car, 113 yds, 4 TD) took it in for 6 with the very same gadget play that had worked at the other end of the field. 21-6.
Frankly, the Patriots looked like they were playing with 9 men.
The Dolphins received the opening kickoff of the second half, going 3 and out. But the Patriots returned the favor: Reading a blitz, Cassel put the ball on the spot but Randy Moss (4/25) short-armed it and let it go. (Are we seeing the Old Randy raising his head? His body language sure seemed to suggest it.) An illegal touching penalty ruined a perfect punt; the re-kick amounted to a 21 yard gain in field position for Miami. You have to make your own breaks in this game, and the Pats just weren't getting it done.
Biting off huge chunks of yards both through the air and on the ground, Miami picked up where they left off. Every call was a success--the Pats blitzed, but were met with a screen. You can't even hope for that kind of fortune. A busted sack on a pass play resulted in a 15 yard improvisation as Pennington rolled and completed. Then, the clincher: Covering a quick-toss to Ted Ginn, Tedy Bruschi injured his knee, limiting him for the day.
Cue insult to injury: The early success with gadget plays paid off as Ronnie Brown completed a TD pass to Tony Fasano (3/66, 1 TD). Taking the direct snap, Brown sprinted left and pulled up to find the tight end wide open, the coverage having drawn up to contain Brown. It was 28 to 6 and I was puking in my mouth. It was no longer possible to polish the turd: We were to be the victims of a comprehensive beating--and it was still only the 3rd quarter.
Ellis Hobbs did his best to make some magic. A huge kickoff return set up the offense inside the Dolphins' 30 yard line. Cassel and the offense struggled, but did punch it in with a strike to Gaffney. The Patriots were still twitching, the corpse still showed signs of life. But it hadn't been easy--even from that close. It made me wonder whether we had the wherewithal to pull off a long drive.
On the next Miami possession, all questions concerning the Patriots' offense were mooted as the defense caved once more and quickly. Following some (now typical) gashes by Ronnie Brown, he put the capper on the day with a 62 yard gut punch for points. After that, I kind of lost interest.
To put it succinctly, the Patriots dropped a big steaming pile on the 50 yard line and spent the day just mushing it around. They generated no running attack, and Cassel looked exactly like a guy making his second start ever. On the flip side, I've never seen our defense fail to show so badly (never mind against that offensive juggernaut called "Miami Dolphins").
I believed that this team was better than the Dolphins. Boy was I wrong. And, yes, Joey Porter (5 tackles, 1 assist, 1 forced fumble and 3 sacks) drank our milkshake. Whenever we tried to block him with just one guy, he made us pay. The last time this team gave up more than 38 points was November 7, 2005 in a loss to the Colts, 40-21.
In closing, I'll say what I said in Week One when Brady went down: It is going to take this team six weeks to figure itself out. The Patriots went from "reloading" to "re-building" with the injury to Brady. We've got three games down as we head into the Bye. Coming out, our work will be cut out for us: the 49ers, Chargers and Broncos round out the six. Whatever our record then, we'll have a pretty good idea of what the rest of the season will hold in terms of wins and losses. A team with this much talent won't show up like this from week to week. At least, it is to be hoped not.
Bruschi's injury? We'll see. Brandon Meriweather was also dinged up.
Lonesome bright spots: Ellis Hobbs and the return game (35.4 average return w/ a couple of beauties), Stephen Gostkowski: 2/2 FG (long 44), 1/1 PAT. Thanks for small things.
Finally, some history which may or may not prove helpful in dissuading your bid for hari-kari:
2005, wk 3 loss to Chargers 41-17. Made playoffs.
2003, wk 1 loss to Bills 31-0. Won Super Bowl.
2001, wk 4 loss to Dolphins 30-10. Won Super Bowl.
Brady's first start against the Dolphins, also the second start of his career after replacing the injured Bledsoe: Loss, 30-10. The year that started it all.