Well, I think that was the win that all Patriots fans were looking for.
Heading into this week, I don't think that we knew a lot about this Patriots team. With their 41-14 rout of the Dolphins, the Patriots answered a lot of questions.
The Dolphins began the first half moving the ball well. While their first drive stalled, they forced the Patriots to a 3-and-out and marched right down the field. The drive was capped off on a 19-yard catch-and-run by Davone Bess, a play that had Patrick Chung in coverage. By this point, everybody was probably thinking the same thing: not again.
When the Patriots got the ball back, they couldn't get moving again. The Dolphins took over, and began marching down the field, before Chad Henne made one of his many mistakes. Henne looked for Brandon Marshall over the middle, but outside linebacker Ron Ninkovich read the play, stayed with Marshall in coverage, and made an impressive interception.
The Pats followed the drive up with a physical 16 play drive that took over nine minutes off the clock. BenJarvus Green-Ellis was solid on the ground and Tom Brady took what was given to him. Nonetheless, the drive ended with a field goal after Cameron Wake came up with a big sack on first down and goal to go.
On the Dolphins' next drive, they began moving the ball again. While it was frustrating to watch at times, the defense ultimately came up with another big play. Rob Ninkovich came up with his second interception in as many drives, reading a Chad Henne check-down intended for Patrick Cobbs, coming up with a diving interception. With under three minutes to go in the half, Tom Brady took the Patriots down the field again, but with just seconds left on the clock, had to settle for a field goal to make the score 7-6 at halftime.
Recap of the Patriots' dominating second half after the jump!
The second half started with a bang. On the opening kickoff, receiver Brandon Tate cut to the right, and burst up the field for a 103 yard touchdown return. He was sprung by a tremendous Sammy Morris block. 13-7 Patriots.
With the Dolphins down six, the Dolphins took over but were held to a three and out by the Patriots defense. The twist: the punt. The Patriots ran a stunt while trying to block the kick. Safety Patrick Chung broke through the line and blocked the Brandon Fields punt, which was recovered by Brandon Spikes. Two plays and two BenJarvus Green-Ellis runs later: touchdown. 20-7 Patriots.
The Dolphins did respond well. Well, sort of. They took the ball and drove down the field on an 8-play, 80 yard drive that was capped off by a well timed Ricky Williams screen pass that he took and ran 28 yards into the endzone. From then on, it was all Patriots.
The Pats took back the ball, and went to the no huddle offense to move the ball down the field, working out of the shotgun the majority of the time. Running back/receiver Danny Woodhead had an excellent drive, carrying the ball five times for 25 yards and capping the drive off with a twelve yard touchdown reception; a play in which every Patriots receiver aside from Woodhead was blanketed, with Woodhead shaking Karlos Dansby over the middle then making the catch and run for the score.
While the Dolphins were able to counter with a solid drive, the Patriots defense stiffened, and forced the Dolphins to kick a 53 yard field goal. The result: another blocked kick by Pat Chung. This time however, the kick was picked up by Kyle Arrington who had an open lane to the endzone. Score: 34-14.
And when you thought things couldn't get much worse for the Dolphins, two drives later, Chad Henne threw a pick-six to Patrick Chung. Brandon Marshall was working on a crossing route, but seemed to stop mid-route. Chad Henne threw the ball to Pat Chung, who was sitting on the route and took it back to the house to finish the scoring at 41-14.
There's really not any way that I can overplay the importance of this game for the Patriots. Going into the game, there were serious questions about the young defense, the team's ability to win on the road, and the team's ability to out-perform other teams in the second half. After tonight's game, I believe the Patriots have provided positive answers to all three of those question marks.
I also think we learned a lot about the Patriots' defense tonight. While the bend-but-don't-break defense can be frustrating at times, it can also pay off big. We saw that with the four interceptions tonight. The interceptions were due largely in part to the newfound speed of this defense. We also saw the Patriots shut down Ronnie Brown on the ground (11 for 27), and also get great pressure on Chad Henne. Jermaine Cunningham, Rob Ninkovich, and Tully Banta-Cain all had great games rushing the passer. Devin McCourty, aside from his one pass interference penalty, had a great game in coverage. We'll get more into who played well tomorrow.
Big road win, big division win. The Patriots outplayed the Dolphins on offense, defense, and special teams. They outcoached the Dolphins. And for once, they showed the energy that we're used to seeing from the Patriots, but haven't seen in quite some time. That's one hell of a way to head into the bye week, don't you think?