Without a doubt, the Patriots' first half performance against the Miami Dolphins was the worst first half performance the Patriots put together all year. The team was dominated in all three phases of the game, could barely muster a first down, and while the defense was okay at times, they made critical mistakes that allowed the Dolphins to finish off long back-to-back touchdown drives in the second quarter.
With the score at 17-0 at halftime, I even remarked that a comeback bid looked "unlikely." But boy, was I wrong. In the second half, the Patriots would culminate what will likely go down as one of the greatest, if not the greatest comeback of the Brady-Belichick era.
The team came out of the gates quickly in the second half, going to the no huddle and moving the ball down the field quickly. Unfortunately, the drive stalled, but the Patriots picked up a field goal to put the score at 17-3.
After a touchdown saving tackle by Stephen Gostkowski on the ensuing kickoff, the Patriots defense came up with their first turnover of the afternoon when Vince Wilfork pounced on a fumble that was the result of a shaky center-quarterback exchange.
The Patriots started their next drive at the Dolphins' 38, and this time would not be denied. The offense returned to the no huddle, and Tom Brady continued to deliver quick, short throws to Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez to move the ball down the field. On a third and goal from the Miami one, Brady felt significant pressure, but kept the play alive with his feet and found receiver Deion Branch in the back of the end zone. Branch ran a terrific route to free himself from a grabbing Vontae Davis.
After another three and out that was highlighted by a Rob Ninkovich strip sack on third down, Tom Brady and the Patriots offense continued to thrive. Brady, now in his comfort zone, delivered strike after strike to Welker and Hernandez. Stevan Ridley also had runs of 5 and 7 yards in the red zone. On a first and goal from the Miami one yard line, Brady took the ball himself on a quarterback sneak for the tying score.
Devin McCourty had a really up and down day for the Patriots. McCourty had a third and long pass interference, and was beaten deep down the sideline on three separate occasions (all of which led to Dolphins point). He also defended five passes. And his fourth "defense" was his biggest. The Dolphins were finally driving at the beginning of the fourth quarter, but on a Brian Hartline bomb from Matt Moore, McCourty made up for his previous mistakes by making a beautiful interception at the New England 2 yard line.
Rest of the recap and what the win means after the jump!
On the next drive, Tom Brady would take the Patriots down the field for their first lead of the game. The drive began with a powerful 20 yard Rob Gronkowski catch and run on a short pass to the right. After a couple of more first downs, including a 16 yard Stevan Ridley scamper, Tom Brady had his best throw of the day when he delivered a deep ball down the field to a streaking Wes Welker, who was covered by a Miami linebacker. While the drive resulted in a field goal, the Patriots had their first lead of the game at 20-17.
The Patriots brought the heat on defense on Miami's next offensive possession. Quarterback Matt Moore had a first down incompletion and Dane Fletcher had a near sack on second down. On third, linebacker Jerod Mayo burst up the middle and picked up his second sack of the game, forcing the Miami three and out.
With under eight minutes to play, the Patriots' ensuing drive would take nearly five minutes off the clock in 11 plays while resulting in seven more New England points. Brady found Rob Gronkowski and Wes Welker multiple times each, and after three Stevan Ridley runs to bring the ball to the one yard line. On the next play, Tom Brady punched the ball into the end zone for his second rushing touchdown of the day. The score gave the Patriots a 10 point lead and essentially sealed the game (although the Dolphins would put in a late touchdown with less than two minutes to play).
The victory was a dramatic one. And while the team's first half performance was certainly frightening, the team showed a lot of courage and resolve in overcoming the huge deficit. I think Bill Belichick described the Patriots' first half performance perfectly in his post-game press conference:
"We didn't do anything very well -- we didn't throw, we didn't catch, we couldn't get open, we couldn't block, we couldn't tackle, we couldn't cover, couldn't rush, couldn't return kicks, couldn't cover them."
So yeah... But about that second half?
The bottom line with today's memorable comeback: The Patriots are still in control of the #1 seed in the AFC and have clinched a first round bye in the playoffs. With a win next week against the Buffalo Bills, the road to the Super Bowl in the AFC will be going through Foxboro.