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Patriots vs. Dolphins: Fan Notes from the Game

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Notes, musings, and observations from the New England Patriots' 41-13 victory over the MIami Dolphins.

Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

AFC East Champs!

You'd figure that, after six straight division titles and eleven of the last twelve, taking home the AFC East would have gotten old by now. I mean hey - wouldn't it make things more exciting if another team won it every once in a while? Wouldn't these division championships mean a whole lot more if they didn't come around as often?

The answer, of course, is a resounding no.

New England is once again hosting a playoff game in January and remains in great shape to secure a bye and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. A slow start coupled with an extremely strong finish got the Patriots some nice retribution for the loss they suffered at the hands of the Miami Dolphins all the way back in Week 1, and once again the New England defense held the opponents scoreless in the second half.  Add in yet another big day from the Special Teams, and it's smooth sailing all the way down to New Jersey for next week's matchup against the Jets.

  • Remember the year when the Patriots had the AFC East wrapped up before Thanksgiving and almost the entire month of December was meaningless? Yeah that was awesome. But there is something to be said for still needing to get wins in Week 15; it keeps the team active and eliminates the possibility for complacency.
  • I sincerely hope that whoever that one guy was, decades ago, who pioneered the "if you consume our product, beautiful women will like you" ad campaign is sitting on his own private island somewhere. I don't think there is a single product currently on television that hasn't dipped into that particular pool.
  • At the same time, though, screw that guy; never once have a group of bikini-clad beauties suddenly decided to come over and use my pool just because I opened a Miller Lite.
  • Does anybody know what Tommy B's record in December is? Absolutely nobody talked about it all week and I can't find a single bit of information online that breaks down Brady and Belichick in December.
  • Dan Fouts is one of the more underrated color commentators in the game in terms of pure absurdity. He legit has no idea what's going on most of the time, and if I didn't know any better, I'd say he was some sweepstakes winner who got to call a game as a grand prize.
  • That first half was more up-and-down than Jonah Hill's weight in terms of emotions. Before I even got my beer open, Mike Wallace had a monster gain. Before I even took my first sip, the Patriots blocked a field goal and were up 7-0. Then Brady gets picked. Then Duron Harmon picks off Tannehill. Then the Patriots score. Then they can't get anything else going. Then the Fins score with no time left on the clock. By the time Brady took a knee to head into the locker room, I was more confused than anyone watching Kate Upton lead the charge in the Game of War ad immediately followed by a 'Mike and Molly' Promo must have been.
  • After the blocked field goal, I saw a stat flash across the screen that said the last time the Dolphins allowed a blocked FG for a touchdown was September 29th, 1991 against the Jets. Am I missing something? Pat Chung blocked one in Miami a few years back that Arrington also returned for a touchdown. Was that stat just for road games?
  • Yet another monster game from Jamie Collins. The Collins highlight of the day was obviously the blocked field goal in which he didn't so much get penetration as he did straight up hurdle the entire line, but he was all over the middle of the field and blew up several plays behind the line of scrimmage with the kind of gap awareness that I thought was reserved solely for housewives looking for an affordable pair of capri pants and me when it comes to using the handicap stall in public restrooms. The man is an absolute animal whose football intelligence is starting to catch up to his physical ability. Was he built in a lab somewhere?
  • Despite how well Hightower and Collins are playing right now, let's make one thing abundantly clear. Jerod Mayo is not expendable. Repeat: Jerod Mayo is not expendable. The linebackers are filling in well in his absence, but Mayo adds a whole new layer to the front seven and remains the team's most versatile LB. When he comes back next year, New England looks to have the best 'backer corps in the NFL.
  • The newest addition to the fun Patriots facts I didn't know until recently: Matt Patricia shaves his beard when the season ends and doesn't start growing it again until the preseason. Given how I have never seen the man where he didn't look like a lumberjack, I can only assume his beard grows almost as fast as Tommy B can now run.
  • Seriously -that Brady 17 yard scramble on 3rd and 11 to set up the Blount TD was the play of the game, in my opinion. What was an incredibly strong opening drive of the 2nd half could very easily have ended in a rather deflating field goal attempt, but instead Tommy B took off and even managed to lower the shoulder before getting tossed out of bounds. You can always tell when certain plays fire a team up; last week it was the Browner "penalty," this week it was the Brady run.
  • Speaking of Browner; I now legitimately think that this team plays better after he as drawn his first illegal contact penalty of the day. It's almost like they have this superstition where the game can't officially start until Browner draws a flag or two.
  • That said, I'll still gladly take a few flags in exchange for the physicality and big play ability that Browner brings to the table. He had a few great pass breakups, one of which was in the end zone, and was in on the hit that led to the Pat Chung interception. Brandon Browner giveth, and Brandon Browner taken away.
  • Regarding that pick, I heard more than a few Dolphins fans grumbling that Browner got there too early and made contact with Miller before the ball was delivered. If that's true, that means that Browner committed a penalty and wasn't flagged for it - a first in the history of the National Football League. Penalties get missed every game, but penalties on Brandon Browner are always called.
  • The most important pick was Harmon's, though; boy did New England need that one. It was also a great audible to Shane Vereen on 3rd and goal there, made possible by Gronk drawing a double coverage. I was fairly certain that drive would have ended in a field goal and I'm glad I was wrong.
  • I really like Brian Hartline and thought he would have made a good Patriot when he was a free agent back in 2013 - but man does he look like that guy at every bar in America who comes in each day after work in his boots and flannel jacket to order a beer and a shot before he goes home to the wife he had to marry because he knocked her up in high school and the kid he resents.
  • I also really like Hartline's stat line from yesterday - zero yards. That's especially amazing seeing as how the Dolphins had approximately 500 yards of offense in the first quarter, and they came away with three points.
  • Impressed by the offensive line's ability to neutralize the pass rush and prevent any edge pressure. Cameron Wake was an absolute nonfactor, and while Brady took a few more hits than I would have liked, he wasn't sacked once. His pick came on a tipped ball, which is more on Brady than the line, and for the most part there was plenty of time to throw.
  • Therefore, there really isn't an excuse for Brady's accuracy to start the game. The Trusnik pick aside, a fair number of his passes were in the dirt, behind his receivers, or not in the ideal spot. It's almost like Brady still remembers what happened in Week 1 and needed a half to reassure himself that it was going to be different this time around.
  • There also isn't really an excuse for putting an undrafted rookie on Mike Wallace - and keeping him on Wallace all half. I like Malcolm Butler, but that's a mismatch that is 100% on the coaching staff.
  • Also on the coaching staff is the sequence of events that led to Miami's only touchdown of the day. Three straight runs to a small back with bad ankles, poor punt coverage, and head-scratching coverage assignments means that, touchdown or not, New England got what they deserved.
  • As for the touchdown itself - I'm actually surprised they overturned it. I agree that Wallace was able to get two feet in bounds, but in my opinion he didn't fully establish control until he was out of bounds. If the general consensus is that the ruling on the field must stand unless there is definitive, irrefutable evidence to overturn it, then that play should have stayed as called. I would be saying the exact same thing if the original ruling was a touchdown as well; we just need some consistency here - especially when just a few hours south RGIII was making more or less the exact same play, and that wasn't ruled a TD.
  • An F overall for the gameplan in the 1st half. The Patriots spent thirty minutes not attacking the linebackers, putting a rookie on Wallace, and flat out refusing to let Jonas Gray sniff the field despite LeGarrette Blount's inability to get anything going. Combine that with an inaccurate Brady and a poor pass rush, and the Fins were able to do what they did. If not for that blocked FG and the Harmon pick, this game could very well have been 17-0 going into halftime - much like they were when the came to New England last year.
  • Luckily for us, the Patriots went into the locker room and drank from some kind of magic fountain, because they came out PISSED to start the third quarter.
  • You know who else came out to start the third? Jonas Gray! And you know what happened? He ran incredibly well and opened up the playaction! Who'da thunkit?
  • There really are times when I think that the coaching staff outsmart themselves trying to get creative when they really don't need to. I have the intelligence of a doped up Kardashian, and even I know that weak linebackers plus a running back with a strong first step equals production. Jonas Gray had some fantastic carries and I think he did enough to earn at least a timeshare in that backfield now.
  • Charles Clay is a monster. Highly underrated TE.
  • Ryan Tannehill reminds me of Chad Pennington in a lot of ways. Very accurate and good at engineering those infuriating 67 play, 45 yard drives that take 12 minutes off the clock and ends in a field goal. He also can disappear at times and can't throw a good deep ball.
  • Although he should have had a deep TD to Damien Williams. That play was one in which I was literally SCREAMING "Mismatch! Mismatch!" At the TV as everyone lined up. LBs should never be lined up on the edge with no safety help behind him. Got a gift there.
  • New England is only averaging 8.1 penalties a game? Could have sworn it would be more than that.
  • This season, more than any other, seems to be proving what a meaningless stat time of possession is.
  • When was the last time you watched a game - any game - and thought that there was any kind of rhythm to it whatsoever? Stops, starts, flags, clock-stoppages, commercials, play reviews, announcements that there is no foul on the play...I wonder how long we have left before the game is played on a giant vibrating piece of metal and all everyone does is just spin around in circles.
  • Mobile QBs outside the numbers have been and will continue to be a problem for this team, and at this point I don't think there's anything to be done about it; just one of those things that we're going to have to accept. Maybe the return of Chandler Jones will help.
  • Overall, great first day back for Chandler. Had a few tackles for a loss, caused a fumble, and forced a few early throws. He's not fully back yet, but he made some great strides yesterday.
  • The Patriots have now won 74 straight games when leading at half. That's made doubly amazing given that for about five years this team had no defense to speak of.
  • People say that Brady's deep ball isn't what it used to be, and those people are correct. He missed a few yesterday, including one to Gronk where he had Finnegan beat down the sideline and he was underthrown, and another one to Brian Tyms that fell just out of reach. That said, it's not like deep balls are easy passes to make, and he isn't so far off so as to be glaringly obvious.
  • You can always tell when a Brady throw is going to be off when he's leaning back like that. There are few disparities greater than the mechanics of a good Brady throw and a bad Brady throw.
  • Huge congrats to Stephen Gostkowski, who with his 3rd quarter FG became the Patriots all time leading scorer. Got a well-deserved standing O from the crowd. I've said it before, but I'll say it again: Ghost was a fantastic signing and has been fantastic for this team his entire career. He had - and has - zero chance of getting the credit he deserves because he followed Adam Vinatieri, but you really can't ask for more out of a kicker.
  • Anybody know the name of that big fat guy in the silver face paint that's at every Patriots game? Dude has some groovy moves.
  • If you want to see a textbook example of an instant transformation from terrified to elated, look no further than my facial expression on Brady's pass to Gronk that went for a touchdown. Brady was hit as he threw, and all you could see for a split second was two Dolphins defenders. But he placed it perfectly and hit Gronk in stride for what was basically the game-sealing score. When Brady gets hit as he throws, he hits Gronkowski for six. When I get hit as I throw, it's because I slip on a patch of ice trying to toss a pizza box into the dumpster on trash night.
  • As fun as the second half was to watch - New England CANNOT wait 30 minutes to start playing football. That isn't going to fly in the playoffs.
  • You know what this game reminded me of? That scene at the end of Real Steel where Hugh Jackman just took a total beating from Zeus in order to exhaust his energy before going on a rampage.
  • And yes, I've seen Real Steel. Don't judge.
  • What's even more embarrassing is that the second after I wrote that, I thought of the final scene in in Rocky III where Rocky lured Clubber Lang into a false sense of security before turning it on. Much more manly a comparison.
  • As soon as Miami could no longer play out of the read-option, this one was over. No run threat means the entirety of the game is on Ryan Tannehill's shoulders, and I just don't think he's that kind of QB.
  • Question: when will Alec Shane not take issue with Brandon Browner German Suplexing a receiver to draw a personal foul? Answer: when the Patriots have a 25 point lead in the 4th quarter and the suplexee is so butthurt over his suplex that he gives the foul right back.
  • I'm going to spare everyone the obvious joke that can be made about Gronk and his love for kittens, a love I didn't know existed until this shoot came out. But we're all thinking it, people.
  • I want Gray early and Blount late from now on. I think that makes the most sense.
  • I have an irrational hatred for Cortland Finnegan. Completely undeserved.
  • What was New England doing throwing late in the 4th? Situations like that are the reason the team brought Blount back.
  • I know I'm nitpicking here, but all those Dolphins 4th down conversions gave me the redass.  I know most of them when were the game was well out of hand, but when the only conversion they don't get is on a 4th and 18, that just stinks.
  • Chandler Jones and Hightower combining on the final sack of the game was almost poetic, wasn't it?
  • Great game from Logan Ryan as well filling in for Kyle Arrington. Tannehill just couldn't get anything going in the second half.
  • For some brief around the league notes:
  • I have the Red Zone Channel on DirecTV, and so during the commercials I usually flip over there for a few minutes to see what's going on around the league. There was a period between the 3rd and fourth quarter where every time I switched over, I saw Blake Bortles doing something moronic. The latest string of Jaguars starting quarterbacks is the NFL equivalent of
  • And I know this is the season for peace on Earth and goodwill towards men, but boy oh boy did I love watching Johnny Manziel get lit up like a Christmas tree as he looked lost and completely incompetent against the Cincinnati Bengals. The NFL has been trying to manufacture a storyline around him since the draft, a storyline that absolutely nobody outside of Cleveland cares about, and seeing it all explode in their face was simply wonderful. I wish Johnny success in his career, but I'd be lying if I said that wasn't sweet.

Fantastic win overall. Again, some questionable playcalling and shaky play in the first half, but nobody is better at adjusting than Bill Belichick. We're on to a New York Jets team that just became the first franchise in history to win a game 11-8 without needing to go into extra innings, so you know they are going to be fired up. Time to secure ourselves a bye.