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Patriots vs. Dolphins: Fan Notes from the Game

Notes, musings, and observations from the New England Patriots’ 38-7 victory over the Miami Dolphins

Miami Dolphins v New England Patriots Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images

So what are you guys planning on doing this January when the Patriots’ season is over?

Wait, what? What’s that? It might be a little too early to start making posteason plans, because it’s still September and the Patriots are figuring things out? And they beat the Dolphins handily yesterday and all that doom and gloom of the past few weeks might have been a little reactionary? Oh, OK. Good to know. For a minute there I thought that this team sucked and we may as well just give up now. Glad everyone set me straight!

  • I went to my first ever Patriots game as a kid in 1993, a 28-14 beatdown at the hands of the Houston Oilers. When I went off to college in the Providence area, I started going to at least one game a year, and that tradition has continued for almost two decades now. I have been to at least one Patriots game a year since about 2000 or so. I’ve been to divisional matchups, playoff games, Peyton Manning showdowns and last second Kenbrell Thompkins game winning catches. I’ve even been to a certain Super Bowl that may or may not have taken place at the end of the 2007 season. And in the 30 or so Pats games I have attended since then, this was the second-biggest blowout I have ever had the pleasure of witnessing live. Number One was the AFC Championship Game against the Colts back during the 2014 season...but that took place on a cold, rainy January evening where I was soaked through to the bone before the first half was even over. Yesterday was an absolutely gorgeous Fall afternoon where it was 24-0 at halftime, the game was never in doubt, and all seemed right with the world. Going to be tough to top a viewing experience like that.
  • I’m going to get the negative out of the way now and focus more on what went right, but it’s worth saying right off the bat: yesterday was a good game. I’m not going to call it a great game and magically assume that everything is back to normal in New England. Tommy B still isn’t throwing with the same accuracy he should be. He threw behind the receiver on several occasions, including a wide open Gronk on the seam route on their opening drive. He had two boneheaded throws, both of which ended in picks, and a few more of his passes bounced into the air before hitting the turf. He’s not looking like his old self - and I don’t want to say he’s looking like his new old self, but the Pats left points on the board yesterday and Brady is responsible for that.
  • Speaking of Gronk...I’ll go ahead and chalk up his pedestrian day to the ankle injury he’s still nursing, because he’s still the best blocking tight end in the game. I still think it’s just a matter of time before he goes off, but it’s not quite there yet.
  • I was also unimpressed with the foot long hot dog I got yesterday. I usually take down three of those things during the course of a game, but found them to be soggy and lukewarm. So I only ate two.
  • Other than that, what was as close to a must-win Week 4 game as it gets, the Patriots came out and absolutely curbstomped the Dolphins in a game that was over by halftime. Ryan Allen only punted once all game and Ryan Tannehill’s longest drive of the day lasted five plays - and went five yards. Of Miami’s 10 possessions (11 if you count the end of half kneeldown), three were 3 and outs that netted negative yardage and two ended in turnovers. So on half of Miami’s drives, they either went backwards or gave the ball away.
  • What exactly caused the defensive turnaround? What did the Patriots do differently? From where I was sitting all the way up in section 332, it was the linebackers, specifically Dont’a Hightower. A Bill Belichick defense lives and dies by its linebackers, and Hightower looked back to form in yesterday’s game. I don’t know if he was still shaking the rust off or getting fully healthy or threatened by the emergence of Ja’whaun Bentley or what, but that’s no matter. Hightower was an animal yesterday in the best kind of way - the way that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet. For example:
  • On three separate occasions, Hightower crashed the center of the line and forced Tannehill to throw it before he wanted to. The result was two incompletions and a catch for a loss.
  • I lost count of how many times Hightower, wearing the green dot, signaled behind him to the secondary to change the play at the line. Seeing as how Miami only had 11 first downs and were 3 for 11 on 3rd down, he’s obviously seeing things much more clearly now
  • Edge contain was a massive problem for the defense over the first three weeks of the season; not so much yesterday. Linebackers spread wider to prevent the stretch run, and it worked to perfection. Kyle van Noy was probably the best at this; besides the fumble recovery, he forced multiple runs for a loss and had the backs turned around on several occasions.
  • There was even a well-timed blitz and sack from DE/LB hybrid John Simon, who the Patriots signed just this past week.
  • As for the offense...I’m just glad that the Patriots saw it in their heart to give draft bust and national disgrace Sony Michel just one more chance to prove himself. Seeing how he has been on the team and totally active for all of training camp preseason Week 1 two games, it’s understandable as to why everyone was ready to cut him and move on to Ralph Webb. I hope that his 112 yards and a touchdown at least made some small dent in earning the coaching staff’s favor back.
  • The best part of Michel’s day, though, was his blitz pickup and what he did as a chip blocker. Tommy B wasn’t sacked all day, mainly because of the offensive line, but also because of what Michel was able to do out of the backfield. 175 total yards on the ground is just fine with me.
  • I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that James White may be the most important player on this offense not named Tom Brady. In a wildly up-and-down first quarter of the season, White has been the only player who has consistently been playing well. And he’s doing it all, too - running between the tackles, bouncing outside, fielding toss plays, serving as the outlet receiver on checkdowns, and even running a few legit passing routes. His TD reception was an out and up from the backfield made possible by Chris Hogan drawing the safety to the middle of the field and leaving the corner end zone uncovered...but that was a great route and an excellent sell of the sit-down.
  • If you had asked me what I thought Cordarrelle Patterson would bring to the team when they first signed him, yesterday’s game is exactly what I would have envisioned. A few gadget plays, about 50 yards on three receptions, and maybe a TD.
  • I could, however, do without the seemingly weekly play where he catches a screen in the backfield and trips over his own feet for a loss.
  • My favorite thing about Philip Dorsett isn’t his somersaulting TD catches. It isn’t the way he comes back when Brady is in trouble to provide an outlet. It isn’t the way he can make guys miss in space. It’s that the Colts used a first round pick on him and couldn’t figure out how to make him fit into their system. It just makes me happy.
  • That’s everyone on offense, right? Nobody else of note playing yesterday?
  • Oh yeah! Josh Gordon. About him...
  • There’s are many reasons I love going to games, and one of those reasons is listening to extremely hydrated Patriots fans break down the game like they have any idea what they’re talking about. There was a man with his wife sitting next to me, and it became almost immediately obvious that she wasn’t a football fan at all and was just there to ogle Tommy B and support her man in something he clearly loves. And good for her, I say; we should always support the things our significant others are into. Anyway, I don’t think this guy had less than two beers in his hand at any point from whistle to whistle, and as he got more and more hydrated his analysis became more and more hysterical. But the one element that never wavered from the first quarter to the fourth was his adamant insistence that Josh Gordon was wearing #84. I don’t know if it was Patterson’s dreadlocks covering up his entire last name except for the “on,” but even after Patterson scored and John Rooke announced his name over the loudspeaker, this guy stayed all in. And the woman, Tebow bless her, she was all in on Joshdarrelle Gatterdon. That’s a ride or die wife right there.
  • As for the actual Gordon, wearing number 10...very solid first outing. Two catches for 32 yards is nothing to write home about, but one of those grabs was a contested third down conversion and the other had his strength and athleticism on display as he broke tackles and picked up 19. Gordon was also the blocking receiver on James White’s TD run and created a massive lane for White to rush through. Gillette Stadium went nuts every time he touched the ball - which you also figure would have tipped off that guy to my right that maybe he had his wires crossed.
  • It’s really too bad that the Patriots couldn’t stop the fabled Osweilier-to-Gore connection, otherwise they could have preserved the shutout. But I don’t think any team in NFL history has ever been able to stop Osweiler to Gore, so I guess I don’t feel too bad.

No time to enjoy this one - Indy is coming to town on Thursday in what I’m sure is going to be a clean, effective, well-planned game between two teams that have both had plenty of time to rest and recover.

UPDATE: A friend of mine not-so-subtly pointed out that he and I went to the 2009 game between the Pats and Titans in which they won 59-0 in an absolute deluge of wet snow and freezing rain. I guess I blocked that game out because I was wet and miserable the whole time, but a game is a game. This game is actually the third biggest blowout I have attended. But the biggest blowout I have attended with the sun shining. So there’s that.