The New England Patriots comfortable cruised to a 2-0 record on Sunday by blowing out the Miami Dolphins 43-0 on the road. While the team was not perfect, it came close to it — especially on the defensive side of the ball. Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, however, and instead take a look at some of the players that still stood out during a game that saw some major contributions from almost ever player on the 46-man game day roster.
Winner: The entire Patriots defense
New England’s defense played lights out agains the Dolphins, and the numbers reflect it: zero points surrendered, four takeaways, two interceptions returned for touchdowns, seven sacks, seven three-and-outs, only 184 offensive yards allowed (just 38 after three quarters). In short, the group was magnificent from start to finish and never gave an overwhelmed Miami offense a chance to catch its breath or string consistent plays together.
With that out of the way, there are five defensive players still deserve special mention:
LB Jamie Collins Sr: After returning to New England during the offseason, Collins continues to be a playmaker for the defense. Sunday’s game might therefore just have been among the best of his career: the 29-year-old shared a sack, had a tackle for loss in the running game, and led the team with two interceptions.
LB Chase Winovich: The rookie saw extensive action against Miami and looked good while on the field. Rotating in and out of the lineup as a pass rushing edge defender, Winovich registered the first one-and-a-half sacks of his NFL career.
DT Adam Butler: New England opened the game with three defensive tackles on the field, and Butler was one of them. He justified his workload by delivering a very good performance: the third-year man finished the game with two sacks and a pass deflection on the line of scrimmage.
FS Devin McCourty: The veteran safety was all over the field, and in the second half was even trusted to call the defensive on-field signals (a job normally reserved for a member of the linebacker corps). No matter what he did, McCourty did an exceptional job — his interception in the early third quarter was not the only positive play he made.
CB Stephon Gilmore: The All-Pro flat-out dominated whoever he was on, and played a role on two turnovers: Devin McCourty’s pick was the result of Gilmore getting his hands on a pass, before he later undercut a route to jump in front of a short throw. He returned it 54 yards for the first pick-six of his career.
Winner: WR Antonio Brown
Not all was perfect during Antonio Brown’s debut in a Patriots uniform, but he sure played a big role in helping the Patriots jump to a 13-0 halftime lead: Brown caught all four of his targets during quarters one and two for 56 yards and a beautifully executed back-shoulder touchdown. And even though he did not catch a pass over the final 30 minutes despite being targeted four more times, his debut certainly was an encouraging one.
Winner: QB Tom Brady
Miami has never been particularly kind to Tom Brady, but the future Hall of Famer looked like his usual self on Sunday. Despite playing behind a make-shift offensive line that effectively missed three starters for most of the game, the 42-year-old distributed the football well and consistently made good decisions and pin-point throws. All in all, Brady finished the day with 20 completions on 28 attempts for 264 yards and two touchdowns; he also had a 1-yard sneak for a score.
Loser: K Stephen Gostkowski
Entering Sunday, Stephen Gostkowski had never missed three kicks in a single game. Against the Dolphins, however, he missed a field goal and two extra point attempts: Gostkowski saw a 48-yard field goal try sail wide to the right in the second quarter; his extra point attempts — one in quarter two, the other in quarter four — were missed to the left and the right, respectively. While the veteran did make five kicks as well, his misses were among the few negatives for the Patriots during their blowout win.
Winner: WR Phillip Dorsett II
Despite Antonio Brown entering the equation, Phillip Dorsett continued to prove himself a reliable option in New England’s passing game. The third-year Patriot caught all three of his targets for a combined 39 yards — not exactly spectacular numbers, but reflective of his status as a one of Tom Brady’s favorite targets. This became evident on a 3rd and 17 in the second period when the two connected on a perfectly executed 18-yard reception that would have made Danny Amendola proud.
Loser: Offensive tackle depth
The one thing that seems to be able to stop this Patriots team is injuries. On Sunday, the injury bug bit again. While there were some minor issues (Patrick Chung, James Develin, Joe Thuney), only one player actually had to leave the game: starting left tackle Isaiah Wynn suffered a foot injury and the first quarter and did not return after leaving for the locker room. Wynn, who is coming off a season lost to a torn Achilles, played very well so far this season and would be a big loss no matter how a potential absence would look like.
Winner: ST Matthew Slater
While not all was perfect on special teams for the Patriots — see above — their kick coverage units had a terrific game with Matthew Slater leading the way. While he was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct at one point, he generally was the first player down the field to impact a potential return. On the day, the 34-year-old finished with two tackles in the kicking game but his presence goes far beyond the stat sheet.
Winner: P Jake Bailey
After beating out veteran Ryan Allen over the summer, Jake Bailey continues to show why he won the punter job in New England this year: the rookie was very good against the Dolphins, both when it came to hang time and ball placement. All in all, he was asked to punt three times and he finished with a gross average of 48.0 yards with a net of 46.3. Miami’s punt return game was no factor against the Patriots, and Bailey’s performance was a big reason for that.