By Traci McCartney //@traciamc
Patriots 35 – Dolphins 17
Division rival Miami Dolphins came to Foxborough Sunday to take on the Patriots. The Patriots, who had won six in a row, were returning from their win over the Raiders in Mexico City. Division games are always difficult. They’re heated and emotional. Even though the Dolphins were without their starting quarterback Jay Cutler, Matt Moore is one of the better back up QBs in the league. All week I heard about Moore’s great connection with wide receiver Kenny Stills. It still wasn’t enough to beat the Patriots.
It looked like the Patriots were going to have to punt the ball away on their first possession, but special teams came through. Nate Ebner, a 2016 Team USA Olympic Rugby player, took off running up the right sideline after a surprising fake punt. Ebner’s 14 yd run and first down allowed the continuation of the drive but came at a price. Ebner was injured by the play and was placed on season-ending injured reserve. That’s a huge loss to the Patriots’ Special Teams unit.
After the defense held the Dolphins to a three-and-out, the Patriots drove down the field, culminating in a TD pass to tight end Rob Gronkowski. The offensive line played well and was able to block defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, that allowed running back Dion Lewis right through the line for a 13 yard gain. Despite a late hit by Suh (not called by the officials), quarterback Tom Brady was able to complete a 15 yd pass to wide receiver Danny Amendola. The touchdown pass from Brady to Gronkowski was their 73rd career. That score put the Patriots up 14-0.
The Dolphins were finally able to score after an errant snap by center Ted Karras. Karras snapped the ball to an unsuspecting Brady who was back in the shotgun. Brady tried to dive on the ball, but the error resulted in a scoop and score by Dolphins defensive back Reshad Jones.
Brady also had another error when he threw a pass intended for Amendola right into the arms of Dolphin cornerback Bobby McCain. Just when it looked like the Dolphins were going to score, the Patriots defense stepped up and cornerback Stephon Gilmore intercepted Moore.
On the first Miami drive of the second half, the Patriots lost yet another player on a helmet to helmet hit. Outside linebacker Trevor Reilly, former Dolphin, was taken off the field and ruled out for the remainder of the game.
With tensions high, things were getting a little chippy. Bobby McCain was called for unnecessary roughness and was ejected for throwing a punch at Amendola. Another Dolphins player hit Lewis while he was on the ground, but that remained uncalled. On the next play, Suh clearly grabbed Lewis by the face mask and spun him around, one-handed, to the ground. Again, there was no call.
On the next play, Gronkowski set a franchise record for multiple touchdown games (16), catching a 15 yd touchdown pass from Brady. That put the Patriots up by 18 points, making the score 28-10. The Patriots were able to score one more time on a jet sweep to wide receiver Brandin Cooks, aided by a great block by Gronk. The game was over with a final score of 35-17.
Despite the two turnovers, both attributed to Brady, the Patriots dominated the Dolphins. Brady threw for 227 yds and four TDs and was sacked only once. Lewis was the leading rusher with 112 yds of the 196 yds of rushing offense. The defense has been just as impressive. They’ve held their opponents to 17 points or less in the lasts 7 games after giving up 128 points in the first 4 games. The Patriots have now played their way to 17 straight winning seasons.
This great win did come with some losses. As mentioned earlier, Ebner was placed on the IR as was tight end Martellus Bennett. Five players in all left the game with injuries, including defensive end Trey Flowers and linebacker Kyle Van Noy. They have been instrumental in the Patriots’defense this season, especially with the season loss of inside linebacker Dont’a Hightower. The Patriots have signed two players to help fill in the gaps: linebacker Nic Grigsby off of the Ravens’ practice squad and offensive lineman Jason King, an undrafted free agent out of Purdue.
The Patriots travel to Buffalo this week to take on the Bills in their first of two matchups with them in December. Four of the Patriots remaining five games are against AFC East teams, and then the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field. Could that game be a possible preview of an AFC Championship game? There’s no telling, but like the Patriots, I’ll take one game at a time.
Talk Patriots with Traci on Twitter // @traciamc