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Analysis: Overcoming mistakes, injuries
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FOXBOROUGH - After a thoroughly dominant two-game, 10-day road trip out west, the Patriots came back home on Thanksgiving Weekend for a brief visit with the Gillette Stadium faithful before they pack up for another three-week road slate.
With the exception of 8-2 Pittsburgh, the remaining teams on New England’s schedule are all AFC East opponents, and none of them are playing great football at the moment.
Which begged the question of whether the Patriots would experience a post-Thanksgiving slumber in their lone November home game.
That didn’t appear to be the case initially, as Tom Brady and the offense jumped out to a 14-0 1st-quarter lead, aided in part by a successful Nate Ebner fake punt that ended Ebner’s afternoon (and perhaps his season).
It appeared the Patriots were going to pad that lead, and they later did, but they also made several costly mistakes. In fact, the only points the Dolphins could muster came directly off Patriots miscues. First, Miami safety Reshad Jones recovered a mistimed shotgun snap by center Ted Karras and rumbled into the end zone.
“It was 100-percent on me. I just snapped it early,” Karras lamented.
Later, a Malcolm Butler pass interference penalty set up a Cody Parkey field goal. It looked as if Miami was poised to put at least three more points on the board just before halftime, following a rare Brady INT, but Stephon Gilmore came to the rescue by picking off Matt Moore in the end zone.
“They ran that route on us earlier in the first quarter,” Gilmore explained to reporters, “and I knew they were going to come back to it. I know every time [WR DeVante] Parker is in the slot he runs the seam empty so I just beat him to the spot.
“Yeah, anytime you can take the ball away and get the ball back to our offense, it’s always good. You keep doing that, you’ll win a lot of games.”
In the second half, Miami began imploding, having a player ejected for throwing a punch at WR Danny Amendola, losing a fumble, and seeing their best running back carted off the field with an injury. The Patriots pounced, adding a fourth touchdown.
Then they appeared to get greedy and bypassed a makeable 43-yard field goal attempt at the start of the 4th quarter that would have extended their lead to 31-10. Miami held on 4th down and proceeded to march on a scoring drive that trimmed the lead to 11. That would be as far, though, as Miami would come to mounting a comeback.
“It was a good effort. We came ready to play today,” safety/co-captain Duron Harmon maintained. “Everything wasn’t perfect and I’m pretty sure it won’t be perfect tomorrow when we watch the film, but it felt good to go out there, turn the ball over and get some sacks because that’s something we’ve been wanting to do all year.”
“A lot of [players] understand their role and are figuring out the defense and the schemes,” observed defensive end Trey Flowers. “A lot of guys are playing comfortable, making plays and they keep getting better. We work hard and it’s important to continue to get better.”
The Patriots played nearly flawless football on the road the past two weeks. That wasn’t at all the case Sunday at home in Foxborough. The offensive line, which has been strong of late, run-blocked well (196 total rushing yards by New England), but didn’t pass protect as effectively. Brady was hit hard several times after delivering the football.
Meanwhile, a number of Patriots left the game with various injuries, including substitute right tackle LaAdrian Waddle, who couldn’t finish the 4th quarter.
Only two things appear capable of slowing down this Patriots juggernaut right now: themselves (i.e., mistakes) and injuries. Against Miami, they weren’t at their best, but still managed to overcome their obstacles and secure yet another win.
“We’re playing good ball, but still not our best,” remarked wide receiver Brandin Cooks. “We have to continue to work.”
“It wasn’t pretty, but we came away with a win,” concluded running back Rex Burkhead. “There are some things we have to clean up and improve if we want to get where we want to be. But it was a good win for us. Hopefully take this moving forward with some momentum.” Read