…What an impressive opening drive the Patriots mounted, capped off by FB James Develin’s 2-yard plunge into the end zone. Develin threw some nice blocks for rookie Sony Michel earlier in the drive, so, it was nice to see him get the call for a second straight week to carry it over the goal line.
…On the ensuing extra point, however, came the first indication that this might be another long day for New England in South Florida. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski, normally a reliable toe, clanked his kick off the right upright.
There was nothing wrong with Joe Cardona’s snap or Ryan Allen’s hold. It appeared that Gostkowski approached the ball at too wide an angle and his follow-through didn’t swing far enough. As a result, he pushed the ball to the right and it bounced off the upright for a miss.
…When Miami got the ball, Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill used a couple of nice fakes, the first a play-action, to get receiver DeVante Parker open for a 15-yard completion, then a fake handoff that he kept himself to scamper 13 yards.
…Next play was a terrific job of blocking by Miami’s o-line to spring RB Frank Gore for 36 yards. The right guard and tackle, in particular, pulled to the left and delivered solid blocks that allowed Gore to bust through the line of scrimmage.
…Parker, the receiver, ran a nice criss-cross route with fellow WR Kenny Stills on the next play, the first Miami touchdown. Parker’s route meant Still’s man, CB Jason McCourty, had to run behind Parker in order to get to Stills, and that slight delay gave Stills enough room to make the catch and sneak behind the pylon as McCourty was tackling him.
…The Patriots’ next possession stalled on 3rd-and-1 because LT Trent Brown never saw LB Kiko Alonso darting toward him and into the backfield to bring down RB Rex Burkhead. Not sure what Brown was looking at or who he was expecting to block, but Alonso was clearly the only Dolphin who wasn’t picked up on that play.
…Also not sure how DE Trey Flowers picked up a defensive holding penalty on Gore’s next running play. Gore had already hit the ground when Flowers tossed his would-be blocker to the ground.
…LB Dont’a Hightower executed a perfect delayed blitz to sack Tannehill on 3rd-and-10, the first of four takedowns of the Miami QB Sunday. The pass rush was perhaps the only aspect of the Patriots defense that showed up positively.
…LB Albert McClellan, who plays almost always on special teams, blocked his first NFL punt on the next play. McClellan knifed by the long snapper to get himself directly in front of punter Matt Haack, then McClellan used good technique to dive in front of Haack, arms outstretched, to block the ball without hitting the punter in a vulnerable position.
…WR Julian Edelman ran a great in-and-out route to get open on the goal line and haul in a perfect Tom Brady pass for New England’s next touchdown. It was a similar route to one that Edelman ran in Super Bowl XLIX for his game-winning score that night four years ago.
…Former Patriots RB Brandon Bolden took a handoff 54 yards for a touchdown thanks once again to textbook blocking by his line and other teammates. Seven Dolphins had seven Patriots defenders stonewalled at or near the line of scrimmage. Jason McCourty came up to help make a tackle, but he took an angle that seemed to suggest he though Bolden was going to bounce to the outside.
Instead, Bolden kept going up the middle, where safety Duron Harmon was the last Patriots with a chance to take Bolden down. However, Harmon’s angle was also off, allowing Bolden to cut outside and streak down the sideline.
…Excellent play-action fake by Brady, who then looked off the deep safety to the left, allowed WR Cordarrelle Patterson to get open downfield and Brady to fire a precise throw 37 yards down the seam for another TD. Great job by Patterson as well to extend his arms and get his hands on the ball, which was just slightly overthrown.
…DE John Simon looked like he was held on Bolden’s next rushing touchdown, but no flag was thrown. It was also a terrible tackling performance by New England’s secondary, allowing Bolden to barrel his way into the end zone through three Patriots defenders.
…Nice to see TE Rob Gronkowski make an impact on offense, catching all eight passes thrown to him for 107 yards. His touchdown catch was very nearly picked off by Miami DB Bobby McCain, but Gronk’s size and leaping grab came just a millisecond before McCain could snag it out of the air.
…Just like last week versus Minnesota, New England’s defense did a lot of standing up at the line of scrimmage, with just one down lineman (often Flowers), to confuse the QB and o-line. The Patriots blitzed out of this formation on 3rd-and-4 from the Dolphins 31-yard line, and CB Jonathan Jones and LB Kyle Van Noy met in the backfield to share a takedown of Tannehill.
…Gostkowski missed a field goal from 42 yards out midway through the third quarter. Again, snap and hold were precise. The kicker just seemed to strike the ball perhaps too low and not on the sweet spot. His follow-through also didn’t look clean, either, and he pushed it wide right again.
…CB Stephon Gilmore had tight coverage against WR Brice Butler on the ensuing Dolphins possession, but Tannehill fired a great ball downfield that Butler was able to snare for a score. Butler had better position given where Tannehill put the ball, out in front of his receiver with Gilmore draping him.
…McCain, the Miami corner, was unaccounted for by New England when he blitzed Brady on 3rd-and-3 near midfield. He easily brought Brady down and the Patriots punted.
…Though he let one ball go right through his hands, WR Josh Gordon had an otherwise positive day in Miami. His five catches were all considerable gainers that helped New England move the chains. Even one of the ones he didn’t catch drew a PI penalty against Miami, setting up a 1st-and-goal at the end of the fourth quarter.
…Up 30-28 with 21 seconds left in the game, the Patriots faced a 4th-and-goal from the 4. New England decided to kick a field goal, but even if the next play by Miami didn’t happen, one has to wonder if going for it on fourth down might not have been the wiser choice. Make it and the game is over. Come up short, and Miami still has to travel nearly the length of the field with seconds to spare and no timeouts.
…Finally, let’s analyze the Miami Miracle, as it’s being called. From the Dolphins’ 31, the Patriots rushed just four linemen and dropped seven defenders, including Gronkowski as the deepest safety. Jonathan Jones should have been able to tackle Stills, who caught Tannehill’s pass at the Miami 45. Jones was in good position, coming up from behind, and should have dropped Stills right there. Stills laterals to Parker, who’s being chased half-heartedly by rookie J.C. Jackson.
Parker flips the ball back to RB Kenyan Drake and Van Noy dives from behind to make a tackle attempt at Drake’s feet. Van Noy gets a piece of Drake, but he keeps his balance. Mystifyingly, Jackson is right beside Drake and does nothing to impede his progress.
Drake takes off, and safety Patrick Chung is in position to make a play, except former Patriots draft choice Ted Larsen swoops in to level Chung. Drake is now 30 yards from the end zone and cuts to the sideline because Gronkowski is in the way. Gronk’s foot gets caught in a divot in the turf and he stumbles, giving Drake just enough space to beat him to the goal line.
The most ironic part of the whole play is that the Patriots defense actually played its best football overall in the fourth quarter, that one effort notwithstanding.