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Analysis: Grinding out a win on a short week

FOXBOROUGH - Thursday games are almost always tough.

There just isn't enough time for coaches to prepare normally for the next opponent or players to allow their bodies to heal sufficiently after having just played four days earlier.

That's why so many Thursday night games in the NFL feature a lesser quality of football than what fans are used to seeing on Sundays.

And for a while this week, the Patriots and Dolphins weren't exactly lighting up the scoreboard.

New England got off to a fast start, thanks in part to a renewed rushing attack, which was virtually non-existent against the Jets a few days ago. LeGarrette Blount started the game and was given the ball on the first play. He gained eight yards, then four on the next play, six a few plays later, and another four right after that. The effective ground game helped set up Rob Gronkowski's 47-yard catch-and-run touchdown off a play-action pass from Tom Brady.

The Patriots defense then did their part by registering New England's first safety since 2012. With a 9-0 lead, the Patriots offense failed to capitalize until late in the first half, thanks to several penalties and missed opportunities on third down. Miami's defensive front also started to get a bit of pressure on Brady, forcing him to sidestep and escape the pocket several times to throw errant passes on the run.

Miami came into this game having won its past two games - the first under interim head coach Dan Campbell - by large margins over, frankly, much less talented opponents. For the Dolphins to travel to Foxborough and prepare for the Super Bowl champs on a truncated schedule seemed like too much to ask, however, and eventually, New England's superiority in coaching and on-field talent became evident.

New England's defense came up with several crucial interceptions and sacks of QB Ryan Tannehill, giving the offense the ball in good field position. Despite being physically and mentally exhausted from their previous game and cram session the past few days, the Patriots actually looked like they were getting more energized as the game went on, while the Dolphins seemed to fatigue around halftime.

"The short week doesn't matter as soon as that kickoff," safety/co-captain Devin McCourty pointed out. "We talked about that all week. There's no time to feel sorry for ourselves. It's all about going out there and trying to out-prepare them for the couple of days we had, and I thought that's what helped. Guys were locked in. It's hard to make a lot of changes after playing Sunday and then you know you've got to play Thursday. So if you can get ahead on the film, you've got a good chance to come out here and play well, and I thought we did that as a team."

"Yes, we definitely did come together," echoed Gronkowski, who had another monster game with 113 yards receiving and that long scoring catch. "Our defense played unreal tonight. Sacks, interceptions, they were setting up field position for the offense. We struggled a little bit on offense, but we picked it up, did what we had to do. It was just a great team win."

"A lot of that credit goes to the coaches, honestly," remarked defensive end Chandler Jones, who recorded a pair of sacks. "You know, we had a short week, only a few days of practice, and guys just went out there and executed and bought into what the coaches were saying. We feed off each other. Special teams feeds off the defense, the defense feeds off the offense. Vice versa, whoever's out there on that field, we're making sure we give 110 percent."

The New England Patriots take on the Miami Dolphins in a regular season game at Gillette Stadium on Thursday, October 29, 2015.

"Yeah, turnovers are contagious. They're a big energy, momentum swing," said cornerback Logan Ryan, who came up with an interception off Tannehill. "The offense was making a ton of plays and you want to make big plays yourself. [The Dolphins], they've been hot. We knew we had our work cut out for us. We knew we had to come out with a lot of energy on a short week. It was an improvement from last week. We knew we had to get better on third down this week to get the offense the ball back."

Miami actually came out of the halftime locker room and marched down the field to score their only points of the game on a 1-yard touchdown plunge by Lamar Miller. That hiccup aside, New England was clearly the better team from that point on.

"Congrats to our defense as a whole and to our team. That's a good [Dolphins] team. That's a great team," added Jones. "They put some good things on film and they have tremendous players."

Hmmm… the Dolphins, a great team? If that's true, then what does that make the 7-0 Patriots?

Jones grinned when the question was posed to him, realizing he'd been a victim of having his own words used against him.

"We're just a team that's trying to take it one game at a time."

The one advantage to playing on Thursday night is having a nice long weekend off to recover. The Patriots will certainly take advantage of that this Halloween as they prepare to resume their grind a week from Sunday when they host the Washington Redskins.

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