MIAMI GARDENS – When Drew Breesdoes it, that's one thing. He's one of the best QBs in the NFL today and he torched New England's defense last Monday night in New Orleans.
But Chad Henne?
With very little pressure applied to him from New England's front seven and receivers who managed to get open all afternoon, the second-year QB from Michigan actually looked more like the other former Wolverine quarterback on the field today (more on Tom Brady momentarily).
Particularly when it mattered most.
Coming into today's game, Henne was abysmal on third down plays and in the fourth quarter. He was near the bottom of the league at his position in both categories. However, you never would have known just by watching him against the Patriots defense.
In the New England locker room after the game, linebacker and team co-captain Jerod Mayotold reporters that the game plan for this game was relatively simple – take away Miami's strength on offense (their running game) and force them to be one-dimensional, forcing the young Henne to beat them through the air.
"We knew Henne was an up-and-coming quarterback with a strong arm who can make all the throws," said Mayo. "I think they threw the ball 50 times. When have you seen a Miami team do that?"
(Actually, it was 52 times, and not since the days of Dan Marino, as far as I can recall.)
Henne completed 29 passes against New England – as many as Brady attempted all game. In the first half, he was a perfect 8-for-8 for 120 yards and a touchdown … just on third down passes. Those numbers dipped in the third and fourth quarters, but even though he went 3-for-7 for 41 yards, one of those completions was a 7-yard touchdown pass to rookie receiver Brian Hartline, which, after a failed subsequent 2-point conversion attempt, cut New England's lead to 21-19.
The Patriots defense was virtually powerless to stop Henne, who finished with 335 yards, two TDs, and one interception. Last week, New England was similarly ineffective against Brees, but their inability to pressure Henne or cover his receivers consistently was made glaringly obvious as the Patriots squandered yet another lead on the road this season.
"Right now, we can't look at an opponent and take them lightly," said linebacker Tully Banta-Cain. "Just because it was Drew Brees one week and Chad Henne the next ... We have to take them seriously, because if you don't, they're going to come back and bite you, and they did today.
"I don't want to say that we took them lightly, but we obviously didn't take them seriously enough, to give up a loss the way we did. Give credit to them – they wanted it more than we did today."
"It's the defense as a whole," added Mayo. "We're just not playing like we can. If you look at our guys on paper, you'll think we're a top defense. But today, we just gave up too much. The game plan was good – take away the run. We did a pretty good job of doing that. Unfortunately, those guys still made plays in the passing game."
Meanwhile, after a couple of big plays in the passing game in the first half, New England's offense self-destructed in the late stages of the game as they tried to finish the Dolphins off.
Clinging to that 21-19 lead, Brady and the Patriots had a second-and-goal from the Miami 5-yard line with under 10 minute to play. The play clock was about to expire, so Brady frantically rushed to get center Dan Koppen to snap the ball. He did, just in time, but Brady lofted a pass to the right side of the end zone that was a little to low and behind wide receiver Randy Moss. Dolphins rookie corner Vontae Daviswas in perfect position to make the easy interception.
Had the Patriots managed even a field goal on that drive, Henne would have been forced to drive his team to a touchdown, instead of the game-winning field goal three series later. Brady's second pick with under a minute to go thwarted any hopes the Patriots had of countering with a three-pointer of their own.
However, it was the defense's continued struggles that stood out most on this mostly overcast afternoon in south Florida.
Sitting at his locker inside Land Shark Stadium, Mayo was clearly frustrated by the way his team lost its fifth game of the season.
"The guys came out fired up. I thought we had a great game plan … I really thought we were going to win the game," he told reporters.
His teammates expressed similar sentiments.
"It's frustrating. The ball was in our court to take the game over," said Banta-Cain. "We just fell short of making that play to really seal the game.
"In order to win games like that in the fourth quarter, you have to have somebody step up and make that play."
"It's really tough," safety Brandon Meriweather, who intercepted Henne, observed, "especially when you come and play your heart out. We just didn't make enough plays.
"A loss is a loss, no matter where it happens. But we've had a bunch of them in our grasp and we gave them away. Everybody needs to step up and make plays at the end."