MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – You're welcome. Glad we could be of service.
Credit for New England's 41-14 thrashing of the Miami Dolphins, in south Florida, in prime time, can be shared among several unlikely, unexpected areas – including one off-the-field element.
But first, to the game itself and its key players. But where to begin? Offense? Defense? Special teams? They all contributed mightily to the cause, at the most critical junctures. The Patriots defense, known for its woes on the road and second-half collapses of late, was stout throughout. New England's offense, so often a pass-happy bunch, resorted to the ground game for much of the night. Special teams, though, may have upstaged them both.
In so doing, the Patriots made NFL history Monday night against Miami by becoming the first team ever to score touchdowns in a game via the run, the pass, an interception return, a kickoff return, and a blocked field goal.
It was as complete a performance as you'll ever see in football, from a team that hasn't had many of those recently. And it came in a place where the Patriots historically have had miserable luck. More surprisingly, the usual all-star cast wasn't featured as prominently. Wide receiver Randy Moss, for example, went without a catch, and was targeted only once.
On this night, second-year receiver/kick returner Brandon Tatepicked up the slack with nearly 10 yards per catch and a touchdown on the second-half opening kickoff that fully stole the momentum from Miami. Linebacker *Rob Ninkovich's *two athletic interceptions killed Dolphin drives, while his sack of Miami QB *Chad Henne *at the start of the fourth quarter set up another Patriots touchdown on special teams.
Safety Patrick Chung'sblocked field goal in the fourth quarter, which cornerback Kyle Arrington returned 35 yards for a score, was Chung's second blocked kick of the game. In the third quarter, his block of a *Brandon Fields punt set up running back BenJarvus *Green-Ellis' *2-yard touchdown run through the heart of the Dolphin defense. Even diminutive *Danny Woodhead, in only his second game with the Patriots, scored his second career TD in as many games.
Everyone, it seemed, wanted in on the fun.
"Special teams, defense, offense – that's what football is all about," Ninkovich noted matter-of-factly afterward. "You have to do it great in all three phases. When you're out here and get that electricity going in all three phases, you play off each other. We did that really well [tonight]."
"Special teams helps defense, defense helps offense, offense helps defense," Chung added. "It was a total team effort."
"When you play well for four quarters," quarterback Tom Bradyremarked, "it's a good outcome. We talked a lot this week about the second half and what we needed to do."
They talked about one other thing, the Patriots did.
Us. The media. PFW in particular. It was reported before the game that the team had posted in a very visible area of the football offices the section of last week's issue where we and several of our media colleagues predict the winners of the upcoming games. This past week, we all selected Miami. We make those picks not based on any personal like or dislike, but on what we honestly feel will happen. Many players, however, took our predictions personally and used that as motivation.
Nose tackle and co-captain Vince Wilfork, who refused to speak to any reporters a few days ago because, as he put it, "Y'all didn't write anything good about us this week," also declined after the game, saying, "I'm off-duty."
Many of his teammates, though, were more gracious in victory, while acknowledging the issue.
"We did, we had something to prove," linebacker and co-captain Jerod Mayodeclared. "Everybody doubted us, but we like it that way. [Bill] let us know what was being said … it motivated us to come out and perform.
"So," he added with a chuckle, "keep doing it."
"It was big for us to get a road win," Tate said. "People were saying we couldn't get a win on the road, this, that, the other … but we just trusted each other and went out here and played together as a team."
"We like being underdogs, I guess," Chung explained. "I can't speak for the team, but you guys picked who you picked. That's all I can say. Enough said."
"Yeah, it's going to be there for a while, I think," Brady said of the chip on his team's collective shoulder. "We got a lot of chips."
I believe Brady's right. The question is, how many more times will the Patriots be able to cash in all those chips the way they did Monday night – this magical Monday night – in Miami?