…Miami opened the game strong, with a 50-yard Ryan Tannehill pass to WR Mike Wallace. The receiver got open because he was covered one-on-one by rookie CB Malcolm Butler, who failed to jam Wallace at the line of scrimmage. This gave Wallace a free release, which he took to the sideline. Then, Wallace gave Butler a stutter-step move that froze the rookie momentarily. Wallace easily separated from him and safety Devin McCourty was too late coming over to provide help.
…New England stole the momentum right back four plays later when Jamie Collins blocked K Caleb Sturgis' 41-yard field goal attempt. Collins was standing up a step or two behind the line of scrimmage, and at the snap, he raced toward a gap on the right side of the Miami line. Collins timed his leap just right and got his right hand on the ball. Kyle Arrington, as the edge rusher on that side, was in the right place to scoop up the loose ball and with no one in front of him, Arrington used his speed to outrun everyone else on the field for a 62-yard touchdown return.
…Brady wasn't his most sharp in the first half, and his INT in the first quarter was his first miscue. It was a low trajectory by Brady, but also a well-timed leap by LB Jason Trusnik. He gave a half-hearted rush because he was eyeing Brady all the way, knowing he wanted to drop back into coverage. When Brady turned to throw in his direction, Trusnik was ready for it. He volleyed the ball up the air with his left hand and it fell right back down to him. Good individual effort and instinct by Trusnik.
… McCourty saved a touchdown when he covered TE Charles Clay in the back left corner of the end zone late in the quarter. He positioned his body directly in front of Clay, who was backpedaling at that point to look for the ball from Tannehill. The pass would have been right on target to Clay had McCourty not been in the right spot. Tannehill's ball hit McCourty on the left shoulder and ricocheted out of bounds. Had McCourty been just a few inches to the right, the ball would've likely gotten through to Clay.
…Brady had four passes batted against Miami, by far his highest total of the season. The second one came at the end of the quarter when DE Jared Odrick jumped up to knock down another low Brady throw.
…New England's rush defense gave up just shy of 50 yards on that first quarter, half of them to RB Lamar Miller, as they sought to get a handle on Miami's pistol (read-option) offense. They would do a better job as the game went on.
…The Patriots were making LT Nate Solder a tackle eligible numerous times against the Dolphins, bringing in Marcus Cannon to play left tackle in those situations. When rookie Cameron Fleming was healthy, he was the extra blocker who would report in as eligible. Apparently, the coaching staff feels that Solder is a more reliable blocker on the edge than Cannon in those "jumbo" or "heavy" packages, or else they would just make Cannon the eligible man.
…CB Brandon Browner's first pass interference penalty was a legitimate call. WR Brian Hartline was running a 10-yard curl, and as he came out of his break, Browner grabbed Hartline by the left arm with both hands and yanked him quickly as the ball was arriving. Clearly worthy of a penalty, despite Browner's vehement protestations.
…Safety Duron Harmon picked off his first pass of the season on an overthrown ball by Tannehill intended for WR Brandon Gibson over the middle. Harmon was sitting in wait for either the ball to get to him or, had Gibson made the catch, to come up and make the tackle. Harmon saw the ball in the entire way, and made a nice leap to grab it out of the air. His teammates then quickly turned and formed a nice convoy for him down the left sideline before Harmon was eventually pushed out of bounds 60 yards later. Harmon's previous two INTs of his career, both last years as a rookie, also came in instances when he had put himself in the right place at the right time. Good field awareness by him on this latest one.
…That pick set up RB Shane Vereen's short TD run a few plays later. New England had a pair of receivers to the right, TE Tim Wright in a three-point stance next to Solder, and WR Julian Edelman wide left. Vereen was in the gun to Brady's left. At the snap, Brady handed to Vereen, who cut in front of Brady to the right side. There was a Miami safety playing deep in the end to double team TE Rob Gronkowski, the wide right receiver on the play, but he abandoned that responsibility when he saw Vereen darting to the right. He came up to attempt to tackle Vereen, while DE Cameron Wake shed RT Sebastian Vollmer's block and dove at Vereen from behind as the ball carrier split the two defenders to dive over the goal line. The Patriots were lucky, in fact, that Vollmer wasn't flagged for a false start, as he wasn't set for a full second before the snap. Nevertheless, Gronk and WR Brandon LaFell opened up an area for Vereen on that side when they cleared out the two defenders guarding them. Good awareness by the Miami safety, Reshad Jones, but his pitiful tackle effort (diving with his shoulder instead of wrapping up with both arms), allowed Vereen to sneak through the opening.
…TE Rob Gronkowski was not involved in the passing game in the first half. Brady tried to connect with him on a deep ball down the left (Dolphins) sideline, and while Gronk did a great job of getting open past CB Cortland Finnegan, Brady's pass was a shade underthrown, allowing Finnegan to recover and knock the ball away.
…Wallace victimized Butler again at the end of the quarter, this time for a touchdown. And again, McCourty was late in coming to help out. No fakes this time by Wallace, who just ran past Butler. The young corner had his eyes fixed on Tannehill as he was running sideways with his back to Wallace. Tannehill fired the ball over Butler's head and Wallace made a spectacular one-handed snag, keeping his body in bounds. The officials didn't see this until after reviewing their initial call that Wallace was out of bounds. They made the right decision to fix their error because Wallace was clearly in control of the ball and entirely in bounds.
…Gronk got involved in a hurry in the second half. On the very first play, Brady play-actioned to RB Jonas Gray while Gronk, from a three-point stance (showing run block) next to Solder, ran a go-route up the seam. Trusnik tried to cover him, but Gronk's speed was just too much and he got open downfield. Brady fired a perfect pass and Gronk made the catch for 34 yards before he was brought down by Jones, the safety. Gronk went over 1,000 for the season on that catch.
…The lone drop of a Brady pass came from Edelman. He got wide open around the Miami 10 and took his eyes off the ball before he secured it. The ball went through his hands, hit his chest, and bounced to the ground. Edelman was too quick to look up-field for potential tacklers.
…Brady, on the next play, did something he rarely does: tuck and run. He was in the shotgun with a back on either side of him. They flared out at the snap and the pocket started caving in on him from both sides. He stepped up and pump-faked, which spun LB Philip Wheeler around. So, Brady kept going, and Wheeler's futile attempt to dive at Brady's legs failed. Safety Walt Aikens slammed Brady with his shoulder to knock him out of bounds at the Miami 3, but Brady had gained 17 yards on the play.
…That run set up RB LeGarrette Blount's TD plunge. He was in an I-formation, with FB James Develin in front of him. Gronk was in a two-point stance to the right before motioning over to the left. At the snap, Gronk engaged the d-end, Cameron Wake, and Develin came in to assist. The double-team opened up a lane for Blount on the left side, and he exploited it.
…It was noticeable how much better the Patriots' defense got at stopping the read-option. Miami's first drive of the half, a three-and-out, demonstrated this as New England was able to come up with a nice third-down run stop by not falling for Tannehill's fake and plugging up the middle, where the ball carrier, Miller, was trying to squirt through.
…New England was again lucky to escape a penalty on Miami's next possession, which lasted all of one play. Tannehill threw a short pass over the middle to Miller out of the backfield, but he was hit in the back by Browner before the ball arrived. The pass careened off Browner up in the air and safety Patrick Chung came down with it. Very easily could have been (probably should have been) a PI call on Browner, but the refs kept the flags in their pockets. Looking at it in real time, it seemed obvious that Browner made contact before the ball got there, and replays showed the same, but no call was made. Patriots would take advantage on the very next play.
…Gronk was standing up in the slot left. He again ran a go-route up the seam and no Dolphins did anything to impede him at the line of scrimmage. The free release was all Gronk needed to get wide open and Brady found him in stride with a nice, slightly arching pass. It was almost like a drill against air. Far too easy.
…New England nearly got another INT on the next play from scrimmage when Chung nicely read Tannehill's eyes and, as the safety crept toward the line of scrimmage, suddenly shifted back and reached up to deflect a pass intended for Hartline. Harmon came racing in but could quite get there in time to secure the ball before it hit the turf. Nice recognition by Chung, though, of where Tannehill wanted to go with the football.
…Another Gronk-up-the-seam play that Miami couldn't stop set up New England's final TD of the day. The Patriots had the ball at the Dolphins' 6 after that catch and went into another I-formation with Jonas Gray and Develin in the backfield. LaFell was wide left, Edelman wide right, and Gronk was in a three-point stance next to Vollmer. Looked like a run play to start. Brady play-actioned to Gray, then floated a great soft pass to Edelman, running a classic out-pattern, to the right side of the end zone.
…It was all about the NE D in the fourth, starting with Chandler Jones' first sack since coming back from a hip injury. Tannehill was in the gun, and Jones was in his customary right DE spot. Rookie LT Ja'Wuan James was slow in his drop-step as Jones, from a standing two-point stance, used a good combination of speed and strength to shove James aside and drill Tannehill in the back, jarring the ball from his hand. The play came on 1st-and-10 from the NE 17 and pushed the Fins back to the 33. They wound up going for it on 4th down and the defense held for the turnover on downs.
…Next Miami possession, on 2nd-and-goal from the 9, left DE Rob Ninkovich, from a three-point stance, used a simple underneath rip move to elude RT Dallas Thomas. With a free shot at Tannehill, Ninko used a good form technique tackle to wrap up the QB around the torso. Collins had come in from the opposite side and helped take Tannehill's legs out from under him, but Ninko's bear hug would have been enough anyway. He was credited with a full sack for his efforts, and deservedly so.
…Three plays later, Jones and LB Dont'a Hightower combined for another sack and turnover on downs. It was 4th-and-goal from the 23, thanks to the Ninko sack and a Miami penalty. Tannehill was in the gun and the Patriots were rushing just three players. Jones really created the sack by knifing through a double-team to get in Tannehill's face. Hightower came in from behind Jones, while Ninkovich was swooping around Tannehill's back. All three converged on him at the same time. Great individual plays by the New England front three beat out the five-man o-line with ease, sealing another impressive defensive effort overall by the Patriots.
DO YOUR JOB: Chandler Jones – Hard not to acknowledge the job Jones did in his first game back since injuring a hip two months ago. Jones came out with enthusiasm from the get-go, even though he didn't start the game. He came on during the first series and was making plays right away, both against the run and as a pass rusher. He finished third on the team in tackles on the afternoon and collected 1.5 sacks. He even forced a fumble, although Miami managed to recover it. Jones was also in Tannehill's face all day, adding a pair of QB hits to the stat sheet. Great return by Jones.