…The Patriots were given an opportunity Thursday to do something they rarely do: possess the ball first in a game. Miami won the coin toss and elected to defer to the second half, which is what the Patriots normally do when they win the flip, and New England made the most of the opportunity, scoring a touchdown in just nine plays.
…Before that, though, WR Danny Amendola was flagged for an illegal crackback block, which is a 15-yard personal foul, on a 2-yard run by RB LeGarrette Blount. Amendola was blocking LB Jelani Jenkins a few yards downfield on the right side, the area where Blount was running. As Blount approached, Amendola intentionally dove to the ground at the legs of Jenkins, knocking the Dolphin to the turf as Blount rounded the corner around them. Amendola tried to protest his innocence after the call was made, but it looked like the proper decision by referee Pete Morelli's crew.
…Other than that penalty, New England had success running with Blount on the opening drive thanks to some excellent trap blocking by pulling guards Josh Kline and rookie Tre Jackson. Another common denominator was QB Tom Brady taking the snap from under center on each of those Blount runs.
…The effectiveness of the running game, with Brady under center, helped set up the touchdown pass to TE Rob Gronkowski. Blount was 8-yards deep behind Brady, Gronk and fellow TE Michael Williams were flanking the right and left tackles, Cam Fleming and Sebastian Vollmer, in what appeared to be obvious run-blocking stances. At the snap, Williams actually started as the fullback in an I formation, but motioned out of it pre-snap. Brady faked a handoff to Blount and Kline pulled to the right side, where it appeared Blount was running. Gronk, meantime, released into the second level of the defense and ran an in-pattern. The Dolphins defenders bought the fake, giving Gronk a large area of open field in the middle. Brady hit Gronk in stride and the big tight end kept rumbling across to the left side before turning upfield around the 35-yard line. Gronk shook safety Reshad Jones and turned on the afterburners. But three other Dolphins were in the area and giving chase. WR Brandon LaFell cut in front of Gronk to take out the nearest of those defenders, safety Michael Thomas, with a de-cleating block. Gronkowski still might have been able to take it the distance, but LaFell's block ensured it.
…The Dolphins lost their starting right tackle, Ja'Wuan James, to a toe injury on their first drive. Miami was forced to insert backup Jason Fox at that spot for the remainder of the contest.
…The Patriots weren't fooled by an unconventional quad-left formation the Dolphins used on their opening drive. Four receivers were overloaded to the left, and at the snap, from the shotgun, QB Ryan Tannehill kept the ball himself and ran to the right. Rookie DT Malcom Brown, DE Rob Ninkovich, and LB Dont'a Hightower converged on Tannehill instantly and dropped him for a 1-yard loss.
…DE Chandler Jones got the first of his two sacks on the night thanks to some help from his teammates. Miami was attempting to run a screen pass to WR Jarvis Landry, who was lined up in the backfield. RB Lamar Miller motioned from the line of scrimmage into the backfield to fake taking a handoff from Tannehill in the gun. Landry, running from right to left out of the backfield, turned back to look for the pass, but as Tannehill spun around to make the throw, rookie DE Geneo Grissom was in the QB's face. Tannehill ducked underneath Grissom's high tackle attempt (the rookie should have targeted Tannehill's midsection) and escaped momentarily. DL Dominique Easley had shaken his blocker and tried to go after Tannehill in the backfield, but stumbled over Grissom, who was on the ground. Tannehill scrambled up the middle, but he was running straight into Jones, who swallowed him up for a loss of six. Credit Grissom for causing the initial disruption that led the Miami o-line to break down and allow Easley and Jones to corral Tannehill into the sack.
…Kline, on the second Patriots series, was correctly flagged for a clip.
…Gronkowski sure looked like he was interfered with by Reshad Jones on a deep ball down the right (Dolphins) sideline, but no flag was thrown. Jones looked like he used his right arm to grab hold of Gronkowski's left before the ball arrived. When it did, Gronkowski only had his free right hand with which to attempt to bring the ball in to his body, but he couldn't control it and it fell to the turf. It was a clear violation, but the officials didn't make the call.
…Hightower nearly had himself an interception when he timed perfectly a jump on Tannehill's first pass of the quarter. Hightower raised both arms up, but the ball was traveling a bit to Hightower's right, so all he could do was swipe at it with his right arm. The ball struck him forearm and fell incomplete. Ninkovich also read Tannehill's throw and came close to knocking the ball down himself – something he did four times against the Jets the previous game.
…New England scored its first safety since 2012 when Tannehill, from the shotgun, appeared still to be reading the coverage of the Patriots defense as his center snapped the ball. Tannehill wasn't looking for or expecting the ball as it flew by him, but he had the presence of mind to chase after it and fall on the ball just as Ninkovich arrived, or else it might have been a touchdown for New England. Afterward, Tannehill explained it as "a miscommunication" between himself and his center.
…Miami CB Jamar Taylor clearly interfered with LaFell on a deep ball down the left (Dolphin) sideline. He arrived before the ball and struck LaFell in the facemask, shoulder, and left arm, causing LaFell to fall backward and use one arm to try to bring the ball in, but again, as with the Gronkowski play, no flag was thrown by the officiating crew. Two blatant missed calls, both at New England's expense. Brady's pass to LaFell fell incomplete and on the next play, Brady was sacked on 3rd down.
…That takedown of Brady by DE Olivier Vernon was a simple case of his beating Fleming with a good rip move to get underneath the taller Fleming. Vernon had the leverage advantage and was in Brady's comfort zone very quickly. The QB tried to elude Vernon, but the defender wrapped his arms around Brady's waist and wouldn't let go. Fleming was helpless to assist at this point and Brady was taken down. Just a great individual move by Vernon against a less-experienced Fleming.
…Chandler Jones sacked Tannehill the second time on Miami's next possession. Only this time, Jones didn't need any help from teammates. He was double-teamed by Albert and TE Jordan Cameron on Tannehill's left side. Somehow, as Jones was hand-fighting both blockers, he knifed in between the two of them and crushed an unsuspecting Tannehill. This might have been Jones' most impressive sack to date, given that he was outnumbered and still found a way to make the unassisted play. It also came on third down, which forced Miami to punt.
…Fleming had another miscue on the ensuing possession when he went about five yards down field on a Brady completion to Edelman before the throw was made. This is not allowed by ineligible receivers on pass plays, so, Morelli's crew made the proper call on this one.
…The running game became less effective for the Patriots in the second quarter (less trapping and pulling), and that coincided with the Dolphins getting more pressure on Brady, which also forced him into some high throws to receivers.
…CB Logan Ryan's INT of Tannehill with 5 minutes to go in the half was partially a result of a poorly run route by intended receiver Rishard Matthews. The Dolphin was running what looked like a hitch route toward his own sideline, but his cut back toward Tannehill was too shallow. This allowed Ryan, who was watching the receiver, not the QB, to step in front of Matthews at the last moment and easily pick off the pass.
…Looked like a good call against Gronk for offensive pass interference late in the quarter, nullifying a would-be Julian Edelman TD catch. Gronkowski ran his route straight at Reshad Jones and shoved the safety in the chest before turning to look for the football.
…That only delayed the inevitable, as Brady found RB Dion Lewis on the next play. Lewis, coming back from an abdomen injury that sidelined him against New York, was in the backfield with Brady in the gun. At the snap, Gronkowski ran down the seam, clearing out a big space over the short middle, into which Lewis ran a looping route. The nearest defender to Lewis, CB Brent Grimes, was a good seven or eight yards deep and to the right, leaving virtually no chance to come up and make the play. Lewis was essentially uncovered and took the pass untouched the rest of the way into the end zone.
…Miami had some success throwing long to start the second half. Tannehill's receivers were getting open in the New England secondary and his o-line was giving him sufficient time to throw in most cases. Although Hightower came very close to causing a strip-sack on one particular pass. He was about a half-second too late in arriving from Tannehill's blind side and his hand missed the football by inches. Those handful of long completions set up Miami's lone score of the night, a simple 1-yard plunge by Miller.
…While the Patriots' secondary did concede a number of big plays through the air, it also made several nice breakups throughout the night.
…Fleming's rough night continued with a false start penalty on the first Patriots possession of the half. It was plain to see that he rocked back slightly before the snap. Deserved call.
…Ninkovich also came within inches of sacking Tannehill on the next Dolphins drive when he came off the right edge unblocked. TE Dion Sims slid over from the left side to try to pick him up and that was just enough to slow Ninkovich down or else Tannehill would have been in trouble. Instead, he found Landry for an 18-yard gain. New England did well all night getting pressure on Tannehill, however.
…DT Sealver Siliga has been relatively quiet on the field this season, but he came up with a big 3rd-down stop to force a Miami punt on that same series. On 3rd-and-1 from the Miami 44, Siliga beat RG Dallas Thomas by just shooting straight ahead into a gap as Thomas and the rest of the Dolphin o-line slanted to the right. Siliga's quickness allowed him to get into the Dolphin backfield just as Miller was getting the handoff. Miami lost two yards and had to punt.
…Safety Duron Harmon's INT of Tannehill was a great diving effort by him, but it probably should have been called back because of a collision before the ball arrived between rookie CB Justin Coleman and WR Kenny Stills. It's possible it could have been offensive pass interference on Stills, or at the very least, illegal contact by Coleman, but there was a clear violation of some rule between those two players, but again, no flag from the Morelli crew. That shouldn't diminish the effort Harmon made to pick off the pass, but it was another example of the officiating crew not making what should have been an obvious call.
…Jackson, New England's rookie RG, injured his left knee on the ensuing possession. He was backpedaling during pass protection and his left leg got caught in a pile of bodies. He twisted awkwardly and came down clutching his knee. He couldn't finish the game, but was able to walk off under his own power. With fellow rookie guard Shaq Mason nursing an injured right knee, but able to practice, Jackson's situation will bear close scrutiny next week when the team resumes practice.
…The very next play, Brady found Edelman for the first to two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. It was just a simple case of Edelman sitting down in a hole in the Dolphins' zone and twisting away from a defender to lunge over the goal line.
…New England's D got back-to-back sacks of Tannehill on the next Miami drive. On 1st down, safety Patrick Chung came on a blitz, was unblocked, but whiffed on the tackle as he came flying in too fast. Fox, the substitute right tackle, was originally engaged with Ninko, but tried to chip Chung as he came through. This spun Fox around, leaving Ninko unattended. He raced in to clean up after Chung and take Tannehill down.
…The pressure came from that same right side on the next play. Ninko was on Fox again, while Hightower took on RG Billy Turner. Hightower just speed-rushed Turner and got past his outside shoulder before Turner could react. Tannehill didn't stand a chance.
…Much better night overall for LaFell, who wasn't perfect, but looked more comfortable catching the ball than his did four days earlier in his return from PUP.
…Brady was sacked a second time when Vernon beat Vollmer with a speed move to the outside. Vollmer never got his hands properly on Vernon and was unable to move him off his trajectory toward Brady.
…Edelman caught his second TD on the next play when, from the slot, he ran straight up the seam, head-faked like he was going to cut outside, but then turned back in on safety Walt Aikens. Edelman's quickness was too much for Aikens to overcome and Edelman made the catch and dove for the goal line.
…Safety Devin McCourty got the final sack of Tannehill next series. Nothing fancy about this one, either. Just a safety blitz from the line of scrimmage that the Dolphins didn't account for. McCourty just chased down Tannehill as the QB tried to escape the pocket.