FOXBOROUGH – Listening to the Patriots players and coaches discuss Miami's Wildcat offense this past week, a theme emerged in their responses.
The Dolphins will throw something new at us, but we'll be ready for it.
Sure enough, they were right.
Miami eased its way into their trademark package of plays, waiting till the 5-minute mark of the first quarter to line up in the formation. Nothing fancy, just a direct snap to running back Ricky Williams, who was lined up as the shotgun quarterback. On second-and-10, Williams kept the ball and headed left, but was swallowed up by swarming Patriots defenders for a 3-yard loss. New England had seen this before.
In the second quarter, however, the Dolphins added an element to their Wildcat that wasn't available to them last season when they first sprang it on the Pats (and the rest of the NFL) here at Gillette Stadium – rookie QB Pat White.
A prolific college passer and runner at West Virginia, White – more so even than Williams or Ronnie Brown, Miami's starting tailback – is equally dangerous a threat to run as he is to pass.
"Oh, you definitely have to respect the way he runs," LB Jerod Mayoobserved after the game. "He can pass the ball as well. He's a dual-threat quarterback, and anytime you have a guy like that, you have to take that into account."
And on his first play against New England, White took the shotgun snap on second-and-8, headed left, made a nice cutback to the middle, and took off on a 33-yard jaunt.
With Brown, Williams, and White in the game together, the Dolphins were able to put the Pats on their heels. That drive ended with Williams taking an option pitch from White and rumbling 15 yards for a touchdown to knot the score at 10 apiece.
On their next possession, the Dolphins mixed the Wildcat in with their conventional offense, but New England forced Miami to punt after just four plays. The start of the second half was a different story, as the Dolphins ate up the first 10 minutes of the third quarter by blending both offensive formations.
Brown ended the drive by tossing his second career touchdown pass – both against the Pats, both in the same end zone at Gillette Stadium, and both to a tight end (this time, Joey Haynos) – out of the Wildcat formation. Haynos broke free and was uncovered for the easy catch, apparently a botched assignment by the New England secondary.
For the most part, though, Miami's plays on the scoring drive were short-gainers. The yards piled up and the clock ticked down, but unlike last year in Week 3's debacle, New England was able to make the necessary adjustments. Miami apparently realized they weren't being as effective with the Wildcat because, for the most part, they abandoned it down the stretch, despite being within striking distance on the scoreboard in the waning moments.
Earlier in the week, Mayo told reporters that discipline would be New England's best weapon against the Wildcat. So, how disciplined was the Pats defense on this day?
"We're still very disappointed in the way we played against the Wildcat," he replied. "We had little problems tackling, but we made a couple of adjustments and got better during the game … Hopefully, we can get it straightened out before the next game."
"We just didn't play the option very well," head coach Bill Belichicknoted in his post-game press conference. "We worked on it and then it happened, but probably a little faster than we practiced it."
But New England was faster to react and adjust on the sidelines than they were a year ago. And that made all the difference today.
"I think we did a good job overall," LB Tully Banta-Cainremarked in the Pats' post-game locker room. "We did give up a couple of plays here and there, but it wasn't anything that they did. It was really blown assignments on our part. I definitely think we could have played better, but I'll take this one."