FOXBOROUGH – It seems the Patriots need to have their backs against the wall, with outside detractors approaching from all sides, to rouse them from their early-season slumber. We've seen them do this before, and the formula worked once again Sunday on a gorgeous autumn afternoon at Gillette Stadium.
Buoyed by a loud crowd on a sun-splashed autumn afternoon in Foxborough, the previously 1-2 Patriots pounced on the erstwhile 3-0 Dolphins from the get-go. Offensively, New England moved the ball with relative ease on its first possession after the Patriots defense forced a Miami punt on the game's opening drive.
"It was a good start," safety Duron Harmon remarked later. "You don't want to go out there and play with some people who go into a tank. It's never good. You want people who are mentally tough and can withstand the adversity when it hits. We have those type of guys here. We were never in panic mode."
"We ignore the noise," maintained DE Trey Flowers, back in the lineup after a concussion kept him out last week. "We've been hearing it for so long. We know we're all we've got and we understand the guys in here, how hard we work, and the production we'll put on the field."
New England's running game finally stretched its legs, with rookie Sony Michel accruing 80 yards by halftime. New England frequently found success on stretch plays to the outside, with Michel showing good patience with his blockers as they worked to open up holes for him, and being decisive when necessary to dart through those spaces.
"Everybody executed their jobs," Michel told reporters after the game. "That was the goal: Do your job. The offensive line did a great job.
"It's all on me making the right read, being decisive and patient, to do a great job of both of those things."
Michel tallied 112 yards on the ground and his first NFL touchdown. An added element of excitement came with the first-ever activation of Josh Gordon, who came to New England in a trade with Cleveland earlier this month. The troubled-but-talented receiver brought the crowd to its feet with two catches, one of which nearly went for a touchdown, and both of which saw Gordon fight off Dolphin defenders to gain extra yards.
"I have no doubt I can take advantage of this opportunity," declared Gordon, who has struggled with substance abuse issues in the past. "I'm more than blessed. I'm extremely grateful to be put in this scenario. The only thing right for me to do is take full advantage of it. I'm loving it, I'm enjoying it. The guys here are great. It's a real home environment and I feel as comfortable as ever here. It's awesome."
Another wideout who has been inches away from making big plays so far this season finally completed one. Cordarrelle Patterson got wide open, thanks to a perfect pick play by RB James White at the line of scrimmage, to catch a deep Brady pass and take it to the end zone for a 55-yard score. Along the way, Patterson juked a Miami defender who appeared positioned to make a tackle along the Dolphins sideline.
WR Phillip Dorsett put an exclamation point on the first-half domination with his spectacular somersault touchdown catch to close out the second quarter and effectively close out the game, as New England took a 24-0 lead into the locker room.
The defense played its part, too. LB Kyle Van Noy's recovery of a fumbled Ryan Tannehill snap set up a White TD run on the next play. In the third quarter, Adam Butler sacked Tannehill, and rookie J.C. Jackson registered the first interception of his professional career.
Asked what this lopsided win means for the now 2-2 Patriots, who are a half-game behind Miami in the AFC East standings (as they currently own the tiebreaker), Van Noy responded, "I'm just worried about today, and today we got a win, played good team defense, played good all around in all three phases. That's what Patriots football is all about."
What changed from the past two games?
"I wouldn't pinpoint one thing," added Van Noy. "We just had a good week of practice. Guys came ready to play."
"I think we prepared well throughout the week and we were able to come out and execute well," echoed Flowers. "Just getting back to fundamentals, the things that we pride ourselves on and work hard on in practice. We had to focus a little harder, work a little more."
If you're looking for sour notes in this otherwise celebratory day, there were some. TE Rob Gronkowski left the game midway through the third quarter. He had been dealing with a left ankle injury that limited him in recent practices, and received treatment on his right ankle when he went to the bench. Soon after, he went inside the locker room and never returned. At the moment, it's unclear what his status for Thursday night's game against the Colts will be.
The Patriots also committed a troubling number of penalties versus Miami (eight, six accepted), mostly in the second quarter. In addition, Brady doubled his INT total for the season with a pair of picks versus Miami.
For the past two weeks, the Patriots have told us that the problems they've experienced in their two road losses were correctable. The talent exists on the roster, they insisted, it was just a lack of execution on their part. This result is exactly what the Patriots – and their critics – needed to remember that this team can still be a factor in 2018.
"It'll probably just be for a day," joked Harmon. "We knew we could play better, and we just had to come out and do it."