When the Patriots ran:
This was the Patriots most impressive performance on the ground all season. Miami isn't exactly the most stout defense against the run but New England's patchwork offensive line still deserves credit for paving the way to a career day on the ground for Dion Lewis. Lewis carved up the Dolphins with several big plays, recording runs of 25, 25, 22 and 13 yards en route to his 15-carry, 112-yard performance. He averaged a whopping 7.5 yards per carry and consistently kept the chains moving with several productive runs between the tackles. Rex Burkhead added 50 yards on 13 carries, although most of that came on a 22-yard jaunt. James White carried only three times for 13 yards but two of those converted third downs. Overall New England piled up 196 yards rushing on 38 carries for a healthy 5.2-yard average. That some serious production on the ground.
When the Patriots passed:
Truth be told some of this production – two of the touchdowns – should probably be credited to the running game. Tom Brady completed a modest 18 of 28 passes for 227 yards, but recorded four touchdowns and one interception. The touchdown to Brandin Cooks was in essence a running play as Brady flipped it to the streaking wideout on a glorified handoff before watching him scoot 14 yards around left end. His 1-yard touchdown toss to Rex Burkhead came with the ball inches from the goal line and the Dolphins stacking inside for another run. Otherwise, Brady did well to manage the production he did considering the significant pressure he was under all day. Miami hit the quarterback eight times and pressured him into several hurried throws. But Brady consistently avoided sacks (he went down just once) and usually found Rob Gronkowski (five catches, 82 yards, 2 TDs) and Cooks (six catches, 83 yards, 1 TD) for big plays. He was occasionally off target, as was the case on his first pick in more than a month, but overall Brady was once again on point when needed.
When the Dolphins ran:
Miami wasn't able to generate much momentum on the ground throughout the day and eventually the score eliminated that element from the offense altogether. Damien Williams had some nice moments and finished with eight carries for 38 yards (4.8-yard average) before leaving in the third quarter with a shoulder injury. Kenyan Drake was bottled up, however, adding just 20 yards on his nine attempts (2.2-yard average) and also lost a fumble. Miami wanted to stay balanced offensively in an effort to keep the Patriots vaunted offense on the sideline but it never materialized. The Patriots front, which welcomed back Malcom Brown after a three-week absence, was much tougher at the point of attack and linebacker Elandon Roberts did a nice job filling the running lanes consistently throughout the day. Miami finished with just 67 yards on 19 carries for a 3.5-yard average with only four of those attempts coming in the second half.
When the Dolphins passed:
The Dolphins brought three talented receivers to Foxborough and the Patriots secondary did a pretty solid job of limiting the damage against all three. Only Jarvis Landry approached his normal levels of production, and with just 70 yards on his right catches he was largely held in check as well. Stephon Gilmore took DeVante Parker out of the game, limiting him to just one catch for 5 yards. He also picked off a pass in the end zone intended for Parker, and should have had another one late in the game but Duron Harmon wrestled it away from him on the ground. It was perhaps Gilmore's strongest showing as a Patriot. Malcolm Butler was often on Kenny Stills, the Dolphins third wideout, and Stills finished with just three catches for 47 yards. Jonathan Jones had the difficult task of keeping up with Landry, but even though he allowed eight catches in nine targets the corner did a nice job tackling the dangerous slot receiver and limiting the damage. Dolphins backup quarterback Matt Moore never got in a rhythm, completing 23 of 34 passes for 215 yards and a touchdown to go with the two picks. Late in the game the Patriots pass rush even made an appearance, recording five of their seven sacks in the fourth quarter. It was another impressive effort by the defense.
The Patriots didn't dominate in the kicking game as they have in recent weeks but still managed to turn in a key play that helped seize momentum. After being held to a three-and-out on the opening series, the Patriots opted to fake the punt and Nate Ebner took the direct snap from his personal protector position and easily ran around the right end for a first down. The Patriots continued that drive and score a touchdown to open the scoring. Otherwise there were no special plays in the kicking game. Lewis didn't find any room on his kickoff returns, getting stopped at the 15 and 22 on his two attempts. Jakeem Grant did something most returners haven't been able to this season against the Patriots as he consistently got past the 25. He got at least that far on three of his four of his attempts but never got past the 30. Danny Amendola fumbled on of his punt returns but Jones recovered to avoid the turnover. Overall it was a quiet day on special teams but Ebner's play was a huge momentum builder.