When the Patriots ran:
Miami came into the game with the 30th-ranked run defense in the NFL. The Patriots came into the game determined to exploit that weakness and to establish a semblance of balance that was lacking a week earlier. While the balance was achieved the production on the ground was not. LeGarrette Blount started and got the bulk of the carries. Aside from a few solid runs in garbage time he was ineffective most of the night. Things started well enough as he cranked out efficient runs on his first three carries but things went steadily downhill from there. He finished with 17 carries for just 72 yards – and 26 of those yards came on his final three carries when the game was over. Dion Lewis had a couple of spurts but finished with 19 yards on five carries. Overall New England managed 95 yards but was able to rack up 26 attempts, so even though the 3.7-yard average was less than ideal at least some pressure was taken off Tom Brady.
When the Patriots passed:
The Dolphins brought pressure and for long stretches of the game – midway through the first quarter through the end of the first half – it affected Brady. He was only sacked twice but many of his incompletions were either caused by hits or the result of throwaways under duress. The offensive line suffered another injury as Tre' Jackson went down with a knee injury in the second half. But when Brady had time he was once again lethal. He finished 26 of 38 for 356 yards and four touchdowns without an interception. Rob Gronkowski was his typically dominant self with six catches for 113 yards including a 47-yard touchdown. Lewis did most of his damage as a receiver, picking up 93 yards on his six grabs, the first of which was a scintillating 17-yard screen to convert and early third-and-16 on the game's first series. Brandon LaFell bounced back from last week's drops and caught four balls for 47 yards. Julian Edelman was quiet most of the night but tacked on two touchdowns late to finish with seven catches for 81 yards. Brady's brilliance was once again on full display and he now has 20 touchdowns and just one pick. He's never been better.
When the Dolphins ran:
For the second straight week the Patriots front seven controlled the line of scrimmage. Interim head coach Dan Campbell thought it was wise to line up and pound away at the Patriots and in doing so turned in the worst offensive effort by a Patriots opponent this season. Lamar Miller picked up15 yards on nine carries and as a team Miami had the same total on 13 attempts. That's 1.2 yards per carry – and that's dominance. Alan Branch and Malcom Brown started inside and once again were stout. Sealver Siliga, who didn't see much action against the Jets, came up with a big stop on third-and-one near midfield in the third quarter when Miami was trying to claw back in it. He dropped Miller in the backfield to stymie any momentum and preserve the Patriots 22-7 lead at the time. Miami had every opportunity to get things going on the ground in the first half when its defense forced four straight punts but New England simply wouldn't let it happen. Last week Chris Ivory's sore hamstring may have contributed to the success but Miller had no such excuse. Another excellent week by the big guys up front.
When the Dolphins passed:
The secondary is still not exactly reminiscent of 2014's version. Miami had several open receivers and at times Ryan Tannehill was able to find them. He completed 28 of 44 for 300 yards, although some of that was tacked on late when the game had been decided. But the front seven continues to hound opposing quarterbacks and Chandler Jones (two sacks) & Co. did so effectively Thursday night. The Patriots got to Tannehill five times and eliminated any chance he had of finding any rhythm. Jarvis Landry was impressive in grabbing six of the eight balls thrown in his direction for 71 yards. Rishard Matthews was a problem early and finished with seven catches for 62 yards. Kenny Stills gave rookie Justin Coleman some trouble and picked up 58 yards on his three receptions. But none of that production was sustained, mostly because the guys up front kept getting to Tannehill. That pressure led to two interceptions (Logan Ryan, Duron Harmon) and allowed the Patriots defense to control things throughout. Miami finished with just 270 yards of total offense and seven points. Best effort of the season for the defense.
Truth be told the best performer of the night on special teams was Miami's rookie punter Matt Darr, who averaged 58.2 yards on his six punts. His 70-yarder out of his end zone on the first half completely flipped field position and allowed Miami to remain on life support for a bit. Landry also turned in a 50-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter. But Stephen Gostkowski's perfection continued – including a key 52-yard field goal after a penalty prevented the Patriots from going for it on fourth-and-one. Edelman also averaged 12.7 yards on his three punt returns while Ryan Allen dropped four of his six punts inside the Dolphins 20. That forced Miami into bad field position throughout, and one such possession ended in a safety when Tannehill wasn't ready for a shotgun snap and was forced to recover the loose ball in the end zone. Matthew Slater appeared to be seriously hurt just two weeks ago in Indy but was a force as the gunner, dropping the dangerous Landry for a 1-yard loss to set up the safety. It wasn't as perfect as most games have been but it was still impressive.