When the Patriots ran:
This was ugly from start to finish. The Dolphins entered the game with the 30th-ranked run defense in football and the Patriots struggled to gain a single yard. Of their 30 attempts in the game, only nine resulted in gains of 4 yards or more or a first down/touchdown. Sony Michel was healthy and received plenty of carries. He did not receive plenty of help, however. Michel managed just 57 yards on 20 attempts for a 2.9-yard average and a long of only 9 yards. Rex Burkhead only got four carries but was limited to 2 yards. One of his attempts was an ill-conceived third-and-one early in the game when the Patriots strangely decided to remove fullback James Develin from the lineup. The result was a 2-yard loss and a punt. As a team New England finished with 77 yards on 30 carries for a pathetic average of 2.6 yards per carry. Try as they might, the Patriots simply couldn’t move a Miami front that has gotten pushed around all season.
When the Patriots passed:
Tom Brady got off to a torrid start, hitting his first 10 passes and lighting up the undermanned Dolphins secondary that was without its best player, Xavien Howard. Miami was forced to go zone without Howard and it paid for it as Brady found the open spaces to the tune of 358 yards and three touchdowns in one of his most productive games of the season. His 37-yard laser to Cordarrelle Patterson in the end zone was one of the prettiest plays of the year. Rob Gronkowski had a flashback game with eight catches for 107 yards and a touchdown while Julian Edelman added nine for 86 yards and a touchdown. Josh Gordon tacked on five receptions for 96 yards, most coming on slants in which he dragged Miami tacklers for extra yardage. But it wasn’t all great for Brady and the passing game. After the hot start, he completed only 17 of 33 passes after that and he lost track of his timeouts and took a costly sack that cost the team three points at the end of the first half. He missed an open Chris Hogan during that sequence and missed an open Burkhead on a key third down in the fourth quarter. He was real good at times but also managed just six points after the break.
When the Dolphins ran:
Miami ran all over the Patriots throughout the afternoon as veteran Frank Gore (12 carries, 92 yards), old friend Brandon Bolden (two carries, 60 yards, 2 TDs) and Kenyan Drake (four carries, 24 yards) carved through gaping holes in the Patriots front. The run defense has been a periodic issue throughout the season – Minnesota’s Dalvin Cook had similar numbers to Gore – but this may have been rock bottom. Despite attempting only 21 rushes in the entire game, Miami piled up 189 yards for a healthy 9-yard average. Bolden entered the day with just one carry to his credit but ripped off a 54-yard touchdown run and added a 6-yard score later in the game. Drake had a strong 11-yard run on second-and-10 to set up a first-and-goal at the 6, and Gore defied his age by hammering the Patriots throughout. He had runs of 36 and 16 yards and consistently put the Dolphins in favorable down-and-distance situations. The Patriots never got things fixed as Miami finished with 15 efficient runs in 21 attempts and added several big plays in the running game.
When the Dolphins passed:
Ryan Tannehill didn’t get to attempt many passes because the Patriots had the ball most of the afternoon. But when he did, and he got time, he generally found an open receiver. New England played a mix of man and zone coverages and neither was effective. Stephon Gilmore lost DaVante Parker for an early 18-yard pickup that jumpstarted Miami’s first touchdown drive. He also lost Brice Butler for a 23-yard touchdown late in the third quarter that gave Miami the lead. Jason McCourty really struggled with Kenny Stills, who had eight catches for 135 yards and a touchdown on nine targets, and the lone incompletion bounced off his facemask. No one other than Stills had more than one catch as Tannehill completed 14 of 19 passes for 265 yards and three touchdowns. He was sacked four times as the Patriots did a nice job of confusing Miami’s front with some stunts that allowed rushers to come free. But when the rush didn’t get home, Tannehill feasted.
The frustration of this Patriots loss could perhaps be summarized when considering the team blocked two Miami punts and still barely earned the edge in this matchup. Albert McClellan was a quiet star, breaking free twice in the first half to block Matt Haack punts, forcing him to use an ineffective rugby style in the second half. The Patriots took advantage on the two short fields only once, though, as they came away empty the second time. That strong work was somewhat mitigated by Stephen Gostkowski’s struggles. He missed an extra point early that allowed Miami to take the lead with each of its first four touchdowns. He also missed a 42-yard field goal in the second half that would have given New England its only two-score lead of the day. Ryan Allen was excellent, averaging 47.3 yards on his three punts. Neither Edelman nor Danny Amendola managed anything in the return game while the kickers opted for touchbacks on nine of the 12 kickoffs. Patterson did make a strange decision to take one out from 9 yards deep and made only to the 21. Two blocked punts in one game is extraordinary work both from McClellan and the coaching staff, who clearly took advantage of something in the Dolphins protection scheme.