When the Patriots ran:
The temptation here is to give the Patriots ground game a pass because the circumstances of the game forced them to attempt just 10 rushes for only 25 yards. But while the unexpected deficit took the running game out of the equation, the inability to pick up any yards certainly contributed to the offense's downfall. Seven of the 10 runs were disasters as six resulted in gains of 2 yards or less and the other a modest 3-yard pickup. Dion Lewis had an 11-yard run early in the second quarter. Otherwise the Patriots netted 14 yards on the other nine attempts. Miami's front consistently got penetration and forced Lewis and Rex Burkhead to make moves in the backfield before being smothered. The ground game had been making significant strides in recent weeks, but the normally porous Dolphins front dominated Monday night.
When the Patriots passed:
Despite playing without starting corner Cordrea Tankersley the Miami secondary, with some help from the pass rush, dominated as well. Xavien Howard was the target of the Patriots game plan and the second-year corner completely shut down Brandin Cooks. Cooks was targeted seven times and turned just one catch, a meaningless 38-yard grab in the final minutes after the game had long since been decided. Howard not only prevented catches but he was able to pick off a pair of Tom Brady passes in the process. Brady was ineffective from start to finish, completing just 24 of 43 passes for 233 yards and a touchdown to go with the two picks for a 59.5 passer rating. He was sacked twice and hit six times while appearing uncomfortable in the pocket throughout. The Dolphins did a great job of disrupting the underneath routes and tackled the backs effectively when they caught a variety of short throws. Lewis (five), Burkhead (five) and James White (three) combined for only 106 yards on their 13 receptions, although one of White's resulted in a touchdown. That production would have been worse had Lewis not made a miraculous one-handed grab for 20 yards down the sideline on an ill-advised Brady heave under duress. The wideouts were blanked for the entire first half, and Danny Amendola's production (six catches, 76 yards) came after the Patriots trailed by 17. Rob Gronkowski's absence was glaring and no one came close to picking up the slack.
When the Dolphins ran:
The Patriots run defense has struggled most of the season, and only game circumstances have prevented the problems from being exacerbated. The defense didn't have that luxury Monday night, and backup running back Kenyan Drake took full advantage. He carried 25 times for 114 yards (4.6-yard average) including runs of 26 and 31 yards. He made people miss and ran away from others while consistently grinding out tough yards between the tackles. The Patriots showed some life late in the game in desperation mode and stopped Drake for modest gains on his last three attempts, but otherwise the patchwork front seven, playing without Trey Flowers (ribs) and Kyle Van Noy (calf), had no answers. The situation might have gotten worse as well as Alan Branch was forced to leave the game with a knee injury. With Pittsburgh and Le'Veon Bell on the horizon next week that does not bode well for a thin group searching for answers.
When the Dolphins passed:
Jay Cutler has struggled for the better part of the season after being lured out of retirement by Miami coach Adam Gase. He did not struggle Monday night, picking apart the Patriots secondary throughout. He finished 25 of 38 for 263 yards and three touchdowns and nothing even close to an interception for an impressive 112.1 passer rating. He should have added a 55-yard touchdown to his numbers as he perfectly placed a deep ball into the arms of Jakeem Grant in the fourth quarter for what should have been the dagger but the receiver dropped it well behind Malcolm Butler. Grant did not drop the 25-yard touchdown he beat Butler for earlier, and Jarvis Landry caught all eight balls thrown his way with two going for touchdowns. Drake was an issue in the passing game as well, catching five balls for 79 yards, mostly victimizing Elandon Roberts in the process. The Patriots were forced to dial up some blitzes to get pressure and some were successful, but for the most part Miami did whatever it wanted on offense all night.
There wasn't much to choose between the teams in the kicking game as neither side made any significant plays or glaring errors. Stephen Gostkowski and Cody Parkey both went 2-for-2 on field goals and the kick coverage on both sides held the returners between the 15 and 20 three times apiece. Both punters also saw plenty of action and both Ryan Allen and Matt Haack were effective. The Patriots got the slightest of edges based on the punt return work, which included returns of 14 and 8 yards for Bernard Reedy and 11 yards for Amendola. None of those significantly impact field position, however, and the slight edge did little on a night when New England lost decisively in the other two phases.