When the Patriots ran:
This was a huge part of the Patriots success on Sunday and probably the most unexpected. Rookie Sony Michel enjoyed a breakthrough performance after getting off to a slow start in his first two games. He exploded for 112 yards on 25 carries for a solid 4.5-yard average. He also added the first touchdown of his career to close the scoring for the Patriots. He used an effective game plan that called for several runs to the edges of the Miami defense, where he often found plenty of running room thanks to solid work from the guys up front. He steadily carved up the Dolphins throughout the day and made sure the Patriots remained in favorable down-and-distance situations. James White also contributed greatly as a runner, picking up 44 yards on just eight carries (5.5-yard average) including a scintillating 22-yard touchdown run in which he made the Dolphins secondary look silly. Overall the Patriots piled up 175 yards on the ground on a whopping 40 carries and completely dominated the line of scrimmage.
When the Patriots passed:
This wasn't one of Tom Brady's perfect performances but it was pretty effective nonetheless. He did toss a pair of interceptions, the first coming on a terrific read by Dolphins corner Bobby McCain that seemed to fool Brady. But other than the uncharacteristic miscues, Brady was pretty solid. He shook off the slow start and began using the play-action game to his advantage, finding open receivers as the game progressed. White was his most common target, catching eight passes for 68 yards including an incredible touchdown in which Brady delivered a high spiral toward the corner of the end zone as he was getting crushed by Robert Quinn. When he delivered the pass there was no one in sight but by the time it landed White had plenty of time to run under it for a 14-yard TD. Just an incredible example of the trust Brady has in White. Rob Gronkowski grabbed four passes for 44 yards before leaving with an ankle injury while Phillip Dorsett caught four for 55 yards and a touchdown. Brady's other touchdown went to Cordarrelle Patterson, who used a perfect rub by White to find open space on a 55-yard scoring play. Newcomer Josh Gordon chipped in with a pair of catches in limited duty, both of which converted third downs. Brady completed 23 of 35 passes for 274 yards on the day.
When the Dolphins ran:
Evidently the Patriots front seven wasn't just talking about improving all week after struggling to stop the run for the better part of the last year-plus. Sunday against Miami the defense shut down Frank Gore and Kenyan Drake from the start, limiting the Dolphins runners to 14 carries for 44 yards, much of that coming from Gore late in the game. Drake has 3 yards on three carries while Gore finished with 41 yards on 11 attempts. Overall, Miami rushed 18 times for just 56 yards and an average on just 3.1 yards per carry. Opponents had been averaging 143.3 yards per game on the ground against New England entering the game, thus creating some urgency from the front seven as the group prepared for Miami. Linebackers Elandon Roberts, Kyle Van Noy and Dont'a Hightower were quite effective filling gaps behind a front that at times included the three big guys together as Lawrence Guys slid outside to end occasionally with Malcom Brown and Danny Shelton working inside. The results were dominance against a Miami offensive line that was overwhelmed.
When the Dolphins passed:
If the Patriots success on the ground was the biggest surprise development then the play of the secondary against the Dolphins was No. 2. With Miami not able to generate anything on the ground the Patriots made sure the long-yardage situations they create would not go to waste. Opponents entered Week 4 converting almost 49 percent of their third downs against New England but Miami went 3 for 11 (27 percent) on Sunday. The reason was partly due to the great work on early downs that created numerous third-and-longs, but also the result of some excellent coverage on the back end. Jason McCourty started for the injured Eric Rowe (groin) and performed well alongside Stephon Gilmore and Jonathan Jones in the slot. Patrick Chung returned and the Patriots were able to resume their three-man rotation at safety. It all added up to some excellent coverage as Ryan Tannehill completed just 11 of 20 passes for a paltry 100 yards and was intercepted by rookie J.C. Jackson. Kenny Stills was the leading receiver with just 40 yards, and 22 of those came on the first play of the game. Danny Amendola was held in check with just two catches for 21 yards as the secondary was outstanding.
This was another week that didn't really feature many significant plays in the kicking game but a poor performance by Dolphins punter Matt Haack was tough to overlook. In fairness to Haack he got a lot of work in this game but he was awful. He punted seven times and finished with a 35.4-yard net that included shanks of 24 and 23 yards. His one solid punt of the day, a 51-yarder, was returned 24 yards by Cyrus Jones so even that led to favorable field position for the Patriots. Despite having seven attempts, Haack failed to pin the Patriots inside their 20 a single time. Punting is not normally under the microscope but Sunday's effort was pretty bad. Otherwise not much to highlight. Ryan Allen only punted twice but the Dolphins managed to average 11.5 yards on two returns. Stephen Gostkowski delivered mostly touchbacks (5 of 7) but did have one strange chip short that landed at the 22 and allowed backup tight end Durham Smythe to return it 16 yards to the 38. Not great execution for the Patriots on that play but even that didn't lead to any Miami points.