When the Patriots ran:
Truth be told this edge wasn't nearly as big as expected heading into the game. Things started off great and that's why New England gets the nod but the consistency wasn't there against a bad Miami run defense. In the first quarter LeGarrette Blount and Dion Lewis were dominant. They combined for 12 rushes and 11 of them resulted in gains of at least 4 yards or first downs. But just five of the last 16 attempts over the final three quarters were efficient, and Blount in particular was held completely in check. He finished with 51 yards on 14 carries for a 3.6-yard average. Lewis' production dropped as well but not nearly as much. He wound up with a respectable 48 yards on 11 carries for a 4.4-yard average. Blount did pick up his 18th rushing touchdown of the season on a 1-yard run, his 11th such TD of the year. As a team the Patriots cranked out 120 yards – well below Miami's average – on 29 attempts for a respectable 4.1-yard average.
When the Patriots passed:
Here's where some of the modest ground success helped pay dividends. First, Tom Brady dealt with some mild pressure but was never really under siege. Second, the play action game helped set up a few big plays, most notably to Martellus Bennett. All three of the tight end's receptions came off play action when the Dolphins linebackers reacted to the run, especially on his easy 2-yard touchdown that opened the scoring. Brady was on point throughout, spreading the ball effectively while completing 25 of 33 passes for 276 yards and three touchdowns. Julian Edelman topped the 1,000-yard receiving mark with a career high 151 on eight catches, the biggest coming on a 77-yard catch-and-run in the third quarter after Miami trimmed the lead to 20-14. He received a huge block from Michael Floyd on the play, and Floyd caught three ball for 36 yards and a touchdown that came when he muscled the ball over the goal line with several tacklers draped all over him. With Malcolm Mitchell (knee) and Danny Amendola (ankle) out, Floyd's contributions were welcomed.
When the Dolphins ran:
Jay Ajayi entered the game as one of the league's most dangerous runners in terms of big plays. But on Sunday he was held largely in check with his longest carry going for just 11 yards. He finished with 59 yards on 16 carries for a 3.7-yard average. Miami finished with only 75 yards on 23 attempts after falling behind 20-0 early, but when Ajayi got the call the Patriots were ready. Malcom Brown and Alan Branch was once again the top defensive tackle tandem with Vincent Valentine rotating in, but it was little-used inside linebacker Elandon Roberts and defensive end Trey Flowers who stood out. Roberts tied for the team lead with seven tackles, several coming around the line of scrimmage, while Flowers had three run stuffs against Ajayi that resulted in no gain. The Patriots front rarely allowed Ajayi to get through the line unattended and forced the second-year back to move laterally before he was able to pick up any yards. This was a return to the stout play we've seen over the last half of the season.
When the Dolphins passed:
Miami actually had reasonable success throwing the football throughout the game and moved it effectively at times through the air. But a pair of costly turnovers represented two of the biggest plays of the game and ultimately allowed the Patriots to earn the edge in this matchup. Backup quarterback Matt Moore struggled a bit early but settled into a nice groove after throwing a horrible interception to Logan Ryan down the sideline. Moore scrambled to his left and badly underthrew his receiver and watched his pass go right to the Patriots cornerback. From there he heated up, completing 24 of 34 passes for 205 yards and a pair of touchdown. Miami's gifted receivers were trouble all day as Jarvis Landry (nine catches, 76 yards, 1 TD), DeVante Parker (five catches, 45 yards) and Kenny Stills (four catches, 41 yards, 1 TD) all managed to get open consistently. Flowers' occasional pressure on Moore forced a couple of incompletions on potential big plays as well. But the final turnover effectively ended the game as Devin McCourty knocked the ball away from running back Damian Williams inside the Patriots 5 after a short catch. Shea McClellin's 69-yard fumble return turned a potential 27-21 game into a 35-14 laugher.
This was more of a draw but since the Patriots wrapped up a perfect 8-0 road record we'll give them a clean sweep in the matchups. Neither team managed much of anything in the return game and both punters had solid afternoons in terms of their directional kicking. There were minor miscues on both sides as Stephen Gostkowski pushed a 52-yard field goal wide right, a kick that was made possible largely by the miskick by Andrew Franks. Franks' kickoff following Landry's touchdown came from the 25-yard line after an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the receiver, and when the kick slipped on his approach it allowed New England to take over at their 43. That allowed the Patriots to move into field goal range in less than 20 seconds. Edelman fair caught two of his three punt return attempts but Miami's Jakeem Grant did take one his back 14 yards. Overall there weren't many impactful plays in special teams.