The initial reaction was one of shock.
In the Patriots' post-game locker Sunday, nearly every player who spoke used generic terms and phrases like "new wrinkles" or "did some different things" in an effort to explain how Miami clobbered them, 38-13.
The play that came to epitomize the game was one on which the Dolphins scored four of their five touchdowns (three on the ground and one through the air) – an unbalanced look that sent left tackle Jake Longto the right alongside fellow tackle Vernon Carey, quarterback *Chad Pennington *lined up as a wide receiver, and running back *Ronnie Brown *in a shotgun stance.
It was very similar to the kind of look made famous by the Arkansas Razorbacks and their Heisman Trophy candidate Darren McFadden (now an Oakland Raider) a season ago.
But after watching the film, head coach Bill Belichickmade a somewhat surprising remark about the formation during his Monday press conference.
"We worked against it last week. That's the formation the Jets used last week with Leon Washington. He's thrown out of it and run out of it ... We worked on it a week ago."
So, how were the Dolphins able to make it appear as if the Patriots defense had never seen such a thing before?
"They executed the plays well," Belichick simply replied. "They executed them better than we defended them."
"They've got two pretty good backs back there," cornerback Ellis Hobbsoffered. "If you hand it off to Ricky [Williams], he's going one way. If Ronnie keeps it, he can do what he can do. And as a bonus, he can throw it, as you saw. They were hitting us from every direction and we just didn't do a good job of getting on it. That was something we weren't looking for against Miami. When they did run it, it wasn't so much a surprise, we just hadn't prepared for it [in practice]."
It wasn't one particular player breaking down in his assignment, the coach also pointed out. In fact, he laid blame on the entire defense and its coaches, including himself.
"It starts with the coaching and extends to everybody doing their job on the play. That's what it is ... When you're on defense, all you can do is react to what the offense does. You don't control the ball, their plays, their personnel. You don't really control everything. You have to adjust to what they give you."
"I do expect teams to try to gadget us," Hobbs added, when asked if he thought teams would try to run that play against the Pats again. "Keep us on our heels and spread us out. That play in particular? I don't know, it depends on the personnel [they have]."
Coincidentally, it was in Week 3 of the 2002 season when the Kansas City Chiefs scored 38 points here at Gillette Stadium (after the Patriots had beaten the Jets the previous week in the Meadowlands). New England won that game in overtime, 41-38, but the Chiefs ran wild that day using a different type of running play – a handoff to the fullback up the middle, with the option for a pitch to the tailback.
Other opponents that year tried to mimic the Chiefs' success with the same play against New England. In some instances, it gave the Pats difficulty. Belichick was also asked if he thought other teams on the Pats' schedule would use Miami's college play against New England for the remainder of this year.
"I don't know," he responded with a pause, before adding, "I think we better be ready to defend it."
If there's any consolation to be taken from the Dolphins game, Belichick said it was in the play of the special teams units.
"This is a game that we all obviously feel really bad about. It's a real total team loss. We got beat in every phase of the game, other than special teams. I thought that was competitive."
Particularly the return teams.
Hobbs had a record-setting day, in fact. With his 237 total return yardage on six kickoffs, Hobbs set a Patriots record for most kickoff return yardage in a game. The highlights were his 50-yard scamper on the game's opening kickoff and an 81-yarder in the third quarter that set up New England's only touchdown of the day.
"It's bittersweet," Hobbs admitted later. "I always say, 'If you have a good day, individually, please let's win so you can enjoy it.' It didn't happen [Sunday]."
Punt returner Kevin Faulkalso had a solid effort, taking one punt back for 19 yards and another for 15.
Reacting to the fans' reaction
In the Pats locker room Monday, the media focused much of their lines of questioning on the fans who booed at halftime and left the game early.
Some players voiced their displeasure, while at the same time saying they understood the fans' frustration.
"Well, I think they expect certain things out of us," observed tight end Benjamin Watson, who saw his first action of the regular season Sunday, "which is a good thing because it means we've done some good things, so there's a level of expectation. They hold us to a high standard, as we hold ourselves.
"They paid their ticket, they can say whatever they want to say. It's not a bad thing that they're disappointed. But to see them leave was … disgusting to watch."
"I don't block it out. I accept it. I remember it. I use it," said Hobbs. "This is when you find out what type of player you are, what type of man you are. When things aren't going your way.
"You can't really argue with them, though. We chose to do this job. We get paid for it. We have to take the good with the bad, and that's just one of the bad things about the game."