The Patriots traveled to sunny Miami this weekend to meet the Dolphins. Along with their warm-weather attire, they brought: sunscreen, hopes for a playoff-clinching win (which also required a Jets loss), a 10-31 record in Miami and their blue game jerseys. Those blue jerseys are usually reserved for home games, but since the Phins prefer to wear white at home, the Pats donned their home blues.
Unfortunately, with the blue jerseys came some of the Patriots home-game bad luck. The Patriots hadn't lost an away game all season, and had recently been able to overcome turnover and penalty problems.
After losing eight turnovers in the last two weeks against the Bears and Lions, turnover problems finally caught up to the Pats this week against Miami. The Pats fumbled four times in the game, losing three of those to the unshaken Dolphins, who didn't give the football away once.
The Patriots also committed nine penalties that cost them 71 yards in the game.
"Their defense has always been very good," said quarterback Tom Brady after the game. "They were good against us in the first game. They don't turn it over at all, and they don't have a lot of penalties. We've got to match that kind of flawless play. And we certainly didn't. I mean we just left too many plays out there, plays that we had a chance to make that we just didn't end up making."
The game was a defensive tug-of-war from the outset, with both teams unable to sustain long drives. The Dolphins punt team did an excellent job of pinning down the Patriots, who began drives in this game from within their own five yard line on three separate occasions. Without rookie running back Laurence Maroney, those drives were harder to maintain, although the Pats still amassed 123 rushing yards.
"We took one on the chin," said defensive end Richard Seymour after the game. "That's the bottom line. We just didn't do a good enough job, on offense, defense or special teams. It was a tough day for us. First and foremost, you have to give Miami credit. They did a good job of being where they needed to be and making the plays they needed to make in order to win the game. Trust me, we're not going to make any excuses about losing or whatever happened. They did a good job, prepared well and came out and executed, and we were on the opposite end of that most of the day."
Brady linked the Patriots difficulties on offense to an inability to sustain drives, a problem exacerbated by those well-placed punts.
"I mean that's what we've got to try to establish, some field position for ourselves and move the ball out. I think we did that a few times. But once you get out to the 50 [yard line] you've got to keep moving it and you've got to keep driving it down there," said Brady.
Entering the game, some in Miami thought coach Bill Belichick's complements to defensive end Jason Taylor were slightly backhanded, but Taylor showed everyone why Belichick's words, "I have to think he'd be the defensive MVP," were actually spot-on.
The Dolphins defense held the Patriots to just 189 yards of combined offense, and Taylor embarrassed blockers and pressured Brady throughout the game, leading Belichick to reiterate his thoughts on Taylor.
"I think he's the best player we've played against this year," said Belichick after the game. "We haven't played against everybody, so I can't speak to that. But he's a [heck] of a player. Everyone is looking for him and he still continues to make big plays and turnovers and all that. He's a tremendous player, having a great year. They do a good job with him in their scheme and make it hard to find him, and he takes advantage of his opportunities. He's an outstanding player."
Taylor contributed nine tackles, a sack, a pass defensed, and a forced fumble in the game, pressuring Brady even when double-teamed. He and the Dolphins defense limited the Patriots to only 90 yards in the passing game while sacking Brady four times and forcing him to fumble twice. Pressure caused five passing plays to result in negative yardage, wittling those 90 yards down to a net of 66.
"I think just as a team, obviously, we didn't execute very well," said Brady, whose first fumble came late in the third quarter, though center Dan Koppenwas able to recover it. "It was all across the board today. It was 21-to-nothing. That's not one issue, that's quite a few things that we need to try to straighten out. We just got to try to play better than we did today. We just couldn't get any momentum going. They certainly made more plays than we did."
Benjamin Watson, the team's leading receiver this season, caught just one pass for five yards before being injured in a bone-jarring collision in route to the ball. He and defensive lineman Vince Wilfork were both injured in the third quarter, and neither of them returned to the field.
With 10:50 remaining in the game and the Dolphins leading 13-0, the Patriots caught the Dolphins off guard with a gadget play. The football was snapped directly to running back Kevin Faulk, while Brady faked a roll out. Faulk tried to lateral it down the line of scrimmage to Brady who had the protection of left side linemen Matt Light and Logan Mankins. Brady caught the pass with one hand and tossed it to tight end Daniel Graham, who was waiting within touchdown range. Graham made the catch and tip-toed into the end zone, but the first throw from Faulk to Brady was ruled a forward pass, making Brady's throw to Graham illegal and nullifying the touchdown.
"That would've been a big play for us," Brady said. "That would have been nice to establish a little momentum and get some points on the board. You know, just as the day went, it [was] just nullified. Penalties and turnovers and just negative plays and [being] backed up in our own end. It's just frustrating, because I think we're better than that, but I think we've got to play better than that."
"If that was a touchdown, it's a whole different game," said Taylor, whose team went on to score another touchdown and convert a 2-point attempt. "The dynamic of the game is changed drastically."
The gadget play came on a first down, and Brady finished out the series. He was sacked by safety Yeremiah Bell, fumbling for the second time. Bell recovered the football. Backup quarterback Matt Cassel relieved Brady for the remainder of the game.
Cassel only took five snaps before he was strip-sacked by Taylor. The Dolphins recovered the ball, clinching the win. The Patriots hadn't been shut out since the beginning of the 2003 season.
Quote of note:
Linebacker Mike Vrabel on creating turnovers - "We've got to match the turnovers. If their defense gets three turnovers then we have to make turnovers. That's not going to happen every week. We're not going to get five turnovers, but we need to get a couple. We just have to stay competitive. Everybody's out there and everybody's trying. We just need to try and do a little better and understand everybody's got a job to do."
Warren improves career highTy Warren sacked Joey Harrington for a 6-yard loss in the first quarter. The sack gave Warren 6.5 sacks on the season, tying him with Rosevelt Colvin for the team lead. Warren's 6.5 sacks this season are a career high, topping his previous career best of 3.5 sacks in 2004.
The run aroundThe Patriots exceeded 100 yards rushing as a team today and did so without the help of rookie running back Laurence Maroney. This 100-yard game marks the seventh time the team has achieved the feat this season. Last year, New England broke the 100-yard mark as a team on five occasions in the regular season and once in the playoffs.