Add an assist –Once again the Patriots defense and special teams did more than just limit and opponents' offense. For the second week in a row those units also did more than their share to put points on the board. First the special teams blocked an early Caleb Sturgisfield goal and Kyle Arrington returned it for a touchdown. Later Duron Harmon picked off aRyan Tannehill** pass and returned it 60 yards to the Dolphins 8 to set up another touchdown. In the third quarter Patrick Chung intercepted another Tannehill pass to set up the offense at the 27 and one play later New England had another six points. While the offense struggled for long stretches of the day, the defense and special teams directly were responsible for 21 points and allowed the Patriots to win a laugher.
The New England Patriots take on the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium on Sunday, December 14, 2014.
Curious decision –The Patriots opened the game with Malcolm Butler starting at corner with Brandon Browner and Darrelle Revis instead of Kyle Arrington. Butler was then torched by Mike Wallace for 50 yards down the left sideline. Both the fact that Butler started and was covering Wallace seemed to be strange calls by the coaching staff as Revis instead was assigned toJarvis Landry**. Landry is more of an underneath slot receiver who entered the game with a low per catch average while Wallace is clearly one of the more dangerous deep threats in the game. Arrington relieved Butler shortly thereafter but was forced to the sideline with a hamstring injury with six minutes left in the half, and Wallace got behind Butler and Devin McCourty again for the late touchdown. Logan Ryan eventually replaced Butler in the second and covered Landry while Revis took Wallace.
We have a situation – The Patriots have established a well-earned reputation as a very sound team when it comes to situational football. At the end of the first half it was the Dolphins making all the right moves. It all started after a Miami punt gave the Patriots the ball at their 15 with 40 left in the half. The offensive line had trouble protecting Tom Brady so Bill Belichick played it cautiously and ran Shane Vereen three times. After each stuffed run Miami called timeout, leaving 25 seconds to work with. Then Landry returned Ryan Allen's punt 32 yards to the Patriots 35, and with 11 seconds left Wallace somehow got behind Butler and McCourty and hauled in a touchdown pass. Things almost got even worse when Brandon LaFell bobbled the ensuing squib kick before falling on it with :03 to go. It was the kind of poor execution the Patriots normally take advantage of from opponents.
Second wind –** The start of the second half hasn't been kind to the Patriots offense in recent weeks. Against Detroit Brady threw a red zone pick coming out of the locker room, then against Green Bay and San Diego the offense opened the second half with a series of three-and-outs. Against Miami things changed as Brady drove the team the length of the field for a touchdown after the break, then followed that with two more scoring drives for a field goal and a touchdown. A Miami turnover set up the third score, but clearly the effectiveness of the offense was at a much higher level following intermission.
Running concern – The Dolphins entered the game having allowed 661 yards rushing in their last three games but the Patriots still seemed reluctant to line up and run the ball conventionally early on. Vereen opened as the lone back and his first carry came on one of New England's hurry-up-and-run plays that have typically gone nowhere this season. Vereen was stoned at the line as Miami wasn't fooled, and Julian Edelman was then forced to pick up a first down with an end around on a 6-yard jet sweep shortly thereafter. LeGarrette Blount entered the game later in the first quarter but the Patriots didn't seem intent on establishing him on the ground either, and by halftime the Patriots had just 20 yards on 13 carries for a 1.5-yard average. Things improved in the second half after the game got out of hand but the reluctance to dedicate to the running game against such a porous defense was curious.
Dodged bullets – The Dolphins controlled the entire first half and yet went to the locker room trailing by a point at 14-13. The reasons for that were plentiful, and the Dolphins had only themselves to blame. Sturgis' low kick led to Jamie Collins' block that was returned for a touchdown, and later Damien Williams dropped an easy touchdown pass after beating Collins with a double move down the left sideline. Miami's self-inflicted mistakes continued in the second half as Rishard Matthews dropped a would-be touchdown, although Browner did a nice job recovering after being beaten on the play.
Broad Street Browner –** Browner continues to do his best impression of the 1970s Philadelphia Flyers, aka The Broad Street Bullies. Back in the day the Flyers were notorious for their physical style that often crossed the line into the illegal category. The theory behind their success was the officials can't call everything, and Browner seems to adhere to a similar philosophy. Browner was once again called for three penalties – two pass interferences and an unnecessary roughness – but was instrumental on Chung's interception when he hit Lamar Miller before the ball arrived. The collision caused the ball to deflect into the air and allowed Chung to pick it off, and unlike his two previous PIs, the officials kept the flags in their pockets.
Second half dominance – The defense once again was at its best after intermission, blanking Miami in the second half. That continues a trend of strong second-half efforts over the last month. Dating back to the win over Detroit in Week 12, New England has allowed a total of 6 points in the second half. The Lions managed a field goal, and the Packers followed that with a field goal the following week in a 26-21 win at Lambeau Field. The Patriots then blanked San Diego last week and followed that without another second-half shutout. It would appear if you want to get to the Patriots defense you better do it early before the coaches adjust to the game plan.
Extra points – The Patriots clinched the AFC East for the 12th time in 14 years and for the sixth straight season. … New England has now won 17 straight home games against AFC East teams. … The Patriots improved to 19-3 (.864) in the final four games of the season since 2009 and 53-9 in the month of December since 2000. … Collins' blocked field goal was the Patriots third of the season. Chandler Jones (Vikings) and Chris Jones (Jets) also turned the trick. Brandon Bolden also blocked a punt against San Diego. … The 24 points scored in the third quarter were the most ever by the team in the third quarter. … The Patriots scored 40 points for the fifth time this season, matching 2012 for the most in franchise history. … Belichick's 12th division title moved him past Don Shula for the most by a coach since the merger in 1970. He also moved into a tie for fourth place all-time with Green Bay's Curly Lambeau with 229 wins. … Stephen Gostkowski's third-quarter field goal moved him past Adam Vinatieri (1,158) for the most points in franchise history. He now has 1,165 points. … Rob Gronkowski finished with 96 yards receiving and topped the 1,000-yard mark for the second time. He now has 1,093 yards receiving on the season. … Vereen caught his 48th pass of the season, establishing a career high. He also sits just 7 yards short of his career high in yards with 421. … Rob Ninkovich recorded his eighth sack of the season, becoming the first Patriot to have at least that many in three straight seasons since Andre Tippett from 1985-87.