It was a tale of two halves in the Patriots 31-24 victory over the Miami Dolphins at Gillette Stadium. Early on it was all Patriots as Jimmy Garoppolo ripped the Dolphins apart, but then he was injured late in the second quarter and Jacoby Brissett replaced him.
Before long Miami rallied and was within a score late but Duron Harmon's end zone interception sealed it.
Here are some random thoughts from the Patriots second win of the season.
Opening statements II – For the second week in a row Josh McDaniels had all the answers to open the game even without Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski. The Patriots made it look easy early on, marching down the field for touchdowns on each of their first three possessions of the game. A mixture and runs and quick throws by Jimmy Garoppolo consistently kept the ball moving. McDaniels used a lot of variations out of the same formations and kept the overmatched Dolphins on their heels. Garoppolo spread the ball to Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Martellus Bennett as Miami offered little resistance. Garoppolo finished the opening quarter 12 of 15 for 177 yards and a pair of touchdowns before adding a third to start the second. McDaniels continues to make all the right calls with his backup quarterback.
In the rotation – The Patriots got some good news on their offensive line with the return of Nate Solder. He started at left tackle and played most of the first half. That allowed Cameron Fleming to return to his backup status after he started the opener in Arizona. Fleming replaced Solder for a series in the first half and saw sporadic action the rest of the way. Shaq Mason also returned to the starting lineup at right guard after rookie Ted Karras held that spot a week ago. That pair also rotated at times throughout the game. Dante Scarnecchia explained prior to training camp that his desire was to have five players in set positions up front but injuries have prevented that from happening thus far.
Danger time? – Things were going remarkably well for Garoppolo and the offense until late in the first half when Garoppolo was buried by linebacker Kiko Alonso and appeared to injure his right shoulder. Garoppolo tried to walk it off but eventually fell to a knee before the Patriots training staff came to tend to him. He eventually left for the locker room and did not return, leading to the debut of Jacoby Brissett. Prior to the injury Garoppolo was absolutely brilliant, completing 18 of 27 passes for 234 yards and three touchdowns and a rating of 130.8. The offense really accentuated his strengths as McDaniels used misdirections and play-actions to get him away from pressure and Garoppolo was spot on throughout until his injury.
Better late than never – After being held in check for better than three quarters, LeGarrette Blount came up huge when the Patriots needed him most. Through three quarter Blount had barely made a ripple with just a 9-yard touchdown run representing the lone positive among several 1- and 2-yard runs. Then everything changed in the fourth quarter, especially down the stretch. With a 31-24 lead and 6:06 left, Belichick turned to Blount to close things out. He carried eight times on the final drive and came up with 44 hard-earned yards to largely kill the clock as the Patriots moved into field goal range. Blount finished with 123 yards in 29 carries and one touchdown. Unfortunately Stephen Gostkowski's 39-yard attempt missed wide right and the Dolphins still had hope. Brissett also was impressive on the drive, making some nice decisions to throw the ball away and picked up two first downs on sneaks. Overall it was a very impressive drive with the game on the line.
Emergency services – With Garoppolo's availability in question it will be interesting to see what the Patriots do over the next two weeks. Brady will not return until Week 5 so it would appear the need for an additional quarterback exists. The Patriots have worked out some quarterbacks in the past, some as recently as a week ago. Former Duke signal-caller Sean Renfree was in Foxborough Sept. 7 for a look and Ricky Stanzi worked out for the team in the spring. Stanzi, who played collegiately for Belichick protégé Kirk Ferentz at Iowa, spent time with Kansas City earlier in his career. Brian Hoyer is the backup in Chicago and could be a trade target as a veteran with knowledge of the system. The same could be said of Matt Cassel in Tennessee or Ryan Mallett in Baltimore. Matt Flynn and Ryan Lindley both spent time in camp with the Patriots last season and could be possibilities as well. Even if Garoppolo's injury isn't as serious as it looked, it would make sense that Belichick would want to add a layer of insurance at the game's most important position. Belichick said after the game that they "would do what was in the best interests of the team."
Not so hurry up – Bill Belichick is generally very aggressive offensive when it comes to late-half situations but that hasn't been the case thus far in 2016. Last week he played it safe with a 10-7 lead by having Garoppolo hand the ball off to kill the clock. This week, with Brissett at the helm, it made more sense to be cautious – especially considering New England's commanding 24-0. But his choice to keep it on the ground was still worth discussing. The Patriots took over at the Dolphins 49 with 1:49 left and called two LeGarrette Blount runs that resulted in a third-and-five. Brissett's pass to Edelman was dropped and the Patriots were forced to punt. While on the surface it made sense with a backup quarterback to keep it conservative, I thought it was a lost opportunity to get Brissett some meaningful experience. The commanding lead gave the Patriots some wiggle room in the event that Brissett stumbled and turned the ball over, but Belichick still opted to play it safe. A two-minute drill without the danger of a game-deciding mistake was the perfect opportunity for Brissett to get his feet wet.
Marty roars – Martellus Bennett was used almost exclusively a blocker in the opener but he was able to show his stuff as a receiver against Miami. Bennett caught five passes for 114 yards and a touchdown, with many of the grabs coming off some well-schemed misdirections that left him all alone away from the formation. Bennett picked up some big yards after the catch, using his size and speed to make tacklers miss in the open field. It was an example of the dangerous tandem Bennett and Gronkowski could represent if both can be on the field healthy and dominating on offense.
New additions – Several new players made their debuts for the Patriots and made some contributions. Barkevious Mingo was a key special teams performer in Arizona but saw some action of defense with Dont'a Hightower out with a knee injury. Mingo showed his speed chasing down a Dolphins ball carrier from the backside to limit the play to a 2-yard gain. D.J. Foster and Elandon Roberts made their professional debuts. Foster caught a pass for 2 yards and had a 7-yard run while Roberts finished with a tackle. Foster was also back deep to return kickoffs but never got a chance to take one back.
Opposing view – I don't often single out opposing players but it was hard not to be impressed by the performance of Jarvis Landry. The Dolphins slot receiver finished with 10 catches for 137 yards on 13 targets and showed some toughness after the catch throughout. Landry was extremely hard to tackle and once he was corralled he tended to move the pile back significantly. In a game in which his team trailed 31-3 in the third quarter, Landry never quit and showed plenty of heart in helping his team climb back into it.
Extra points – The Patriots improved to 72-21 in the AFC East since 2001. That .774 winning percentage is the best in the league during that span. … New England improved to 14-1 in home openers at Gillette Stadium. The lone loss came in 2012 against Arizona. … The defense was held without a sack for the first time in 31 games. … Garoppolo led the team to touchdowns on the drive of each of the first two games. … It was the third 100-yard receiving game of Bennett's career. … The game marked the first time since 2014 that the Patriots had a 100-yard rusher and receiver. Stevan Ridley (113) and Gronkowski (110) did so on Oct. 5 against Cincinnati. … Danny Amendola had the first two-touchdown game of his career.