There is certainly nothing new about Tom Brady leading the Patriots to a touchdown on the opening drive of a game.
But in Sunday’s win over the Dolphins, New England found a new, satisfying way to put forth a game-opening march to a Rex Burkhead 2-yard touchdown run.
Brady and Co. took over on their own 25 following a touchback on the game’s opening kickoff.
Three straight pass plays to open the day for the offense resulted in just one completion, a 2-yard gain for James White.
That left New England with a fourth-and-8 from its own 27-yard line.
It looked like there would be no opening score. No early lead. No playing from ahead as the team had done in recent road blowouts of the Broncos and the Raiders.
And an early three-and-out would certainly not be a huge deal, no need for major concern against a struggling Miami squad.
But the Patriots coaching staff had something else in mind.
New England came out in a punt formation with little reason to believe it was doing anything but kicking the ball away. Ryan Allen awaited the snap while his personal protector, Nate Ebner, gave a quick signal to his gunner on the right side, Jonathan Jones.
Just after the signal, Ebner took a direct snap from Joe Cardona and quickly ran to his right, following the block on the edge by wingman Brandon Bolden. On the outside, Jones ran his single vice Dolphin defender down the sideline.
Bolden got just enough of a block on Dolphins edge defender Michael Thomas to spring Ebner to the outside for an eventual 14-yard gain and a first down.
Sadly, though, Ebner actually suffered a knee injury on the play and immediately limped to the locker room. He’s since been placed on injured reserve.
Sunday, though, two of New England’s best special teams players in recent years, Bolden and Ebner, made a key play to reignite a drive that took advantage of the second chance. Dion Lewis burst free for a 13-yard run on the next snap. Then Brady hit Phillip Dorsett for a 39-yard pass to down inside the Dolphins 10. A play later, Burkhead found the end zone.
It all started with Ebner’s big play. A play that even left Bill Belichick feeling pretty satisfied on the Patriots sideline.
“It was a good play. It helped us,” Belichick said afterwards. “[Special teams coach] Joe Judge, like he always does, did a great job of getting our team’s special teams prepared. It was a big play for us.
“I thought it was big. They came in, got a three-and-out. We took the ball to start the game, got a three-and-out but instead of giving them the ball back, we were able to convert on fourth down and hit the over route to Dorsett and ended up scoring on that drive. It’s always good to play from in front and get ahead, so it was big. A good job offensively of taking advantage of that opportunity that we got off the fake punt.”