Complementary football and winning returned to New England Sunday afternoon at a sunny Gillette Stadium as the Patriots (2-2) rolled to the 38-7 victory over the previously-undefeated Dolphins (3-1).
The New England defense that's struggled against both the run and the pass over most of the first month was swarming to the football early on against Miami, forcing either a punt or a turnover on each of the visitor's first six drives.
A Patriots offense that was searching for production got a consistent ground game led by rookie Sony Michel while Tom Brady hit enough throws in the passing game to balance out the attack.
And an Adam Gase-led Miami group that came to town looking to establish itself as the team to beat atop the AFC East found itself struggling to keep up as Brady won his 11th straight against the Dolphins in Foxborough.
As newest Patriots Hall of Fame inductee Matt Light put it during a halftime ceremony with the homes squad leading 24-0, New England kicked "some Dolphins ass."
Miami had just 172 yards compared to 449 for New England. Third down was a great improvement for New England, converting at 67 percent while holding Miami to 27 percent. The Patriots had 26 first downs to just 11 for the Dolphins. And the time of possession was far more palatable, with the home team holding the ball for 36:22.
"It was a big win for us. We needed it," Brady said afterwards. "Hopefully we can build on it and gain some confidence in some things."
"It's a long season," Brady added, assessing the first month and what lies ahead. "We've only played four of the 16. Hopefully we're a lot better in October than we were in September."
A week after seemingly everything went bad on both sides of the ball, there were plenty of positive performances spread across offense and defense. The run game was dominant up front on offense and defense, the pass coverage was stellar and the passing game took advantage of its opportunities such as Cordarrelle Patterson's 55-yard catch-and-run touchdown.
It was a good day for pretty much all involved Sunday afternoon in Foxborough.
Before swiftly turning the page to Thursday night's game at Gillette Stadium against the Colts, here are some of the personnel highs and lows from the key win over the Dolphins.
Josh Gordon – New England's notable wide receiver addition earned the start in his second game with the Patriots. He caught both passes thrown his way for 22 yards, including a broken tackle and run after the second. He also drew a key flag on third down second quarter to extend a drive and threw a block on a James White bounce-out 22-yard touchdown run. It wasn't anything special, but Gordon seemed comfortable with his assignments and took a nice first step in his career in Foxborough.
Sony Michel – For some strange reason after 24 carries for 84 yards in his first two NFL games, the first-round rookie became the whipping boy last week for fans and media alike. His third appearance included his first-career 100-yard game, topping the plateau late in the third quarter. Michel finished with 25 carries for 112 yards (4.5 avg.), including a 10-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. The former Georgia star showed a nice mix of patience and ability to get to the outside, taking advantage of a solid day by the offensive line up front. James White wasn't too bad, either, catching eight balls for 69 yards and a score while running it eight times for 44 yards and another touchdown.
Run Defense – Miami had 7 yards on four rushes in the first quarter, helping lead to third-and-long situations which helped third down defense. The run defense was downright dominant, a joint effort by the defensive line and linebackers to hem in Kenyan Drake and Frank Gore. Miami was able to must just 56 yards on 18 attempts for an anemic 3.1-yard average. The run defense took a lot of criticism last week and bounced back in a big way to key an overall impressive effort on defense.
Pass protection – On a day when pretty much everything went right for the Patriots, New England's front line did allow Brady to be hit too often and too hard. Miami defensive end Robert Quinn got a couple early pops in on Brady and then linebacker Davon Godchaux leveled the Patriots passer on his fourth-quarter interception. As well as things went on the after, seeing Brady hit and slow to get up is enough to put a slight damper on any blowout win.
Penalties – The Patriots were flagged for eight penalties in the game, including three on a single run in the second quarter. Six of the penalties were accepted for a total loss of 57 yards. There were penalties in all three phases. Offensively that wiped out a couple nice gains. Defensively it allowed the Dolphins to extend their second drive of the game. It didn't matter in the blowout on Sunday, but too many flags are a recipe for problems in future, more competitive affairs.
Interceptions – Brady was good enough to win, but TB12 did turn the ball over twice in the victory. He threw his third and fourth interceptions of the season, both on passes intended for Dorsett. Dorsett was actually the target on three of Brady's four picks this fall. Brady had an otherwise solid day after seemingly trying to force the ball into tight coverage early, but two interceptions is less than ideal. He only threw a pair of interceptions in a game once last season, which happened to be against the Dolphins in Miami in December. Again, the turnovers didn't matter in the blowout, but need to be avoided moving forward as the consistency and cohesion of the passing game improve in the coming weeks and months.
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