The New England Patriots visit Sun Life Stadium for their Week 1 matchup with the Miami Dolphins.
MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. – Expectations for the Patriots defense skyrocketed when the team acquired Darrelle Revis this past offseason. Adding the best cornerback in the game to a secondary that desperately needed upgrading was as good a move as anyone could have expected.
Revis barely played during the preseason, and looked like he was pacing himself during training camp practices.
Against Miami in the season opener, he started off the way most observers would have expected: shutting down Miami receivers and making nice plays on the football to knock down would-be completions.
That seemed to infuse some of his younger teammates with the confidence to make plays.
Linebacker Jamie Collins made a hard hit, with good form tackling technique, and forced a fumble that Jerod Mayo recovered. That led to Patriots points. Cornerback Alfonzo Dennard came down with an athletic interception that resulted in Rob Gronkowski's first touchdown of the year. Then Logan Ryan, playing safety, launched himself at a Dolphin with a well-placed helmet to the football and caused another fumbled that Revis recovered. New England found itself up 20-10 and feeling good at halftime.
In the second half, the heat seemed to be a metaphor for the meltdown the defense incurred. Penalties at inopportune times were mounting and causing frustration.
The front seven, an undersized 3-4 base with Chandler Jones playing right end, got pushed around to the tune of 191 yards on the ground, the bulk of which came from running back Knowshon Moreno. Missed tackles, many by Collins, also hurt the defense and sustained Miami drives.
"Any offense that has success," DE Rob Ninkovich noted, "they're going to go back to those plays. We have to do a better job of recognizing what's working for them and do our best to stop it."
The secondary still looks like an experiment as well. Patrick Chung started at safety, but Ryan also saw considerable time there. Revis actually got his right hand on the ball that eventually wound up in the hands of Miami receiver Mike Wallace for the third-quarter touchdown that knotted the game at 20.
When the Patriots needed to pin the Dolphins back, down 23-20 in the fourth quarter, Revis and Co. came through with a forced punt. Revis made a nice pass defense on Miami's Mike Wallace on third down to for the kick, giving New England's offense excellent field position around midfield.
Tom Brady and the offense didn't capitalize on that, however. Brady missed a wide open Julian Edelman on third down and long that would've easily gotten a first down and perhaps a whole lot more.
Down by three with time waning, the defense needed to step up again, but this time they couldn't. The Dolphins drove for a touchdown that padded their lead.
"We just didn't play well enough," co-captain Vince Wilfork lamented. "First half, we made plays, we played together, complementary football, but second half, we just didn't make enough plays. They capitalized on our mistakes. And that was the ball game."
"They executed well. The read-option [offense that Miami runs] is very tough. They kind of had us on our heels, "Revis said later in a postgame locker room interview. "They out-executed us at times when we needed to stop them."
Revis appeared to get sideline medical treatment on his left hamstring on the Dolphins final scoring drive. He shrugged off the injury, calling it "minor stuff."
In a way, that seemed like a fitting end to this game, in which the Patriots limped away from South Florida with their first loss in a season opener since 2003. In that year, the Patriots battled back to win the Super Bowl.
"I'm not making any excuses on weather," Ninkovich declared. "We've got 16 rounds [in the regular season]. We've got to keep going."