The math equation sounds simple.
All New England has to do this Sunday is beat the Dolphins and the Patriots are AFC East champs yet again. Heck, even a final score that ends in a tie would do the trick. In so doing, they’d clinch a playoff berth and, at the very worst, a home playoff game on Wild Card Weekend.
Trouble is, winning in Miami hasn’t been easy for the Patriots. Ever.
Most recently, New England is just 1-4 against the ‘Phins in South Florida, and this year’s Patriots have struggled to win or play consistently well on the road. Head coach Bill Belichick has stressed these negative facts to his players this week.
“Bill preaches every bad thing about [playing] them: 1-4, on the road, you name it,” safety/co-captain Devin McCourty confirmed.
“We’re far from perfect. We’re far from the best we can be,” acknowledged defensive end Trey Flowers. “We understand that and we’re working hard.”
What is it about the Dolphins in Miami that’s so challenging, even in years when their record isn’t good? That’s the question being asked frequently this week, yet answers are even more difficult to pinpoint.
What seems clear, however, is the focus these Patriots appear to have in wanting to reverse the recent losing trend at Hard Rock Stadium. When the Dolphins visited Foxborough in Week 4, the Patriots dominated in a 38-7 rout. That day, the defense did its job and rookie running back Sony Michel led the offense with a 112-yard rushing performance. A balanced attack and complementary efforts by the O, the D, and special teams will be critical to a victory this Sunday in the rematch.
“I’ve played them once. Knowing what they do, knowing their personnel helps a little bit,” Michel told reporters, “but I’m sure they’re going to make adjustments and we’ve got to be prepared for it.”
Whenever the Patriots have an opportunity to capture a division or conference title, they are referred to as “Hat-and-Tee-Shirt Games,” because of the championship regalia that’s given out afterward. This is one such game, which should add to the emphasis that New England will place on beating Miami down there this time around… even if they’re reluctant to admit it now.
“I didn’t even know we were in one of those games,” Flowers claimed with a wry grin. “I don’t know what’s going on as far as the standings or what… I know it’s the next game, so, it’s the most important game.”